What is Mastodon?
Mastodon is an open source social media site that was founded in 2016 by Eugen Rochko. It boasts itself as a Twitter microblogging site with different servers and is ad free. The different privately run servers remind me of discord while microblogging reminds me of a mix between Twitter and tumblr. More interesting facts about Mastodon include: the company is run by crowdfunding and volunteers so there is only one employee (the founder) and it is a Ruby on Rails application with a React.js front-end.
I am stubborn. It took months for my friends to convince me to join Twitter and it became my favorite social media website of all time. Mastodon took less convincing but as the friendly neighborhood social media manager, I felt it was my duty to learn about all possible avenues for the MasterWP account. So, I began my journey by first looking at a few Mastodon memes to get me in the spirit of joining. They did not disappoint.
After laughing for a while, I managed to make my way to the website. I was greeted by
shade a heading that said, “Social networking that’s not for sale.” This again refers to the fact that Mastodon is mostly volunteer and crowdfunded. Also, the adorable mastodon with binoculars was a great selling point for me because it was freaking adorable.
To start your account, you must join one of the infamous communities/servers. Since Mastodon is not one site you connect to, finding a server is the key to using it. The sidebar allowed me to sort servers by region, and by topic. I was a little disappointed at first because none of the servers seem to speak to me in terms of interest. I thought, “Why so few servers to choose from?” But then I saw this message on the page:
This made sense. New users may be overwhelmed by some servers so a curated list of easy-to-join ones is helpful. My only critique of this is that if new users aren’t interested in any of these beginner friendly servers, they may choose to go elsewhere. Not to be deterred, I chose one and kept the process going.
The server had specific rules that I assume were chosen by the moderators. I was happy to see that discrimination and many -isims were not allowed. I agreed with the rules and internally that I would not break them and proceeded to apply to join.
The sign-up was pretty simple, there was even
an SAT-type an essay due at the end that asked me to explain why I wanted to join the instance. Another thing that is out of place for a social media site in my opinion but not a deal breaker.
After this, I had to confirm my account and wait for approval into the server. I was officially a Mastodon user! However, until I was accepted, there was nothing I could do.
This was… a con? Usually when you sign up for a social media site all it takes is a username, email, and photo, and you can start interacting! However here we were starting with a wait. This is another thing that may deter users, (under other circumstances it would me) but again I was determined to wait it out and see how long it would take for my application to be approved and for me to start talking about the joys of walkable cities!
Success! Around 30 minutes later I was sent an email that my application was approved and that I was now a member of a server. I received my server handle and my instructions for the next steps. Which were to set up my profile and finally start posting!
This is…interesting. I loved that it’s very personal and you can make your own servers a mini world vs having to see everything like with Twitter. I also like that you can set rules for your servers like Facebook and discord groups. Another thing I love is that it is set up like a Facebook feed/Twitter profile so it’s very familiar and I’m not anxious about posting and reading them. Now the cons. The sign up and joining those little worlds/servers were a little bit more work than I would like to do to communicate via social media.
While I didn’t have a long wait to join my first server in general, it was a little weird that as soon as my account was set up, I could not post or set up my profile until I was already a member. This also meant to me that the reach on this website is very limited. One would have to focus on marketing your server to a large audience so more people can join and make it worthwhile. How would you do that on Mastodon? (You have to do it on another social media site.) If that’s the case, why would I just not use another social media site, vs this one? Also, there was the possibility that I would get rejected as a member and still not have access to the site. Yes, if you have a community you want to join in mind this can work but…is the onus on this site on the user to make their own enjoyment?
I did not get into making my own server as by the time I was up and fully able to make my first post I already wanted to go do something else. In my honest opinion, I don’t know if this will be a site that appeals to broad groups of people like the giant’s Facebook, Twitter, and tumblr before it. But for its users maybe that’s a good thing. The good I see in Mastodon for those who enjoy it is the creation of true safe spaces and legitimate learning communities. Do good things truly come easy? I think Mastodon will give us an answer in a time or two.