Tweet or Toot? (Is Mastodon The Next Twitter?)

/ April 5, 2017/ In Between

A new social microblogging site called Mastodon made a buzz this week that it might be the next Twitter. Curious, I went to the site to check it out.

Everyone can register because it’s free. However, it says “Pick a server that you trust…” So it’s like an MMORPG where you can select a server where you want to play. How will you interact with others located in another server? The second part of the sentence answers “- whichever you choose, you can interact with everyone else.” Sounds cool. Then the next sentence says, “Anyone can run their own Mastodon instance…” Wait… what? What instance?

Oh! I’ve realized that they call their servers “instances”. Now I understand.

The next paragraph says, “Due to exceptionally high traffic, registrations on this instance are closed…” Oh… “Choose one of the various other public instances to sign up!” And below are the links to their login page, other instances, and about this instance.

I’ve clicked “About this instance” and saw that it’s the main server, It says it is the “Home to 41,703 users, Who authored 1,027,045 statuses, and Connected to 469 other instances” as of this writing. Impressive knowing that this web-based microblogging site launched last October 2016.

I went back to the page I came from and read at the bottom what makes Mastodon unique. So posts can be 500 characters long, much longer than Twitter’s 140. That’s better. It can support short videos and GIFV set, hmm… okay. It boasts of per post privacy settings, meaning I can set a post either as public or in private. It also boasts of ethical design, meaning no ads, no tracking. And it’s also open source.

So I clicked on “Other instances” to check on the servers where I can possibly sign up. Whoa! There are many. Around 45, I guess. So I tried to click on one server, (since is closed for registration) and registered.

Once logged in, I started up setting up my preferences and post my first “Toot”. And after a few seconds, got a reply and saw my toot in the “federated timeline”, the public, common feed where you can view what everybody else are tooting. All happening in a 4-column dark gray screen. The interface reminds me of my Hootsuite dashboard.

On the left most column, the first one, is where you type your toot. You can use up to 500 characters in typing your toot (wait, do I sound like a tongue twister there?). At the bottom, there are icons that will tell you to attach an image (camera), adjust status privacy (globe), and place a content warning (CW).

The second column is the home feed where it shows your own toots and replies.

The third column is the notifications feed where it shows who liked (favorite) your toot, replied, and followed.

The fourth is where you can toggle between the Local Timeline (instance specific) or the Federated Timeline (the common timeline for different instances). These timelines are where you get updates from other parts of Mastodon. Some toots I’ve read are from the creator himself, Eugen Rochko who lives in Germany. Other programmers and moderators post their announcements regarding updates. While others are just trying this new social platform. Hey, not everyone posts in English. I’ve seen toots written in French. Also, I’ve seen a few famous names in it, too. (BBC News and Michelle Obama)

So it works like Twitter, but it is not like Twitter at the same time for the following reasons:

(1) Instances
It’s their term for servers, which as I’ve mentioned earlier. This provides the user a choice as to where he/she can post. Will it be a closed instance, a dedicated instance, or a public instance? Your choice.

(2) 500-character toot
It’s not limiting as Twitter and you don’t have to worry shortening a link. You can spell a word fully this time.

(3) Moderators
There are instances that are moderated because each instance have some set of guidelines.

(4) Decentralized
Because of so many instances, and only one Federated timeline to hold them all, this social media is decentralized. So if someone wants to create an instance based on a particular interest, it’s possible. It’s like creating your own chat room.

But I’ve seen some “flaws” in it as well:
(1) The name
Why name a new social network with something extinct? Also, there’s a band that has the same name. I guess, it’s time for them to consult an expert on branding. Even though they’re not into income generation, the brand deserves a tweak while it’s still young.

(2) Wrong place of search bar
The search bar is located on the first column and when I tried to look for topics of interests using a hashtag or the at (@) sign (just like Twitter), it only applies on the first column, over my few toots. I suggest that the search bar should be on the fourth column where timelines are located or better yet, applies to all columns.

(3) Handles and hashtags are not helping
User handles do show up in toots but not in the URLs for users’ homepages. So I’m identified as a number instead of identifiable website addresses with my user name. Also, I can’t search for topics using a hashtag (#).

(4) No “Delete Your Account” option
On the profile section, there’s no option for me to delete my account in case I decide not to continue this service.

I admit that the first article I’ve read about Mastodon was about 24 hours ago and someone posted a bad review on it a few hours after. It just shows how the buzz got it going within 24 hours. But I’ve noted a toot from Mastodon’s creator, Eugen Rochko and here is what he said:

Eugen @Gargron
Today has been one hell of a day! I have been working on both devops and code optimization non-stop, as well as answering questions and e-mails. A lot of ms have been shaved off of requests and background jobs. Instance admins should probably update to the latest master. I’ll be looking into adopting a more stable release system than just the master branch.

Oh also, I did read that “Mastodon will go extinct” article. The author doesn’t get it, and didn’t reach out to me at all.

Overall, it looks like a breath of fresh air in social media universe. But on the other hand, it seems that creation of instances are out of Rochko’s control which could possibly another concern. Will it get rowdy? Will moderation be an issue? We only have to wait and see.

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