Tried the app, here’s what you need to know
My first thought about Mastodon was that it looked like a nicely designed game.
The second was that it seemed too overwhelming.
The third is “Why isn’t the confirmation link appearing in my email?”
The last point was quickly explained when I got the link 10 hours later and was able to log in. Mastodon was having technical issues, and its developers “two” (Mastodon-talk for tweets) Early Tuesday.
Hundreds of thousands of users have joined the platform Since Elon Musk took over Twitter. He has distinguished himself so far Mass layoffs And a series of changes to moderate content and Verification process. There have also been reports of Musk’s thinking Putting all Twitter accounts behind a paywall.
Mastodon itself is an open source decentralized network, which, according to its website, comes without an algorithm or ads and does not sell user data. She describes herself on her website as “a radically different social media, back in people’s hands.”
However, user reports show that the network is not without problems.
Twoots isn’t the only complicated thing about Mastodon.
To create a Mastodon account, you first have to choose a server – the source of my initial feeling of overwhelm. Some of the questions I had were: What are servers? What do they mean for users? How are you supposed to choose?
Some research helped. Servers, also known as “instances,” are effectively small networks or communities. Their name becomes part of your username (in my case, @sophiekid @mastodonapp.uk), they all have different rules, and some require you to apply for them. Centered around topics such as art, living in a particular country or being from a particular country, genres of music, and more.
Anyone can set up a server, and then control it – you can modify the content in it or even delete it. However, you can communicate through them. Mastodon refers to this setting as a “federation.” They are also part of “fediverse” or “fedi” for short – which simply means the sum of all servers.
Content across the universe can be found in the Consolidated Timeline, while two pieces of the Home Server can be accessed through the Local Timeline. The homepage only shows content from people you follow.
This makes it difficult for the network to acquire and retain users, said Ann Bailey, director of search strategy at cybersecurity analytics firm KuppingerCole.
“Mastodon still looks too technical for the standard user, which will pose challenges for adoption,” she told CNBC Make It.
The user experience isn’t quite as smooth either. Twoots has been increasingly complaining about pictures, videos, and messages not loading or lags — an issue that Mastodon developers attribute to increased activity on the platform.
The app login button still takes me back to the registration server page. When I was able to log in, I opened Mastodon in my phone’s browser instead of the app. On the desktop, the website often refuses to accept the username and password – even when they are correct.
Mastodon did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment for this article.
Long-term users praise the app for making it easier to build a community, to have open and friendly discussions without clutter, and for the independence it gives to server hosts and members.
User autonomy is particularly closely related to the decentralized nature of Mastodon, according to Nishanth Sastry, director of research in the University of Surrey’s Department of Computer Science.
“Decentralization means that users are not beholden to the whims of the platform and its owners (such as Twitter/Musk or Facebook/Zuckerberg). They can decide what they are comfortable with — for example, if a case wants to ban Trump, they can,” he said.
Sastry added that this brings another benefit – user data cannot be accessed or controlled by a major organization.
Diana Zolli, an assistant professor at Purdue University whose research focuses on media and technology, made the same point.
“Mastodon is an excellent example of how to have a thriving social network while avoiding some of the downsides of corporate social media, such as monitoring user activity, selling user data, and centralized control,” she said.
Mastodon doesn’t come without risks – server selection can cause long-term problems, said Gareth Tyson, a computer science researcher from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
“The person running your chosen server might run out of money and need to shut down, or they might have very different views of moderation practices than you would,” he said.
There are also broader risks associated with the open source nature of Mastodon – anyone can access and duplicate the software it’s working on, regardless of their intentions. For example, the white supremacy group Gab, uses parts of the Mastodon software.
Experts are still divided on whether Mastodon will replace Twitter. Tyson argues that his growth makes him promising.
He said, “It already has a very active user base. Thousands of servers are already there and they are growing day by day. At least, I see Mastodon as a clear contender within the next 12 months.”
Zulli added that Mastodon is likely to benefit from similarities with Twitter. “Because Mastodon replicates many of Twitter’s features, it can (and is) a welcome haven for those unhappy with Twitter,” she said.
Others, including Bailey, argue that Mastodon needs to make changes before it can be widely used.
“Being a real alternative to Twitter will require tremendous momentum,” she said. “Some may find Mastodon still seems a bit technical. Adoption will require an app that’s easy to use for broad audiences.”
For me, I haven’t quite decided how much I’m going to use Mastodon. The way Twitter evolves may play a role, as well as what my friends and colleagues ultimately do with their social media use. For now, I’ll continue to learn about the app – but I won’t delete my Twitter account.