The speed with which Elon Musk makes and executes decisions makes it very difficult to predict the short and medium-term future of Twitter. Most seem to agree that Twitter is going to become something different from what it is now, and the reality is that it has long since ceased to be what it was 5, 10 or 15 years ago.
Is Mastodon the alternative to Twitter? I don’t think so; for me it is a complement. TikTok seems a better alternative to Twitter than Mastodon without going any further.
Mastodon emphasises that it is “a social network that is not for sale”, as they state in a big way on their website. It is an idea that not everyone will be willing to accept, so I doubt Mastodon’s activity will end up being similar to that of Twitter. It will not set the political and media agenda, but perhaps that is good news.
On Twitter, there will be politicians, media, artists… and also scammers, harassers and subjects of interference who pay the subscription to Twitter Blue, gaining a priority in everyone’s timelines and mentions that will generate endless problems, impacting and influencing the public opinion as we already know it is capable of. At the same time, it suffocates with algorithms the reach of content -no matter how valuable it is- created and published by anyone who is not profitable for Twitter. Advertising will not be enough, although the processing and modelling of your information will continue to work at total capacity, whether you are Blue or not.
This makes you feel betrayed to a large extent after almost 15 years of contributing content, debating and allowing yourself to be a target for advertising, while at the same time, I see my space in a network that has given me so much personally and professionally in danger.
Benefits: belonging to a community with worldwide exposure
Suppose there is one thing I like about Mastodon. In that case, it is the decentralisation of its communities, allowing people with common interests -whatever they may be to come together, acting with a basic set of rules that they all comply with but who, in turn, can interact with anyone else in any other community. Similarly, any community can block any other community to limit its reach and avoid all the problems that single-owner networks like Twitter, Facebook or TikTok address.
Imagine that an independent journalistic body decides to set up a Mastodon server to host that community and all journalists interested in being part of it. That body can determine what rules exist, such as prohibiting the dissemination of fake news. It would be that body that would ensure the quality of the contents of the server, providing a seal of quality to all the people who toot (Mastodon’s version of a tweet) from that server. It also manages to prevent coordinated attacks against certain journalists or media, cleaning the timeline of mud. All this does not remain on that server since anyone registered on any server can follow, send replies and direct messages to those journalists and media, as is already done on Twitter.
I’m increasingly confident that Mastodon complements Twitter, not the alternative. We will continue to need to see what’s happening in the mud from time to time, even if it’s from afar.
Disadvantages: closing in your echo chamber
Belonging to a platform like Twitter balances you, to some extent, when finding the content you don’t expect or from people you don’t follow. On Twitter, there is exposure to whatever the algorithm decides, but this algorithm tends to work the same for everyone; to keep everyone happy, you have to take a few liberties. It also doesn’t ensure that you’re not in an echo chamber if anything, in one you’re unfamiliar with and where millions of people are different from you.
In Mastodon, that algorithm may be each server’s own rules, which would prevent, for example, a car-lovers server from being joined by content from a server that promotes alternative forms of mobility, such as cycling. Again, Mastodon has nothing to say, but it does allow that possibility.
It is, therefore, of fundamental importance that whoever manages the server we are on acts correctly and does not lock us into our echo chamber if that is not what we want.
Choosing a server is the main entry barrier
I will not go into technical details about the difference between a platform and a protocol. Still, some aspects of Mastodon invite us to think that a collaborative Internet that a few companies and their interests do not dominate is still possible. This is achieved with many decentralised servers where none of them belongs to Mastodon.
When a person lands on Mastodon expecting to find an alternative to Twitter, they are disappointed when they have to choose one of these servers. Too technical to be straightforward if someone goes there with that intention.
Changing how we think about it is more understandable; I will choose email as a comparative example.
Like Mastodon and websites, email is a protocol, not a platform. Twitter is a platform, so you sign up for Twitter, interact on Twitter, pay Twitter Blue, and follow Twitter’s rules. An Internet protocol is a way to intercommunicate information. As with Mastodon, anyone can build a mail server and not depend on a technology company, but if you don’t have the time, the desire or the knowledge, you can sign up with GMail or Hotmail to have an email account. In that case, you must comply with the rules of the service, even pay for it, that service manages spam filters, but you can always interact under the same conditions with people registered on another server. These are the Mastodon servers, spaces enabling anyone to interact in Mastodon.
Tips on choosing a server
You don’t have to spend a lot of time, but you do have to be interested in joining an exciting community where you can also be interested. A simple Google search is more than enough. Are you looking to join an LGBTQIA+ community? Google “lgbt mastodon”, and you get tech.lgbt to sign up. Prefer something local? I, for example, registered in mastodon.gal simply because I live in Galicia (although I feel a bit of an intruder…).
If you make the wrong choice, you can move, taking content, followers, favourites, etc., with you. Maybe tomorrow, I will find a Product Management server and decide it makes more sense to belong to that one than to a Galician server. Easy, from the options.