Journal / Technology · 2022-11-26 0

Thoughts on Mastodon: First impressions

So far, this first week on Mastodon has been a lot of fun. The last time I dipped my toe in the Fediverse (the broad term for all federated social media — including Mastodon), it felt…empty. There wasn’t anyone on the service to chat with, or so it felt. Now, with everyone fleeing Twitter, I’m finding many of the folks I would follow have at least opened an account. But I’m also realizing how important connecting on the right instance is as the conversations on the server have been fun to follow! Also, my recent revelation that Mastodon allows for the following of has opened up finding topics of interest, from to to , the tagged conversations are a great way to quickly add things to your timeline and instantly have conversations on things you are interested in.

Mastodon also feels very much like early Twitter, where conversations would happen organically and with little vitriol making the whole experience a breath of fresh air. Hopefully, the decentralized and human moderation of the platform can keep things that way. But with the influx of users, I can see how the original users and the Twitter migrants may cause a lot of friction. The services, while similar, have many differences as well. Signing up and choosing an instance/server also binds you to their terms of use and violators can be banned and forced to find another place to land. In many ways, this human moderation is similar to Reddit where mods manage each subreddit and enforce the policies of each subsection of the platform to conform to their rules.

For those just getting started, joining a server can be an important first step but not one that should give anyone great pause. Most are allowing those escaping the “birdsite” (as Twitter is referred to by the Mastodon community) can find a home anywhere and later move to another instance that better meets their needs. This mass migration does shine a light on some of the areas that Mastodon needs to improve. The mobile client needs to get parity with the desktop service, especially for things like following hashtags and managing followers and lists. The user interface is sometimes a bit confusing and hard to navigate on both the desktop and mobile client. But the influx of users will hopefully help sharpen these edges into something that will make the service better as a whole. For one thing, it has reminded me of my neglected blog and got me writing here again! And the fact that, if you do have a WordPress site, you can Federate it as well and have it show up as a feed in Mastodon, is a really great feature!

Before the critical mass can truly put Mastodon and other Fediverse service front and center to get the support of the tech giants. Apple and Google need to treat these social media platforms the same as email or messaging and have baked-in clients that can interoperate the same way as email and just as easily. I can sign into my mail client that’s built into my computer and have a consistent experience across all my devices with standard conventions and expectations with little to no friction. Mastodon should be the same and big tech embracing it will help both expand the service and dilute the grip the social media powerhouses have over what is essentially a platform, not a product (despite their best efforts to turn them into one). I think, if we take any silver lining from Musk’s takeover of Twitter it is that we have had this exposed for all to see and that the grip these companies have on social media is fraught. People are the glue of social media, not the companies that host them!