Social media: You love it, you hate it. You find yourself in weak moments scrolling numbly down, clicking and swiping, brain in a fog. You click on a link you didn’t mean to and end up in a rabbit hole of strange content, wondering how you got there…and where the afternoon went.
Let’s face it, it’s difficult to imagine how we filled those long hours and longer days before the advent of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchap, Tiktok…and all the others. So, like, generally it’s a good thing, right? But, on the other hand, the centralised nature of mainstream social media has raised concerns about privacy, content moderation, and the power wielded by a few tech giants (made rich on the content created by their millions of users, they now spend their time – and billions – planning trips to space or (as at time of writing) challenging each other to celebrity no-holds-barred cage fights (Musk/Zuck).
But what if there was an alternative? A social media platform that prioritises privacy, user control, and community-driven moderation. Enter Mastodon, a decentralised social network that offers a refreshing and empowering approach to online social interactions. In this article, we plan to have a look at what Mastodon is, how it works, and why it’s gaining momentum as a viable alternative to mainstream social media platforms.
What is Mastodon?
Mastodon is not just another social network; it’s a decentralised social network: which makes all the difference. Launched in 2016 by Eugen Rochko, Mastodon operates on the principles of the fediverse, a federated universe of interconnected social platforms. Unlike centralised platforms like Twitter and Facebook, Mastodon consists of multiple servers, known as instances, that are independently operated and have their own rules and moderation policies.
Each Mastodon ‘instance’ (like a server) represents a unique community of like-minded individuals, fostering a sense of belonging and shared interests. With over 9,200 Mastodon instances / servers and 1.2 million active monthly users, Mastodon offers a diverse and vibrant online ecosystem where users can connect, share, and engage with others who share their passions.
“Mastodon and the fediverse represent a paradigm shift in the world of social media.”
so How Does Mastodon Work?
To understand how Mastodon works, let’s take a closer look at its key features and functionalities.
One of the defining features of Mastodon is the federated timeline. While traditional social media platforms have a single, centralised timeline, Mastodon’s federated timeline is a stream of posts from people across different instances. This means that even though you and your friend may be on different Mastodon instances, you can still follow and interact with each other.
Think of Mastodon’s federated timeline as a bridge that connects various communities within the fediverse. It allows you to discover new content, connect with like-minded individuals, and broaden your horizon beyond the limitations of a single instance.
In addition to the federated timeline, Mastodon also has a local timeline specific to each instance. The local timeline displays posts from members of your instance, creating a more intimate and community-focused experience. It’s a great way to stay updated on what’s happening within your instance and connect with fellow members who share your interests.
User Interface and Navigation
Mastodon’s user interface is reminiscent of Twitter (or Tweetdeck), making it easy for users familiar with what Mastodon users like to call ‘the bird app’ to navigate and find their way around. The layout consists of three main columns: the left column for instant publishing, the middle column for your feed, and the right column for settings, explore, and other options.
The user experience may take some getting used to, but once you become familiar with the interface, you’ll find it intuitive and user-friendly. The Mastodon team has taken inspiration from popular social media platforms to ensure a seamless transition for users.
“On conventional social media, teenage boys get sent videos from misogynistic misanthropes like Andrew Tate and are then recommended more and more demeaning and inappropriate content”
The Advantages of Mastodon
1. Privacy and Data Ownership
One of the primary concerns with centralised social media platforms is the lack of control over our personal data. With Mastodon, you have greater control and ownership over your data. Since Mastodon is decentralised, there is no single entity or corporation collecting and monetising your data. You choose which server to join, and you have the freedom to switch instances or even host your own Mastodon server.
2. Community-Driven Moderation
Another advantage of Mastodon is its community-driven moderation system. Each instance has its own moderation policies, allowing communities to establish rules that align with their values and priorities. This decentralised approach to moderation promotes diversity, inclusivity, and the well-being of community members.
3. Customisation and Personalisation
Mastodon offers a high level of customisation and personalisation options. You can choose your instance based on your interests and preferences, ensuring that you are part of a community that resonates with you. Additionally, you can customise your timeline and filter content to suit your preferences, making your Mastodon experience truly tailored to your needs.
4. Engaging with Like-Minded Communities
With Mastodon’s federated timeline and the vast network of instances, you have the opportunity to engage with a wide range of like-minded communities. Whether you’re passionate about art, music, technology, or any other topic, there’s an instance for you (updating the 90s joke “There’s an app for that” to “There’s an instance for that” :)). This allows for meaningful connections and interactions with individuals who share your interests, promoting a sense of belonging and being with like-minded people.
5. No Algorithmic Manipulation
Unlike mainstream social media platforms that employ complex algorithms to curate and prioritise content, Mastodon presents posts in a chronological order. This means that you won’t be subjected to algorithmic manipulation or filter bubbles that restrict your exposure to diverse perspectives. Mastodon encourages serendipitous discoveries and enables you to explore a broader range of content without algorithmic constraints.
And as we know, while algorithms pushing content at you isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, FB and Insta has become known for deprioritising your content until you stump up and pay to ‘boost’ that content, thereby achieving the visibility that you (possibly) would have anyway.
“With initiatives like Bluesky and the continuous development of new fediverse platforms, the future looks promising for a more open and empowering social media landscape.”
And of course there’s also the well-known spiral of bad content: teenage boys get sent videos from misogynistic misanthropes like Andrew Tate and are then recommended more and more demeaning and inappropriate content, while anyone who’s clicked on a divergent view about, say, the recent pandemic gets sucked into a quicksand of ever more radical posts and articles, reinforcing whatever bias they started out with until they develop tunnel vision…
Examples of Social Media Platforms in the Fediverse
Mastodon is just one example of a social media platform in the fediverse. The fediverse is a collection of interconnected social platforms that use the ActivityPub protocol to communicate with each other. This interconnectedness allows users of different platforms to interact and share content seamlessly. Another difference between the fediverse and the usual social media platforms, for example, is that if you want to shift from one platform to another, you can take your followers and readers with you.
Here are some other notable examples of social media platforms in the fediverse:
Pixelfed is a federated image-sharing platform that focuses on privacy and user control. It allows users to share photos, follow others, and engage with content in a visually appealing and user-friendly interface. Pixelfed offers an alternative to centralised image-sharing platforms and promotes a decentralised approach to content sharing.
Bluesky is an upcoming project led by Jack Dorsey (the guy who helped set up and then ran Twitter for aeons) that aims to decentralise social media. The goal is to develop an open and decentralised protocol that allows for interoperability between different social media platforms. While Bluesky is still in its early stages, it holds the potential to revolutionise the social media landscape and further empower users.
Other Fediverse Platforms
In addition to Mastodon, Pixelfed, and Bluesky, there are several other social media platforms in the fediverse. Some notable examples include Pleroma, PeerTube, and WriteFreely. Each platform offers unique features and caters to specific user needs, contributing to the diverse and thriving ecosystem of the fediverse.
How to Get Started with Mastodon
Now that you’ve gained insights into Mastodon and its advantages, you might be wondering how to get started. Here are the steps to embark on your Mastodon journey:
1. Choose an Instance
The first step is to choose an instance to join. Consider your interests and find an instance that aligns with your passions. You can explore the official Mastodon website or community-curated lists to discover instances that cater to your specific interests. Take your time to research and find an instance that feels like the right fit for you.
Good places for musicians on Mastodon can be:
musician.social | musicians.today | https://fediverse.party/en/portal/servers/#music (a list of possibles) | and our own personal favourite social.fetedelamusique.de
2. Create an Account
Once you have selected an instance, it’s time to create your Mastodon account. Visit the instance’s website and follow the registration process. You may need to provide basic information such as a username, email address, and password. Some instances may require manual approval, while others offer instant registration.
3. Set Up Your Profile
After creating your account, take some time to set up your profile. Add a profile picture, write a bio, and customize your profile to reflect your personality and interests. Remember, your profile is your online presence, so make it unique and engaging.
4. Explore and Connect
Now that you have a Mastodon account, start exploring the platform. Follow other users who share your interests, engage with their posts, and discover new content. Mastodon’s federated timeline and local timeline are great places to start. Don’t hesitate to join conversations, contribute your thoughts, and connect with like-minded individuals.
5. Customise Your Experience
Mastodon offers numerous customization options to tailor your experience to your liking. Explore the settings and preferences to adjust your timeline, notifications, privacy settings, and more. Make Mastodon your own by personalizing it to suit your needs and preferences.
6. Engage Responsibly
As with any social media platform, it’s important to engage responsibly and be mindful of your interactions. Respect the rules and guidelines of the instance you join, and be considerate of others’ opinions and perspectives. Remember, Mastodon is a community-driven platform, and fostering a positive and inclusive environment is essential.
The Future of Mastodon and the Fediverse
Mastodon and the fediverse represent a paradigm shift in the world of social media. As more individuals seek alternatives to centralized platforms, the fediverse offers a decentralized and user-centric approach to online social interactions. With initiatives like Bluesky and the continuous development of new fediverse platforms, the future looks promising for a more open and empowering social media landscape.
Whether you are an artist looking for a platform to showcase your work, a musician seeking a community of music enthusiasts, or a marketer searching for new avenues of promotion, Mastodon and the fediverse offer a vibrant and diverse ecosystem to explore and thrive.
Embrace the power of Mastodon, connect with like-minded individuals, and experience the freedom and creativity that comes with a decentralised social network. Join the movement and be part of the future of social media.
Featured cover image by Battenhall via Unsplash