Ever since Elon Musk took over Twitter, the popularity of an alternative social media platform has skyrocketed to the point that it now boasts 1 million users – roughly twice as many as it had before the leader of Tesla stepped into the narrative.
But what exactly is Mastodon? Its name may be that of an extinct mammal but this social media platform is far from being outdated as thousands are flocking to it to enjoy its decentralized nature as they run from Musk’s volatile policy and product changes.
What is Mastodon and How Does it Work?
Mastodon was launched in 2016 by a German software developer called Eugen Rochko who engaged in the ordeal of crafting a new Twitter-like space that did not foster some of the hostilities that the millions of users of Musk’s app have grown accustomed to.
The infrastructure that powers Mastodon is different compared to Twitter as the platform is divided into independent servers that typically host thousands of users who share a certain interest.
For example, there could be a Mastodon server for New Yorkers and another one for MLB fans. This is similar to the sub-communities that have formed in Twitter – i.e. crypto twitter, fashion twitter, finance twitter, etc. – but Mastodon manages to host these individuals in a single space so others can easily find them.
Different from Twitter, Mastodon is an ad-free platform as the parent company is a non-profit organization. Thus far, Rochko has managed to keep the platform up and running by raising capital via crowdfunding. However, the decentralized structure of Mastodon relieves it from the hefty cost of storing data externally with cloud infrastructure providers like Amazon AWS or Google Cloud.
What Makes Mastodon Unique and Can It Become a Threat to Twitter?
Both Twitter and Mastodon are micro-blogging spaces. They allow users to share thoughts and exchange ideas with friends and complete strangers about a wide range of topics going from politics to horse training.
Mastodon’s most distinctive characteristic is its architecture as independent servers run the show – not a centralized entity. This can be both good and bad. On the good side, Mastodon saves millions in data storing and transfer costs.
However, decentralization comes with many challenges such as content moderation. Mastodon has standard rules that all users must abide by. For example, publishing sexually-explicit content is forbidden along with sharing racist or homophobic remarks and content. Content that is illegal in Germany is also off-limit and sharing fake news.
The question at this point would be if Mastodon has the required infrastructure and organizational manpower to keep bad actors in check as it is now handling twice as many users as it did months ago.
On its official website, the firm has shared a number of servers that have been suspended for supporting content that goes against these rules such as conspiracy theories, hate speech, spam, and misinformation.
The Social Media Landscape is Apparently Experiencing a Tectonic Shift
Will people keep flocking to Mastodon? That is completely uncertain. It will probably depend on Elon Musk’s next steps to monetize his new business and how viral the platform continues to go.
What appears to be true is that long-standing social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter are being increasingly threatened by newcomers in the space such as TikTok and even BeReal, which are proposing alternative views in regards to how content should be and can be shared.
The social media space has been known for decades as an ever-changing landscape and Mark Zuckerberg recently recognized that he may have missed the boat when it comes to the latest trend in online social interactions. Things are changing and not just because of Musk’s takeover.