Twitter's Emerging Competitor Doesn't Want To Be Twitter

Twitter's Emerging Competitor Doesn't Want To Be Twitter

Twitter is a hellhole. Mastodon isn’t trying to replace the trashcan fire that is Twitter, but it is offering its users something different.

Mastodon, a social network released in October 2016, could be described as a Twitter competitor, but the more you dig into it, the less true that feels. On the surface, it’s pretty Twitter-like. Mastodon’s website design looks a lot like the Twitter client Tweetdeck. Posts can only be a certain number of characters, you can use hashtags and even boost other people’s posts. There are some marginal surface differences—instead of tweets, posts are called toots—but when you first look at the site, the experience looks more or less the same.

Untangling the knot of what Mastodon actually is, however, begins when you’re trying to set up an account. Unlike Twitter, Mastodon isn’t a single network, but hundreds of them. They’re called “instances,” and they’re all run independently by different users. You can still talk to users who are in different instances, but whatever instance you personally join will have its own set of social norms and rules, sort of like early 2000s internet forums. There are instances for queer people, for furries, for filmmakers, for people interested in Magic: The Gathering. On one instance, you can’t make any posts with the letter “e.” This inspired another instance, on which you can only use the letter “e.”

Mastodon allows instance admins to protect the communities they’ve built, and for some, that ethos is at odds with the influx of people who are looking for Twitter alternatives. Almost every instance admin who spoke to Kotaku said that they hope their instance doesn’t grow too quickly. One said if Mastodon ever got too mainstream, they’d leave it. When Wil Wheaton tried to join an instance, the people already on it weren’t very happy with having a celebrity, especially this particular one, on their server. Wheaton ended up leaving his account of his own accord after being told by an admin that it was going to be suspended.



Twitter's Emerging Competitor Doesn't Want To Be Twitter

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