The future of Mastodon?

Most twitter users had not heard of Mastodon until a week or so ago. What they did know was that Elon Musk had bought Twitter, turned it into a private dictatorship and was throwing out an eclectic range of changes and ideas of what he wanted to do with the site. For multiple reasons the Twitterati sought an alternative and Mastodon became the chosen one.

Mastodon is a decentralized federation of “instances” or servers. It has been around since 2016 and had a few hundred thousand users. Until last week! It has been overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of users fleeing from Twitter, or at least creating a back up social media presence in case the worst fears of a Musk-run Twitter arrived. By 7 November it had over one million active users and is growing fast.

This massive increase in users has not been universally welcomed by existing Mastodon users. Hugh Rundle outlined many of the concerns in this article. “I struggled to understand what I was feeling, or the word to describe it. I finally realised on Monday that the word I was looking for was “traumatic”. Overnight almost Mastodon transformed from a platform for relatively small scale interactions based on small scale IT set ups to a fledgling mass operations.

In many cases the instances/servers couldnĀ“t cope and closed themselves to new entrants. Others need considerable technical upgrades. the core programming language is possibly not suited to a fast, large scale, environment.

So what happens? Some thoughts.

Traditional Mastodon users will continue as before. Small user numbers, focussed around their interest, not accepting many, if any, new members. They will continue with small IT capacity, seeking ad hoc funding via Patreon. A few, like mine, which has 11,000 members and has closed to new ones, will ask for a small subscription.

Many new users will develop their own small, closed, instances: family and friends, clubs, NGOs etc. This may mean users need more than one address.

New users will upset the historic members, by default, until either they adapt to the new environment or new servers develop more suited to their aspirations.

The 500 word toot limit will mean more “mini blogs” appearing with regular author building a readership and discussions.

The very idea of decentralisation should mean a faster roll out of new server areas.

Larger, and very large, new instances/servers will appear. Well funded with more than adequate IT systems to cope. Some may be specialised (eg by a sport, or politics or cooking, cities etc) and will emerge as the general mastodon leading servers. A few may even, in time, accept sponsorship from selected organisations but not link users information to those sponsors. These will become the norm for most users in 2023/2024; general media, NGOs, politicians, political organisations, etc.

Some will be as argumentative as twitter as the “wrong type of twitter user” migrates. Mastodon servers can block other servers as well as individuals. Instance owners will need to be vigilant. The difficulty in finding other users is irritating. The idea of joining servers by invitation of an existing member (memories of the original LinkedIn) will enable small groups to continue.

The Home, Local and Federated streams needs tweaking. Federated is far too busy and large. As there is no algorithm the chronological order overwhelms any attempt at use. The local was fine if the server it applies to is a small relatively coherent group. Home, i.e. those you follow can be augmented by lists. (I see the use of lists expanding considerably)

There will be an increase in tools (eg languages translation, better handling of videos). Mastodon does appear USA centred at the moment and will need to adapt to a more global user base.

One major weakness is the lack of a Mastodon link on the “Share This” systems and on media articles etc. Given there is no single Mastodon account to link to not sure how this can be resolved.

Perhaps more to follow….. comments to @stevegreen@mastodon.green