Why Mastodon still can’t replace Twitter

Launched in 2016, the Twitter-like social network aims to cure Twitter’s ills through the magic of decentralization. Rather than operating as one social network, Mastodon relies on a web of interconnected, open-source servers called “instances,” with the owners of each instance setting their own moderation policies. Some cases even have specific concerns, such as gaming, technology or art.

Mastodon often gets a boost when Twitter ticks off its users — a change in reply formatting in 2017, for example, sparked tens of thousands of new signups — and Musk’s plan to take over Twitter was predictably a boon. CEO Eugen Rochko told Vice this week that 30,000 users just joined Mastodon for the first time.

But while Mastodon sounds pretty special in theory — combining Twitter’s chronological feed with Reddit’s community-driven spaces, with no ads or business interests — the promise falls apart once you actually use it. Mastodon’s apps and websites still feel disorganized, and it’s not immediately clear what users should do with the service after signing up.

I think Mastodon is on to something with its decentralized approach to social media, but instead of trying to clone Twitter, it might be better to lean on all of its inherent differences.

Confusion when signing up

Do a Google search for ‘Mastodon’ and the best result (outside of the metal band of the same name) is mastodon.social. There you will find a sparse signup page with practically no description of the service or its features.

That’s because mastodon.social isn’t actually the homepage of Mastodon. It’s just one server – or “instance” – of the many that make up Mastodon’s decentralized network (although it’s the original server maintained by Rochko himself and one of the largest). To learn more about Mastodon as a whole and browse other instances you should visit joinmastodon.org instead, but you would never know if you visit mastodon.social.

But even after you figure this out, joining an agency can be a mess. In some cases you won’t be able to see a public feed of posts before subscribing, and for those that do you’ll need to click “Join” in Mastodon’s folder and then click “See What Happens” on a separate page . It is a clumsy and confusing process that does little to help users locate.

More servers, more problems

The bigger problem with Mastodon is the inability to unify your presence across multiple instances. Since most Mastodon servers are quite small, the best way to use them is to browse their “local” timelines, which act as a fire hose for anything users have posted publicly. This is useful for finding interesting people to follow and starting conversations.

Following someone from another agency can be a daunting task. “mastodonmobile” – Figuring out which agency to join can be a mess.

But because each server basically acts as a separate version of Mastodon, joining multiple instances is a hassle. Each requires you to maintain separate profiles and lists of followers, and it’s not possible to view multiple “local” timelines in one feed.

Mastodon allows you to track people outside of your own agency, but that only adds further complications if you want to join more than one. Now you don’t just have to think about who to follow, but also where to follow them.

Mastodon’s approach would make sense if every server were Twitter-esque in scale and users rarely had to spend time outside a single instance. But as it stands, the service needs more ways to float between communities and sync their profiles between them.

Limited mobile apps

Mastodon’s problems are only exacerbated by the mobile apps, which make exploring and discovering instances even more difficult.

At least Mastodon’s website allows you to browse each agency’s public posts before joining. That’s not an option in the mobile app, where you have to choose an instance based on a brief description instead.

The master copy of Mastodon offers no useful information

Even after you do that, Mastodon’s mobile app lacks the “local” fire hose view available on its website. That means you can’t easily see what people are posting in your instance, and instead have to start looking up individual users to follow. The experience is reminiscent of the early days of Twitter, when a large percentage of users left the service after signing up because they didn’t know what to do with it.

The mobile app isn’t really set up to jump between instances, either. If you get bored with one instance and decide you want to try another instance, the only option is to log out of your account and sign up for a new instance all over again.

How Mastodon could be better

The overarching problem here is Mastodon is trying to look too much like Twitter when it really should be more like Reddit.

Mastodon’s decentralized approach lends itself to smaller, closer-knit online communities, each with their own content preferences, interests, and moderation rules. In the ideal version of Mastodon, users would be able to browse the content of those communities and jump between them at any time, but they would still have easy ways to communicate with anyone else on the network. The idea of ​​tracking specific users would be secondary — something you set aside to keep track of your favorite people — rather than the primary way of interacting with the service.

Interestingly enough, Twitter itself seems to be recognizing the power of smaller communities lately, with the rollout of a Community feature that allows small groups of Twitter users to talk to each other. I’m not sure how popular the feature has been as a whole, but the only community I was part of seemed to fall apart after just a few months. I feel like a community-driven approach is too much at odds with what people expect from Twitter.

However, Mastodon is inherently focused on small, independent communities because of its decentralized model. If it built on those strengths, it could seriously be a social media giant, rather than just a place where people go to complain about Twitter.


This post Why Mastodon still can’t replace Twitter was original published at “https://www.fastcompany.com/90747154/sorry-elon-haters-mastodon-still-cant-replace-twitter?partner=rss&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=rss+fastcompany&utm_content=rss”

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