What is Mastodon, the social network that wants to replace Twitter?

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On October 27, 2022, Elon Musk officially became the boss of Twitter. If the soap opera will have made a lot of ink, the realization of this buyout at 44 billion dollars does not only make people happy.

Barely arrived, Elon Musk began the revolution he had been promising for months. After firing the company’s top executives, the earthy billionaire announced that Twitter Blue would now include account certification for $8 a month (after announcing a $20 fee).

These first transformations of the social network to the blue bird have rushed some faithful. Disappointed, they turned to an alternative known as Mastodon. But what is this new social network? Can it really replace Twitter? We tell you everything.

Mastodon: the anti-Twitter?

At first glance, Mastodon looks like Twitter in many ways. This micro-blogging social network allows you to express yourself in a limited number of characters (500 here against 280 for Twitter), to add a photo, a survey, a link or any other content to your “toot”. Yes, on Mastodon the tweet becomes toot, and the retweet is called boost.

As on Twitter, you can subscribe to the accounts of other users and respond to their toots. Messages are also displayed in chronological order. In summary, Twitter regulars will quickly find their marks.

“If Mastodon is so much like Twitter, why not stay on Twitter? ». Great question, thanks for asking. In reality, the philosophy behind Mastodon is quite different from that of Twitter.

Eugen Rochko, German computer scientist at the origin of Mastodon explained in a press release published in April 2022 the reasons which led him to develop this social network:

Funny thing is, one of the reasons I started getting into decentralized social networks in 2016, and eventually led me to start Mastodon, was the rumor that Twitter , the platform I used daily for years, could be sold to another controversial billionaire.

Open-source and non-profit

What is a decentralized network? Let’s take Twitter in comparison. To access the social network, there is only one web address, twitter.com. Mastodon is built around a multitude of serversbaptized “instances”, which take different forms (mastondon.top, mastodon.social…) and are even sometimes classified by theme (food, region, art, tech…)

This architecture makes access to the service more complicated than on Twitter. But the Mastodon app makes it easy. “Servers provide a service, like GMail or Hotmail for emails” explains Eugen Rochko to Guardian. But these servers, although distinct, are not “isolated from each other, like on discussion forums”. Thereby, “with an account, you can follow and interact with anyone, within this decentralized and global network” reassures Eugen Rochko. And to add:

People ask us why Mastodon is not a unique website. A single website that can be used around the world requires so much computing power, infrastructure, and engineering that it’s nearly impossible to do without significant capital and monetization.

Gold, the essence of Mastodon is not to make money off the backs of users. The social network is based on an LLC created in Germany. Its particularity: it is non-profit. As for the software, it is open source, that is to say completely free.

Without moderation

On paper, everything seems to come together for Mastodon to reach a wide audience. It indeed takes the ingredients of the success of Twitter without its disadvantages (advertising for example).

But all is not perfect. Mastodon indeed allows you to create your own server, which gives a “total control of your own voice on the web, without being subject to anyone’s rules or whims” assures the company. This may be true in the United States but not in Europe where the DMA and the DSA will force users of any social network to respect the law of the country in which they are located, particularly in terms of freedom of expression.

Then there is the question of moderation. Since you are master of the server, where does freedom of expression end? Bloomberg reporter Drake Bennett sums it up nicely who Mastodon is for:

If your problem with Twitter is seeing annoying fast food ads, then yes. But if it’s the hostility, the anger that comes out of a lot of the content there, then maybe not.

Does the salvation of disappointed Twitterers really lie in Mastodon? Nothing is less sure. Other alternatives exist like Reddit or Discord which is eyeing this target. Above all, Ouest-France recalls that the co-founder of Twitter himself is about to launch a new social network in beta. Its name: Bluesky Social. Here then !

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