The following are the answers I gave to a journalist during the second or third major burst of members coming from Twitter.
Obviously, the journalist only took one sentence and didn’t capture my mood.
1: How many people have joined Mastodon in Australia since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter? Do you have figures or rough estimates/percentages? International figures?
Globally Mastodon saw an uptick of around 1 million people joining in the last month. https://fediverse.observer/stats
My instance saw more than 12,000 people joining over the last weekend, and this only slowed down due to closing signups because my servers could not handle the flood of people. I plan on opening up again soon, and there have been other Australian instances opening recently to share the load. We’re more than able to support hundreds of thousands of people on my instance now if we see another flood of people leaving Twitter.
2: Were you prepared for the sort of interest your site is now getting and are changes being made to accommodate ex-Twitter users?
a) Aus.Social has been around for 3+ years, and we’re slowly been growing from word of mouth during that period. I expected to see growth over time but not for the thousands of signups over a 48-hour period. From both a technical and a moderation perspective. Our volunteer staff had problems dealing with the increased time and mental stress of users’ reports.
As the administrator, I was able to handle the technical side, but I’m currently working on building the policies and political side to be able to maintain a safe environment.
A lot of people flooded to Mastodon instances that were unable to handle the load had a negative experience and left… hopefully they try again now that administrators have had time to prepare to handle the waves of people.
b) Twitter and Mastodon share a lot in common which makes Twitter users quickly adapt, but there are a lot of differences that cause some confusion. Twitter is a machine built for user engagement, and Mastodon is built with a slightly more personal direction. For example, there is no search function. You cannot search for “Melbourne coffee” and find local or like-minded people to follow. This is to stop people from discovering people who they disagree with and start a fight. This choice is good for building a safer culture but makes discoverability harder.
Mastodon is slowly planning to roll out features that will hopefully resolve these problems and make the hardcore Twitter users happier on the platform, but these changes will take time.
3: Why are people seeing Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter and how is it different/better? What will new users notice?
Mastodon is best compared to Twitter by talking about what it’s missing. Mastodon has no ads, no tracking, no algorithms or aggressive pushes for negative engagement. The feed is in real-time and honest, it doesn’t push topics or trends. It encourages the use of “content warnings” to allow people to choose the content they see, and filters allow people to restrict content they dislike.
Mastodon’s developers have an aim to make an alternative to Twitter by taking the best parts and hopefully slowly changing over time. I can imagine Mastodon changing faster than Twitter has over the next few years.
Because of this increased interest, the main developers are hopefully going to listen to the community and drive innovation based on the needs and wants of the users, instead of the needs of the shareholders. Community-driven vs profit-driven development is not something that people are used to in social networks.
4: Will you be seeking out ex-Twitter staff?
I haven’t spoken to any Twitter staff, but they are all free to join the Fediverse. Mastodon is free and open source, and any of them can make an instance, or join the development team to share their insights.
5: With the turmoil at Twitter and Meta laying off thousands of workers too, are we seeing the end of the mass-use social media era, at least as we’ve known it over the last 15 years? What do you think social media will look like in the future?
The dot net booms are no new to the tech economy, but I’ve always stressed the classic “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” line. Twitter/Meta are publically listed companies with shareholders who demands infinite growth and ever-increasing returns for their investment. There is a preserve incentive for those social media companies to drive their user bases up and have entire teams of people dedicated to tricking people into using their products. Mastodon will hopefully never sell any users’ data. There will hopefully not be advertisers which need to be kept happy.
I hope to see a future where all of the positive parts of social media can exist but without the profit motive. I have a patreon that is currently sitting at more than my operating costs and this will enable to me
We’re building new community infrastructure. I need to maintain the instance for my users, but we also need to work to keep the instances moderated. We need to make them safe for my users. The best part of having thousands of different instances is you can choose the style of moderation that fits your needs.
There are a lot of technical people who think they can solve social problems with technology, but in reality, we need the people who use these services to nurture a safe culture that gives them the ability to be creative and hopefully get something positive out of these new online social services.
6: Can you give a brief description of Mastodon and how it works, its structure and how it’s different to Twitter?
Mastodon is part of something called the Fediverse, which is powered by “ActivityPub”. This is a free and open-source concept that enables anybody to make a social network and have it communicate openly with others. This will enable people to build a replacement Instagram, and people can like and comment on their friend’s “Fediverse Instagram” photos from inside mastodon.
This kind of cross-product integration doesn’t exist today. Twitter doesn’t talk to Instagram, and Instagram doesn’t talk to Reddit. This is the point and future of Mastodon and the Fediverse.