The takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk has given a spotlight to the social network Mastodon, presented as a free alternative to the blue bird platform. Worried about the reforms prepared by the controversial billionaire or simply curious to consider new platforms, many users have ventured to this open-source and decentralized micro-blogging site founded in 2016.
According to its creator, the German developer Eugen Rochko, nearly 500,000 people had joined the platform since the end of October, bringing the number of active “mastonauts” to more than 1 million this past month. A trifle compared to the 240 million active users of Twitter. But today Mastodon registers thousands of registrations every hour.
Accessible from a mobile application or its website, Mastodon offers in many ways a similar experience to that of Twitter with the possibility of sharing “squeaks”, images and videos within a limit of 500 characters and well-known features such as hashtags, bookmarking of favorites and boosting, a kind of local retweet. The network is guaranteed without advertising, financed by donations and sponsors, and above all decentralized.
A decentralized social network
Unlike Twitter, where all users go through the same central infrastructure, you have to register on an instance, a decentralized server. There are more than 4,000, organized around centers of interest and geographical region and managed by volunteers or independent organizations.
These instances are governed by their own rules of procedure and follow their own moderation policy which may vary from one server to another. They communicate with each other, so that it is possible to exchange with users from other servers.
No recommendation algorithm
Another big difference with Twitter, Mastodon does not use recommendation algorithms that control the publications that appear on your screen by mainly highlighting content that corresponds to your tastes and opinions and locks you into your certainties without opening you up to the contradiction.
While Twitter uses this system by default to prioritize tweets in its users’ News Feed, Mastodon simply displays posts from accounts the user is subscribed to as they go live. It is also possible to consult a local thread, which offers the posts of other users of its instance and a global thread, also displaying the posts of neighboring instances.
How to choose your instance
The first experience on Mastodon quickly confused Twitter followers. It is therefore first necessary to choose an instance on which to register. Be careful, keep in mind that the administrator of your instance will know your password (like Twitter, that said). So favor a unique combination of characters.
Mastodon offers different servers grouped according to their theme or geographical location. The best-known instance is mastodon.social, which has more than 150,000 active members but has stopped accepting new registrations in recent days.
In France, there are several servers, including that of the association for the defense of digital freedoms La Quadrature du Net, Mamot – which however no longer accepts new subscribers -, Framapiaf, hosted by the free software developer Framasoft – also full – or Piaille, launched by a website host where we find in particular the former minister Cécile Duflot and many journalists. There are also specialized bodies, particularly in the scientific communities.
Once registered, it is not possible to link your address book to be suggested contacts as on Twitter. But you can search for users in the search bar at the top left of the interface. There are also services that offer you to link your Twitter account to find the profiles of your subscribers and subscriptions on Mastodon. For example, the Twitodon service, recommended by Framasoft.
Mastodon is not Twitter
Don’t expect Mastodon to be a perfect alternative to Twitter. The user experience is more tedious than on the blue bird social network. The absence of recommendation algorithms, despite their perverse effects, is quickly felt and one can quickly be tired of seeing publications that are not necessarily to their liking.
Twitter especially for him the network effect: it is the platform where things happen, where you can follow the news through hashtags and publications. On Mastodon, the “global” news feeds of instances can also quickly become unreadable without a language filter and under the multiplication of messages. The social network is not spared either by the problems of moderation, specific to each instance, nor misinformation. As it stands, Mastodon is therefore rather a complementary alternative to Twitter, for users wishing to exchange with their peers around specialized themes.