Twitter Users Are Testing Decentralized Social Site Mastodon

In a social media ecosystem roiling with change, Mastodon is a newcomer that’s picking up steam as change agents and disaffected Twitter users seek alternative outlets. With 4.5 million accounts and growing, the microblogging platform is the brainchild of 29-year-old German software engineer Eugen Rochko, whose “free, open-source decentralized platform” has become the elephant in the room for Elon Musk, who on Monday tweeted three derogatory comments about the service. Musk later deleted the posts, but not before generating waves of publicity for his upstart competitor.

“Twitter users have caused a Mastodon meltdown,” writes Wired, which says it “isn’t quite Twitter but seems to be the closest thing to it,” with newcomers “signing up for its many servers in droves.”

Musk says the great migration is exaggerated, and that “Twitter’s daily growth hit all-time highs during his first week at the helm,” but Wired adds that “Bot Sentinel estimated that more than 1 million accounts have been deleted or deactivated in that time.”

The rivalry could have implications for the public appetite for decentralized social tech (something Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is also pursuing with a new entity called Bluesky).

Rochko created Mastodon’s original source code then made it available publicly through his nonprofit, Mastodon gGmbH so it could be redistributed and changed. It’s garnered an active community of global developers, contributing to the stack, adding new features and language translations.

“Anyone can create his or her own version of Mastodon” with rules and regulations “that apply only to that version,” Wired explains. Although the code is open source, Rochko hasn’t greeted all comers with open arms. “The right-wing social networks Gab and Truth Social have used Mastodon’s code, which the company opposed,” reports The New York Times, noting “being free and open source means giving up the ability to choose who can use it.”

Users can access Mastodon through a web browser or through its iPhone and Android apps. “At least 20 third-party apps have also been developed for access to Mastodon,” NYT says, explaining that unlike Twitter — a centralized network whose users interoperate only on Twitter — “Mastodon is what is known as a federated platform.” Those who join can cavort through an array of different servers run by different groups, like Discord.

Mastodon operates in something called the Fediverse, “or federated universe, a group of federated platforms that share communication protocols,” NYT writes. Mastodon presents posts in chronological order like all the big social networks did before they discovered algorithms and machine learning. It carries no advertising and is primarily crowdfunded, its two server groups — Mastodon Social and Mastodon Online — financed through the micropayments site Patreon.

“There may be no clear alternative to Twitter, a uniquely influential platform that is fast-moving, text-heavy, conversational and news-oriented,” says CNN, “but Mastodon scratches a certain itch.”