Mastodon/Fediverse as an alternative to Twitter

So with all the recent goings on regarding Twitter more folks are thinking of quitting or moving to alternatives. @ismh and the Connected fellas had a very thoughtful conversation on the most recent episode. A couple years back I set-up an account at Mastodon out of curiosity. I’ve used it a bit, checked in every so often. But never really invested in it. That said, I’ve also only ever been a fairly passive user of Twitter. I don’t use Twitter to promote anything and have not really had the deeper, more expansive experience that Stephen and others describe. I mostly get my important information via RSS and podcasts so, given a lack of personal connections, it’s not been that important.

With all that said, I’ve felt a lack in that there was a time when I spent more time, quite a bit pre-2010, on blogs reading and commenting. Then a bit on FB for a couple years. And various Apple forums like Mac Central, MPU, etc. Which is to say, I kind of wish I’d spent more time at Twitter, I just never did. It never clicked for me.

So, the point of this post, Mastodon and the Fediverse. I jumped back in a few days ago. I didn’t really expect to settle in for an extended visit. But something seems to have clicked this time. To be honest, I’m actually feeling something that might be actual excitement.

Several things have clicked this time…

The overall tone is different. This could change over time but there seems to be a solid foundation of respect and tolerance in the Mastodon culture. It’s less adversarial.

In terms of interests, lots of science, art and counter culture. Of course, plenty of tech. Within a 20 minute span of time, as I browsed through introductions, I came across 2 people who are working on the JWST, both at NASA. There seem to be gobs of active science folks.

The vibe reminds me of the geeky older web that I fondly remember from the late 90s early 2000’s. Blogs, Live Journal, etc. Not surprisingly, there’s an uptick in activity. New accounts and refreshed activity on older accounts.

I’m not sure how it will evolve over time but the model/structure is completely different from Twitter though it has a similar feel. It has greatly improved over the past 2 to 3 years. In fact, using the web interface and the native iPad client have both been a pleasure and far better than my experience with Twitter. For those that may not be familiar Mastodon is really just one portion of the larger “Fediverse”… again, reminding me of an earlier time on the internet. There are different servers, usually called instances, that have their own unique address and sub-community. But, like email, it all works together. When I set my account up I was unaware of the nuances and just set-up which was one of the larger, primary instances at the time. But were I to set-up today I might look for a server run by a group with interests I share. It’s not a necessity as I can communicate fine with anyone on any other instance. But a benefit of setting up on a smaller instance defined by a shared interest is that when viewing the “local” timeline more content will be relevant as it’s coming just from that instance.

On that, there are three feeds/timelines: local, a federated and home. The local feed are all posts on your instance whether you follow or not. The Federated timeline is everyone with an account on any instance. Then there’s home, that’s the feed of folks you follow. The federated feed is useful for casting a wide net looking for a topic via hashtag.

A note on using the website, it’s vastly improved over what I remember. Or maybe I’m just getting used to it. But multiple columns/panes, all easy to customize. Currenty I’ve got my account on the left pane. From here I can send a “toot”, or search. Next my Home feed, then two hashtag searches I’m reading through. One for introductions for new folks, a good way to find people with shared interests. The next for solarpunk. The last, 5th pane, is the pane populated when I click on a user or individual toot. Sort of the detail view of whatever I might select in the other panels. I can open up as many panes as I want though I have to side scroll to view them! My 27" monitor shows 4 panes and a portion of the 5th. A cool thing about the panes is that I can view a search based on a single hashtag or multiple hashtags with any, all or none as modifiers. Very cool!

Obviously, the Fediverse user base is much smaller than Twitter. But I’m finding that the user experience clicks better for me. Add to that the fact that this is much more the old school web, a more decentralized model I’d much rather support over the corporate monolith that is Twitter. Time will tell how the Fediverse handles growth in terms of behavior, ethics, etc.

The last bit I’d throw into the mix concerns adoption by Twitter users. One of the common responses that I’ve seen is along the lines of “I’m not going to bother because there aren’t enough users there.” Somewhat implied is that not only is it not worth it but that it won’t last. To this I would point to the conversation the Connected fellas had that I mentioned at the beginning of the post. There is a sense that while Twitter might figure things out, it may right itself and be a place that many currently there will remain and feel comfortable. It may not. For those that value this kind of network and who are concerned with the present/future of Twitter, why not take a look and dip in a bit? It would seem to me that the Fediverse represents the best possible hope for a the next step, one that is not corporate, that harkens back to the origins of the internet but does so looking to the future. I see real hope here for a different kind of social media that allows for the development of local sub-group culture even as it it allows for larger connectivity.


I enjoyed Google+ in the beginning, then the public started showing up . . . Maybe Mastodon won’t suffer the same fate as the other social media sites.


This tends to be my line of thinking as well. The fear seems to be that Elon is going to throw open the gates completely, and I don’t think that’s all that likely.

For example, I can’t imagine Twitter suddenly deciding it’s okay with CSAM. There’s going to be a line somewhere, and it’s just a matter of where they decide to draw the line.

As a general rule, I think a lot of the large tech companies could do better with the decisions regarding drawing lines, advising consumers of where exactly the lines are, and giving people a chance to address problems before they get accounts banned / revoked / etc.

Random non-Twitter example is a friend of mine. He has a YouTube channel where he posts almost nothing but unlisted videos to communicate with tech support people / friends / customers.

His YouTube account got banned. Not warned, banned. Gone. Poof. No warning, no strikes, nothing. And there’s nobody that can be contacted via official channels.

So in some corner of the internet he found a forum where somebody that’s apparently not a Google employee was willing to help people that have gotten banned, and apparently has good luck. So he gave the guy his channel info. And a week and a half later, his account is magically back up.

After the restoration, Google told him that one of his videos - a video demonstrating a contact form that was broken, to help support debug it - actually had an email address that wasn’t his (spoiler: it was his, just a different one) visible on screen. And that’s why they decided it was necessary to go thermonuclear on him.

In much the same way, some of Twitter’s policies could draw lines at different places and still not destroy the platform. I think this is especially true with things like “misinformation”, where some ideas / claims that got accounts banned a couple years ago are now accepted almost as mainstream information.

And of course if Twitter draws the lines in a place that a lot of people aren’t happy with, setting up a Twitter competitor wouldn’t be that hard for a group of sufficiently-motivated individuals. That means that the alternative to Twitter post-twitpocalypse could very well not even exist yet.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens, either way. :slight_smile:


Twitter was/is so broken. I really believe that it is gonna improve much due to Musk.
To make sure only real people can post is one of the points that excites me. I hope for a freer twitter on one side and less propaganda on the other.
I don’t understand the worries tbh. That the outcry is so massive is strange to me, especially in the the free western world.


For me personally, just mindlessly opening the app and scrolling through my feed feels toxic and gross with all of the new politics/news/opinion stuff getting retweeted onto my timeline. My personal way for avoiding SOME of the toxicity has been having curated Topic Lists, in which I decide on the topic I want a list for (for instance, I have one for Apple/Technology News) and add accounts to that list that I specifically desire to see. I avoid the general central Twitter feed and focus specifically on the tweets from people that I want to see by using these curated lists.

I’m sure everyone knows about this feature here, but sometimes it’s worth mentioning that there are ways that are already built in Twitter to avoid some of the muck and toxicity (as much as possible anyway).


Exactly what I do. Lists make Twitter usable for me. I can browse information on the topics I care about (in that moment) from people I find worth reading. There are enough retweets and dissenting opinions put into the mix that it doesn’t feel like an echo chamber without being a free for all.

I could be completely naive, but I think Musk’s purchase of Twitter is more likely to improve the platform rather than ruin it.


I’m more cautious about it being a better Twitter, but there are a number of things that can (and should have been) improved upon that Elon seems keen to enact. The noise surrounding “free speech” is just hyperbole at this point, and I think he’ll find out exactly what he’s gotten himself into once he’s at the reigns (if the deal gets actually finalized).

I think by “free speech” (admittedly an unhelpful term in this context) he means “less politically motivated censorship.”

For my part:

I don’t want “free speech” on the platform that includes: spam, threats of violence, bots, or porn.

I do want free speech that includes the misinformation spread by “either-wing crazies.” They’re not on my lists. I don’t follow them. I can use filters to never see that nonsense (I have and I do). But removing it from the platform gets far too subjective and becomes an exercise in political, religious, and philosophical bias.

I find that people who want to believe Hunter Biden’s laptop is “not a thing” aren’t swayed by what is platformed or deplatformed by social media tools. They insulate themselves or create new platforms, just as is being discussed here (nothing wrong with that!).

I find that people who want to believe that COVID vaccines will cause your children to grow a third eye at some point in their mid-50s aren’t swayed by what is platformed or deplatformed by social media tools. They insulate themselves or create new platforms, just as is being discussed here (nothing wrong with that!).

The deplatforming of particular accounts will necessarily involve subjective calls informed by political, religious, and philosophical biases. That statement is true no matter who is at the helm.

It should be limited to the categories above and never exercised against users who simply post inaccurate information.

I’d also add to my personal ban list: Users who go on the attack (using @s, repeated targeting of other users, etc.) are being abusive. I think you could come up with some rather objective criteria around this, though I could be fooling myself on that one.

Users who simply post lies and conspiracy theories aren’t being abusive, just dumb. Let them be dumb and let users who want to avoid their stupidity take advantage of the myriad tools available for keeping that stupidity out of sight.

I just wanted to note that in my original post I deliberately glossed over the issues related to twitter as I wanted to focus on the potential of Mastodon/Fediverse as an alternative for those interested in an alternative. Whatever the views on Musk, current, or future potential problems and solutions, and the direction things will go, I’ve been enjoying my time on Mastodon and starting fresh with a social network that is organized cooperatively and in a very different, decentralized DIY sort of way. The vibe I tend to get on Twitter, even with my curated groups, tends to be negative. It feels like a cultural thing and I see enough people refer to it that I don’t think I’m imagining it.

By comparison, and yes, this could change in time, Mastodon feels like a kind of neighborhood maker-space being populated by people that are self aware that they are creating something new. While the interests and topics will of course be similar in that these are all humans that coexist in the same human societies with the same contexts, the creation itself (the structure of the network, the cultural feel, the standards, behaviors, etc) seems to be taking on a different form.

Anyway, there is this sense that people have about leaving twitter, that there is nothing to replace it or that other options are destined to fail. I just wanted to suggest that while Mastodon and the Fediverse are thankfully NOT a twitter replacement, they are, perhaps, worth exploring and investing time in.


A good reminder re: the purpose of this post, so thanks. I didn’t mean to hijack it - though I do think this is the best online community I’m a part of in terms of being able to handle the discussion and conduct themselves civilly. I went the direction I did to avoid being the “skunk at the garden party.” But since you asked… :wink:

To your point of Mastodon/Fediverse: I think many of us just feel like we’ve been down this path before with many new tools and services that are trying to replace the giant incumbent.

Nearly every aspect works against things like this working out:

  • Business model - unimportant now, becomes significant as the service grows in users, complexity, and cost to maintain. Except that won’t happen, because if it’s successful, some person or corporation will find a way to own and/or ruin it.
  • “Feel” is a function of size. I have no doubt that if MPW “blew up” tomorrow and added 50,000 users, the whole feel of this place would change overnight. Unfiltered Twitter (Facebook, YouTube comments, whatever) isn’t a cesspool because of the tool or the corporation formerly running it.

It’s not that I (and probably several others) don’t understand where you’re coming from with this:

It’s that we said it ourselves. Sometimes more than once. You can probably find the results here:

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I wanted to jump into Mastadon several years ago when I first read about it. I was particularly interested in a private host situation (ie “private FB for family”) but could never quite get my head into it. For all public versions, nothing seemed a good fit.

If you were to recommend a starting point for the technologically curious/noob, where would you direct someone? Either for self-host options or publicly hosted and/or both. I know that’s a wide net.

Yeah, you’re right on all these points! It’s very possible that it could fail. Or, on the other side, grow into a whole set of problems and all the potential junk that we see.

All that said, I think as a bottom-up effort to grow a new social network that is not operating off of the same corporate, monolithic model that most services/social networks seem to assume as a starting point is exciting. I think it is a potential strength. Thinking about human society and the base level of organization, families, tribes, towns, regions, etc… just that and for that matter ecological communities. Perhaps there will be some stability and resilience in such a decentralized, slowly growing network. In this week’s episode of FLOSS Weekly on Tech TV Ethan Zuckerman and the 2 hosts get into a fascinating discussion of the underlying tech of Mastodon. Actually, just the beginning of what would likely be a much longer conversation. They know far more about the topic than I but I did my best to follow along.

I guess a part of what’s exciting to me is that whatever happens, I enjoy the DIY, Maker-Space feel of people working together to create something and solve a problem. So often it seems that we resign ourselves to problems and throw our hands up, accepting the problems we face. It just seems to be a general trend of humans in recent years. Much more interesting to dig in, explore and even fail in efforts to find solutions and create new things!

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I’m still new to it all myself. Start here though and you can look for a general instance/server or a specific one might catch your attention based on your interests. One thing I will stress is that it’s like anything new, it takes a bit of time and effort to “get it”. At least it did for me. Kinda like a garden. If you just start throwing seeds out not much is going to grow if you’re just tossing them on grass sod. Give it a couple days and dig in a bit. For myself I approached it as something new (not a clone of Twitter or other social media) and just took my time exploring and enjoying learning. search hash tags to find people with common interests. I guess it’s similar to joining any new network. But, there’s no algorithm driving traffic so your home timeline will be quiet until you reach out a bit and follow people. I’m finding, as I mentioned above, that folks are really supportive and interested in helping new folk out.


Excellent observations!

I’ve tried Mastodon several times, even ran my own ‘server’ / instance of it on a Raspberry Pi. Ran an alternative fediverse client a couple of times as well. Have ID’s on 3-4 different instances still. But…

To me, the problem is that it’s an extremely small subset of voices. Some are nice, often quirky, very international. But still mostly US/Europe. The odd thing is that you can really tell that there aren’t any ‘thought leaders’ there. No people with large followings. No CEO’s, no major journalists, no one that you know in real life (friends, family), no one influential in your circle of interests (for me, that would be storm chasing/weather, genealogy, tech, etc.) will be there. This is what drives the vast majority of conversation on Twitter.

Maybe you like that idea, and if so then Mastodon will be nice for you. But for me it was just like walking into a small town full of the disaffected. LOTS of drama over little perceived slights, massively censored instances and accounts. Basically, if you’re not far-left, your choices are slim. I navigated those waters for a long time, but it never stuck, and I’m not going back.


I enjoyed it up until the end. So much potential was put to waste…

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