What is Mastodon? Meet the ‘Open Twitter’ that inspires Elon Musk

Last week, billionaire Elon Musk surprised the world when he said he wanted to buy all of Twitter’s shares, thus becoming the owner of the social network. Twitter, for its part, is trying to prevent that from happening – and the exchange of offers, precautionary measures and gossip on social media is not stopping.

Adding fuel to the fire in the discussion, the billionaire has already hinted that, if the purchase of US$ 43 billion is carried out, he intends to open the code of the Twitter algorithm, so that anyone can look and suggest changes.

The point is that, if the idea came to fruition, it wouldn’t be anything new: Mastodon is a competitor of Twitter that already works exactly like that, with open source, driven by the users themselves and without advertising.

Instead of control being concentrated in the hands of shareholders or a company, as with Twitter and social networks such as Facebook, Mastodon is completely dominated by its users. There are moderators to ensure the security of the platform and anti-abuse tools, but the scheme is self-moderating — something similar to how Wikipedia works.

Its founder, Eugen Rochko, revealed that the number of subscribers to the main server grew by 9% in the last week, after Musk declared his interest in buying the rival network. Since anyone can make their own version of Mastodon, other servers may have grown even bigger.

But what is this Mastodon, how does it work and how is it similar to Twitter? tilt explains.

How does Mastodon work?

Despite having a distinct business model, the practical use of Mastodon is very similar to that of Twitter: users post photos, videos, emojis, but limited to 500 characters.

Mastodon initial feed seen by computer

Image: Mastodon

It is also possible to hide information in a post through a spoiler warning (good for those who enjoy commenting on series and movies) and choose who can see your posts, as if it were the “best friends” feature of Instagram.

All of this is structured in an open source code that can be manipulated by anyone who understands programming. This means that there is not just one Mastodon: any developer can create their own app based on the system.

On the official website, the creators list several apps that work with their code, encouraging users to get their hands dirty. But, of course, all this for those who are in the mood — if you don’t know the codes and just want to enjoy the social network, feel free to use the standard version.

As it is free and without advertising, the platform only continues to work thanks to the help of the companies that support Mastodon. Among them are organizations dealing with cryptocurrencies, NFTs and VPNs.

All this seems to please a lot of people: there are 2.2 million users worldwide. Although the number seems small when compared to the 321 million of Twitter, it is already a significant amount of people committed to boosting a social network controlled by themselves.

mastodon - Reproduction - Reproduction

Profile of Eugen Rochko, founder of Mastodon, in the standard version of the social network: even the look resembles that of Twitter

Image: Reproduction

And why is this different from Twitter?

Control of Twitter is in the hands of a company, with executives and a board of directors – that is, it is a centralized control. One consequence of this, for example, is the constant change in the social network toolset.

When the Fleets appeared, a sort of Twitter “Stories”, they were not well received. To celebrate the tool’s departure, in August of last year, users turned the temporary content into a large space for nudes, but not even that last gesture was enough to save the resource — the decision to kill it had already been taken by the management.

If Twitter were as decentralized as Mastodon, keeping or eliminating the feature would be up to users, not company directors. Anyone who wanted could use a version of the app with the function, and others could use a version without. In the centralized network, everyone is required to have the same experience.

In addition, Twitter is opaque about what data is being collected from the user and how algorithms use this information to keep the user on the network longer and more susceptible to advertisers.

Pros and cons

As not everything is rosy, both a decentralized social network like Mastodon and a centralized one like Twitter have their pros and cons.

For example, Mastodon received, last year, a migratory wave of users of another social network, called Gab, widely used by supporters of the extreme right. When this happened, the community did not have a concentrated authority to complain or file complaints.

The way users found to deal with the neo-Nazis who were flooding the platform was to isolate their access through open source, as well as relying on the support of third-party applications that also stopped allowing ex-Gabs to use their tools. .

This type of movement, in theory, is more efficient on Twitter. Anyone can report accounts that break community rules, such as homophobic, racist attacks, and attacks that threaten groups or individuals.

The result of these complaints is not always satisfactory. And, to make matters worse, sometimes the opposite can happen: people organizing themselves to report accounts that didn’t do anything much.

What are the chances of Twitter becoming a Mastodon?

Nobody knows for sure. Elon Musk himself has not yet detailed what his plans are for the social network, but he has already hinted that making it fully decentralized is not the idea: when asked about the possibility, he suggested that a decentralized Twitter would basically be just a protocol. of e-mail.

What is known is that decentralizing content control is an old dream of Twitter. The network’s founder, Jack Dorsey, who stepped down as CEO last year, has even started a project called “bluesky”, which aims to create an open source protocol on which Twitter must operate. in the future.

Cryptocurrency developer Jay Graber was even hired to lead the project. If Elon Musk takes over, it could be that Bluesky will either be accelerated and become Mastodon’s main rival, or entirely forgotten. But, it seems, the end of this novel is still far away.