José Luis Orihuela
Professor of Multimedia Communication and Digital Strategy
The self-destruct crisis that Twitter has embarked on since Elon Musk took control of the company in late October has led to a drain of users who are searching for new digital homes.
Although Mastodon is not necessarily the only natural destination for Twitter migrants, the spectacular growth over the past few weeks seems to reveal a clear preference for this network, where even former Twitter employees have found refuge and set up their own written request.
It is also true that the exodus is not Exempt of penalties, since Mastodon is not Twitter, and both the software design and the culture of each network respond to opposing philosophies.
1. What is Mastodon?
Mastodon is an implementation of protocol ActivityPub for the management of a microblogging service (a category to which, for example, Twitter and Tumblr belong), whose open source code allows it to be installed on any web server (which constitutes a written request). Mastodon is also the network of federated instances and, finally, a registered trademark of Mastodon gGmbH, a non-profit organization run by Eugen Rochko, creator of the software and administrator of the original server.
2. How is it different from Twitter?
While Twitter is easy, Mastodon generates friction by design. Twitter is centrally managed, with proprietary software, is a publicly traded business that sells advertising (and identity verification) and where algorithms have taken over the Username experience.
Mastodon, on the other hand, works in a decentralized way, with free software, has no advertising and there are no algorithms that alter the timeline of Username.
3. Do I have to leave Twitter?
It is not advisable to close the accounts, it is preferable to keep our identities and brands busy on network. In addition, profiles are the ideal place to share links to our new destinations.
What is recommended is download the account files to have a local backup and to set up double verification to improve account protection.
4. Why is Mastodon playing now?
Without the need to abandon the Twitter account, it seems reasonable to have a plan B in case network implodes or goes out of business. There are many users who have taken the opportunity to return to their Tumblr accounts and there is also grade increasing activity on Instagram.
Anyway, from the time Elon Musk made the initial offer until he took ownership of the company, the conversation about Mastodon became increasingly prominent on Twitter (at the same time that the conversation about Twitter on Mastodon intensified).
It is inevitable to turn to Twitter as reference letter to explain Mastodon, but not only because of this crisis but also for historical reasons. Mastodon was born in 2016 because a Username of Twitter left network disenchanted because of its inefficiencies. That's how Eugene Rochko designed Mastodon inspired by Twitter but willing to reverse all its structural failures.
For this reason I have stated that Mastodon is the answer to the question, what would Twitter have been like if it had been developed by the open source community?
5. By what criteria should a written request be chosen?
Choosing a Mastodon written request (server) is partly similar to choosing an e-mail provider : our identity is linked to the brand of the chosen platform (Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail or Outlook) and, regardless of our choice, we can communicate with users of all the others.
In Mastodon there are generic instances (which are the most saturated) and there are thematic instances according to countries, regions, cities, languages, professions, disciplines and hobbies.
Other issues to consider in selecting a written request are:
the size of the written request (number of hosted accounts) because it can affect the server performance and because it conditions the experience of the local timeline, which is the one that corresponds to the updates of the users of that server.
the acceptable use policies and terms of service established by the administrator of the chosen written request (accepted languages, topics not allowed, blocked servers, content not available, etc.).
the risk of defederation that the written request could suffer due to its subject matter or because of its members.
The good news is that Mastodon accounts are perfectly portable between instances, so there is always the possibility to move to another server (keeping the community of the account, even if the content remains on the previous one).
6. How to find our contacts?
Paradoxically, the most direct method to know if our contacts are in Mastodon is to check their Twitter profile , since that is where the identity signs corresponding to Mastodon are being indicated.
One of the factors that has convinced me of Mastodon's potential for academic networking and the knowledge dissemination of science is the wide diversity of scientific specialties that have hundreds, if not thousands, of representatives grouped in perfectly identifiable communities: Anthropology, Archaeology, Astrophysics, Bioinformatics, Biophysics, Economics, Chemistry, Communication, Criminology, Law, Humanities , History, Neuroscience, Psychology, Sociology, etc. In Mastodon awaits a treasure at each researcher.
7. How is our identity verified in Mastodon?
In Mastodon there is no centralized verification of Username profiles (the light blue Twitter badge), there is only verification of the links that the Username includes in its profile (up to four) and only to the extent that the account owner can include a line of HTML code (available in its profile) in the file HTML of the page to which the link points. In such a case, the corresponding link will appear in green, indicating that it is verified.
There is a very interesting service called Twittodon that allows cross-checking between a Twitter account and a Mastodon account and generates a link that, when added to profile, confirms the match and is displayed in green. Twittodon also provides access to a database of verified matches that can be used to locate the Mastodon accounts of Twitter users.
8. How is our identity communicated publicly in Mastodon?
When we tell a friend about our presence on Twitter we can say "look me up on Twitter", since knowing our name they can perform a very simple search on Twitter's internal search engine . On the other hand, saying "I'm on Mastodon", is the equivalent of saying "I have email": there is no way to locate you if you do not indicate which server you are on.
In Mastodon there is no centralized search (only search against the database of a written request) and there is no word search. You can only search for tags (#MastodonHelp), user profiles by their username(@firstname.lastname@example.org), user profiles by their URL(https://mastodon.cloud/@jlori) and posts by their URL(https://mastodon.cloud/@jlori/109331733327310686).
Outside of Mastodon, on any website, blog or social media account, the correct way to communicate your identity is via the account URL. If you communicate using the username (@email@example.com), the browser will interpret that sequence as if it were an email address.
9. What are the characteristics of the writing in Mastodon?
The original Twitter restriction was 140 characters per tweet, later extended to 280 characters, which is the limit until now. In Mastodon the standard limit has been extended to 500 characters, although it is a restriction that each administrator of written request could modify up or down.
The second defining characteristic of writing on Mastodon is the need to make intensive use of tags (similar to the finding logic of content operating on Instagram) so that posts transcend the local timeline boundary (something that is also achieved by having followers from remote instances) and reach Mastodon users who do not follow us but are tracking the label in question.
10. What reliable information can I consult about Mastodon?
The official source , which should be explored in depth, is Mastodon Documentation and a highly recommended guide is Fedi.Tips.
The account of the developer of the original Mastodon software, Eugen Rochko, can be visited at mastodon.social/@Gargron.
Finally, as I have already confessed, those users who are willing to overcome the degree program obstacles of joining Mastodon and learning its techniques and culture (unlearning part of the inherited ones) will find themselves in an environment that, to the old Internet rockers, brings back memories of the Usenet communities, of the early days of the Web and, of course, of the blogging revolution.