What is the difference between Twitter and Mastodon?


Created six years ago, the social network Mastodon has been talked about since Elon Musk took control of Twitter. On November 7, the creator of this social network, Eugen Rochko, indicated that the social network had crossed the bar of one million active users per month. And between October 27 and November 7, 2022, Mastodon added almost 500,000 new active users.

Often described as the open-source, decentralized version of Twitter, Mastodon could become a haven for anyone fleeing Elon Musk’s social network, or wanting more control over their experience.

What are the differences in terms of functionality?

When it was created in 2016, Mastodon was very inspired by Twitter. And even today, if you’re used to using the little blue bird, you’ll have no trouble using the prehistoric elephant (Mastodon’s logo).

Indeed, the basic mechanics are the same. You can follow other users, share posts, comment, react with a star, post photos or videos, use hashtags and mentions, or use a search engine.


Screenshot on mastodon.social, the server managed by the creator of the social network. © Eugen Rochko

In contrast, Mastodon is currently more generous when it comes to characters. Posts can be up to 500 characters. On the other hand, the network with the little prehistoric elephant offers several news feeds, in addition to an Explore tab: the local public feed, and the global public feed (we will come back to this later), as well as the account feed. followed.

Otherwise, it is also worth noting that Mastodon is against ranking algorithms. Thus, the posts on the feeds are arranged in chronological order, and it is up to you to filter these posts, to end up obtaining a feed that corresponds to your sensitivity and your preferences. For example, you can create a filter that bans an entire server (we’ll get to that later too).

In terms of functionality, therefore, Mastodon is a bit like the Twitter of a few years ago, without the Spaces or the newsletters (or the NFTs). On the other hand, the social network supports audio formats, which makes it possible to publish podcasts.

Centralized vs. decentralized

The basic difference between Twitter and Mastodon is that the former is centralized while the latter is a decentralized social network. But what does that mean?

Twitter is controlled by a company, and all the data, the whole network, centralized by this company on its servers. When it comes to Mastodon, it’s different.

Indeed, Mastodon is open source software, offered by a non-profit organization, that any developer (or non-developer) can use to create their own social network. For example, mastodon.social, the server administered by the CEO of the NGO, has only 152,000 active users, out of the million claimed for the entire network.

Communities, cities, businesses, or even an individual can create their own Mastodon servers. Moreover, when creating an account, the first thing to do is to choose a server.

And the NGO’s site offers a directory of servers, classified by theme. You can join a gamer server, a general or regional server, or a server that specializes in activism.


A directory of Mastodon servers. © Mastodon

Each server has its moderation rules. But they communicate with each other. For example, if you are on the mastodon.social server, administered by Eugen Rochko, you will be able to follow and interact with another user on another server. No problem.

On the other hand, the advantage of choosing the right server is that the local news feed (mentioned above) will contain the publications of users on this server. So, if you are a gamer, it is better to use a gamer server. But you can also choose your server according to linguistic criteria.

As for the global news feed, it displays posts from across the network. And of course, there’s the main feed, which displays posts from the accounts you follow, in chronological order.

Operation inspired by emails

This complexity is the beauty of this social network. But it can also be a barrier to its adoption by a wider audience.

Otherwise, it should be noted that on Twitter, usernames are simple. For example, Elon Musk’s is @elonmusk. On Mastodon, when communicating with someone on a different server, usernames are long, like email addresses.

For example, Eugen Rochko’s is @Gargron@mastodon.social. The second part allows you to know on which server the account is located.


© Eugen Rochko

The decentralized operation of Mastodon is also comparable to that of e-mails. The technology does not belong to anyone. But whether you’re using Gmail, Outlook, or email hosted on your own server, you’ll be able to send emails to all email users.

Twitter vs. Mastodon: the business model

When it comes to revenue, Twitter makes money through advertising. The platform also offers a paid version.

For its part, Mastodon is free. And like other NGOs, the organization behind this network operates on donations. However, since Mastodon is decentralized, this one does not foot the bill for other servers.

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