Mastodon and the Fediverse

Mastodon Social Network Logo

The great un-twittering is well underway. However you feel about Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, many people are choosing to leave the platform under his leadership, or at least starting to explore alternatives.

Enter Mastodon. Or, to use the more accurate nomenclature, the Fediverse.

The Fediverse describes a broader network of services that are connected to each other over the open protocol that powers it all, ActivityPub.

But nevermind all that for the moment. Mastodon is the Twitter-like microblogging replacement that Twitterati are flocking to in search of the next thing, in case the last thing is not long for this world.

I first tried Mastodon a few years ago, and found it lacking – buggy, slow, and nobody there. I signed up again about a year ago, and have popped in from time to time to see how things were progressing with this nascent social network.

With the recent influx of Twitter refugees, the network is being put to the test. User registrations have exploded, some of the bigger servers have been struggling with the load, and there’s a lot of patient Mastodon old-timers sharing explainers on the technology, terminology, practices, and traditions of Mastodon to the new arrivals.

I have found myself fascinated by it all. It brings to mind the early days of Twitter, and even the early days of the internet itself.

There’s a real sense of community and DIY-ism. Users are figuring out the conventions and best practices for how to build healthy communities together.

Mastodon is a federated network, meaning that rather than the network being owned and controlled by a single entity (or individual), the network is made up of many different instances or servers that share content over the ActivityPub protocol.

Servers are generally oriented around shared interests, so Local timelines populated with posts from people on your server, can be super interesting and useful, and a good way to find people with similar interests to follow.

Choosing a server to sign up on feels a little daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Ideally, you will join a server that aligns with your interests, but there are plenty of general-interest servers, and no matter where you end up, you can follow anyone anywhere in the Fediverse, and your account data is portable.

In a social media world largely driven by algorithms meant to drive engagement, and walled gardens meant to capture your attention and keep it, Mastodon is refreshing. Your Home timeline is populated with posts from people you follow, in reverse-chronological order.

Content moderation is not a controversial subject. Indeed people who run servers are encouraged to actively moderate against bad behaviour, or risk being cordoned off from broader network.

There is no advertising on Mastodon, so the network isn’t trying to aggregate and harness your data in creepy ways to sell your attention to advertisers. Instances are often self-funded through crowd-funding initiatives and donations from the community.

And it’s all built on open protocols and open source software. This is truly the realization of the dream of the early internet. This is the antidote to the current corporatist algorithm and advertising-driven internet of a few massive websites fighting to extract ever more data from you to sell to the highest bidder.

The Fediverse is made up of many interest-focused Mastodon servers, but also any service that implements the ActivityPub protocol. There are Instagram-like services (Pixelfed), Facebook-like services (Friendica), YouTube-like services (PeerTube), Meetup-like services (Mobilizon), Reddit-like services (Lemmy), and many more.

All of these services are connected over the ActivityPub protocol, and you can follow anyone on any service right from Mastodon (or wherever you are in the Fediverse).

Many quesitons remain. Is Mastodon ready for prime time? Can it really replace Twitter? Will it reach critical mass? Can it scale? Are my friends there? Is it too complicated for normal people? What are Toots and Boosts?

This blog post is long enough, so I’ll just close by saying that based on my experience the past few days, I’m very optimistic about Mastodon and the Fediverse. It is demonstrating that the open web is still alive and well, and I’ll have a lot more to say about it in the future in this space.

In the meantime, connect with me in the Fediverse:
@dsamojlenko@fosstodon.org
@dsamojlenko@pixelfed.social

You can also follow this very blog in the fediverse:
@dsamojlenko@dave.samojlenko.com

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