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Wanna try Mastodon... again?

It's been called a 'Twitter alternative'. Maybe, but this decentralised social network has its own charms. And the Android version has just had a complete update

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Jul 4, 2023 10:58:03 AM IST
Updated: Jul 4, 2023 11:22:19 AM IST

Wanna try Mastodon... again?Mastodon hit a million users last year. Image: Mastodon website

How many mastodons did you count on the signup page if you tried the app some six or seven months ago, when it suddenly gained circulation? I’d signed up for an account, just to see what it was all about, as people started posting about “Twitter alternatives”. Well, Discord’s been there for a while, but is generally considered a gamers’ thing, although it has expanded way beyond that segment. And there’s Hive, which hit a million users last year, but is seen as more GenZ focussed.

Mastodon, which also hit a million users last year, I thought was where I would find people and topics of my interest to follow. In reality, your options are not nearly as extensive as you might find on Twitter, with its 25 to 30 million users in India alone and 10 times as many worldwide.

For example, back then, when I searched for #India, the first results were a few users interested in academics and human rights. Wasn’t too different today, so it’s not a platform to look for news. And the very first result I’d got searching for #bollywood was a post by a particle physicist who happened to like popular Indian cinema. I tried again today and among the top results was news of a report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences on gender bias in Bollywood.

Anyways, that brings me to the big difference between Mastodon and Twitter. The ‘instances’, or servers, can be anywhere in the world. Unlike Twitter, which is centralised, and everything happens on the company’s servers, Mastodon is a decentralised, federated network.

And the chance to focus on what is important to you is what you’ll come to love and enjoy—hopefully it will stay free of hate mongering posts and ads you didn’t ask to see.
To use it, you need to join at least one instance or server to follow. I joined @mastodon.world, which has hundreds of thousands of users, but an instance can even be one person or a small community—you could make one for your local book club or your running mates.

Also read: Will 2023 bring some calm and stability at Twitter?

For those of you who want to know more about what’s under the hood, checkout the Wiki page for ActivityPub, which is the social networking protocol that powers Mastodon and some other apps as well.

To simply use it, just download the app on your phone—both iOS and Android versions are available—and signup. Start searching for people and topics you want to follow, and soon you’ll get the hang of it. The developers say Mastodon is a registered nonprofit organisation that runs on users’ donations—“no advertising, no monetisation, and no venture capital, and we plan to keep it that way,” they say.

Some features are similar to that of Twitter. You can microblog your own content, so long as the posts abide by the ground rules of the instance you’ve joined. And you can share content within and outside the app. If you’re interested in your own server, hit joinmastodon.org for the how to.

The network was founded by Eugen Rochko, a Russian-born German software developer, in 2016-17. And he recently posted that the Android version has had a complete overhaul. “We left no stone unturned—tab bars, settings, composing—everything is refreshed and reflects your colour palette,” Rochko wrote in a blog on July 1. “We’ve entirely revamped the previously sparse settings section with dozens of new ways to customise your experience, as well as the ability to access information about the server you’re connected to and view its rules.”

Also read: What changes at Twitter mean for the platform's 24 million users in India

And “one subtle but important change is where and how we show verifications. If a profile has a verified link, we’ll surface it in search results and other lists so you can more easily tell different profiles apart,” Rochko adds.

Speaking off verifications, Mastodon’s Android revamp comes at a time when Twitter is still reeling under Elon Musk, whose latest move was to restrict how many tweets users could see in their feed. And real social media elephant, Meta, has just waded into Twitter’s territory, announcing a rival, called Threads, to be launched in two days. So, take your pick.

Posts on Mastodon are called ‘toots’—well, it’s a mastodon—and the default character limit is 500, but individual instances/server administrators can dial that up or down. I didn’t find a laptop version. Give it a whirl and toot your interests. I’d counted 12 mastodons, by the way.

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