A decentralized open source social network Mastodon has taken advantage of chaotic takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk. In addition to seeing record number of downloads for the Mastodon mobile app this past weekend, the non-agricultural aim the company today announced a new milestone. A post on Twitter – where Mastodon has successfully marketed its app to those now considering leaving the service – noted that 230,000 people had joined Mastodon in the last week alone. Thanks to these new registrations, as well as people returning to old accounts they previously created, the network now has 655,000 active users, the post noted.
This is the largest number of users Mastodon has seen to date, Mastodon said.
This follows recent news that the open source network has won over 70,000 new registrations on Friday, October 28 – the day after Musk’s deal to acquire Twitter closed. Friday through Sunday the Mastodon mobile app too saw about 91,000 new installsthird-party data from Sensor Tower shows — a 658% increase from the 12,000 installs recorded three days prior.
However, this rapid growth has not come without its drawbacks for the Twitter alternative.
This week one of the most popular servers on the Mastodon network, mastodon.soc, experienced lag and disruption as it struggled to absorb the influx of new users. This may put some people off using Mastodon because their initial experience was subpar.
Although Mastodon founder and CEO Eugene Rochko works long hours to service optimization and even ordered new hardware, the upgrade process took time at this crucial time for Mastodon’s future. Often, when new users trying a service for the first time get frustrated by bugs and other issues, they don’t come back a second time.
Also, some users came to Mastodon without fully understanding how a decentralized social network works and found the process confusing or overly technical. Unlike Twitter or any other traditional social network, users don’t just create an account and start posting. They have to first select a server to join as their home Mastodon. This is the part that gets people tripped up as they don’t know where to find a list of servers, how to choose the right one, or if they are limited to chatting with people on that server only. This may also discourage them from further researching the Mastodon.
It’s a shame, because that’s actually Mastodon’s key selling point — you join a server that best suits your interests. And by distributing the load across a network of servers, Mastodon’s performance doesn’t require infrastructure and engineering — or the huge amount of capital — that a network like Twitter makes. This means that Mastodon can be supported through smaller revenue streams, such as sponsorships and donations, instead of advertisements. This also means that Mastodon cannot be bought or sold to someone like Musk.
Each Mastodon server is managed by a different person or organization and may set its own moderation policies. But users aren’t limited to communicating with friends on their own server — you can find and follow friends anywhere on the web. However, you can view your server history feed and the larger, “federated” feed separately from your own home feed of people you follow. This is especially useful if the server you’ve joined is full of community members posting about things that interest you. There are several theme-based servers you can choose from to help with this. For example, some topic-based servers focus on areas such as technology, music, gaming, art, activism, LGBTQ+, food, and more, in addition to general socializing servers. This allows everyone to find their niche.
It should be noted that decentralization is the direction Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey is going with his a new Bluesky social networking protocolwhich is already over 30,000 registrations on its waiting list, pre-launch. A Bluesky Mobile App will help people connect using this technology in the days to come.
But the open source community—including those who have done the hard work on Mastodon over the years— were disappointed with the Silicon Valley CEO’s decision to go his own way with Bluesky instead of using established protocols like ActivityPub, which powers Mastodon and other.
It looks like users will soon have to choose what kind of decentralized social networking future they want — or whether being on Twitter, regardless of its owner, is too attractive to pass up.