All the cool kids jump ship from a social media platform once it gets too mainstream or too corporatized. Friendster > MySpace > Facebook > Twitter > Tumblr > Snapchat, and on and on… As a result, investing too much time and resources into developing your presence on such sites can turn into a gut punch when your audience departs for the next big thing and you have to start all over.
This new social platform, which is already being cited as a potential “Twitter killer,” may appear at first glance to be nothing new, nothing special. (Just over a year ago, when I first wrote about Mastodon, it was being touted as a “Twitter killer,” then people—myself included—forgot about it and went back to Twitter. It’s just been appearing in headlines, though, so here’s an update.) Beyond being a platform that doesn’t permit hate speech, the beauty of Mastodon is on the back end. It gets a little technical, but hear me out.
The structure of Mastodon is such that there is no centralized power that dictates how you share and view content. In the case of Twitter, everything goes through Twitter. With Mastodon, users register through any number of “instances,” which are each run independently and provide access to local content on that instance’s timeline as well as the entirety of content across all instances (this is the “federated” timeline).
Think of “instances” as entrances to a convention center. You choose one door to go through and can hang out with the people in the nearest meeting room (your chosen “instance”), but if you keep on walking, everyone ends up in the same grand ballroom (the federated timeline, which includes all of the public content shared on Mastodon).
Talking to Yahoo! Tech, Mastodon’s twenty-something creator, Eugen Rochko, explains it using tech analogies:
There are different ways in which something can be decentralized; in this case, Mastodon is the ‘federated’ kind. Think email, not BitTorrent. There are different servers … users have an account on one of them, but can interact and follow each other regardless of where their account is.”
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There are countless differences between this newcomer and Twitter (such as a message limit of 500 characters rather than the fewer characters of the bird site), but what offers the greatest flexibility is that ANYONE can set up a Mastodon instance! You want a group dedicated to meeting and event professionals? Well, in a couple of hours, a coder could create YourEventNameHere.com as an individual instance—and, get this, everyone you give access to that instance could register their user name of choice…even if it’s taken on another instance! Put simply, I could be @Michael…imagine being able to do that on Twitter—impossible unless you worked for the company on Day 1. All of your group’s communications could then be private and just limited to your users or you could leave it open to leak into the greater federated timeline.
Think one step more…planners could set up instances dedicated to specific events.
While this may sound like a lot of tech work, it’s actually much easier than it sounds—I watched last night as a developer created her own instance of Mastodon (dedicated to cats and cat lovers), and she debuted it this morning. Speaking with her via Mastodon, she shared that it took her about five hours to complete. That’s it—five hours!
But why would you want to do all of this work or spend money to make a unique instance for your group or event? It’s run by you! The data is yours! There are no ads! And my favorite: The timelines are chronological rather than organized by popularity, so the user experience is legitimately like that of a chat room rather than a semi-stale social media dumping ground. Perhaps the best reason to set up your own instance—or to at least explore this new domain: What do you have to lose? The answer: Not much. Possible benefit: You just may be viewed as being on the bleeding edge of the most recent social media evolution…no too bad, eh?
Please keep in mind that Mastodon is not the platform you should use to market your event—Mastodon is about people connecting with people, it’s not a business thing. The bright side of that is that users can easily strike up fun discussions with total strangers, untouched by ads, promoted posts, commercials, brand marketing, etc. This platform is 100% human (aside from the bots…but those are clearly labelled as such, and most of them are useful and/or amusing).
Some essential details:
- A “tweet” in Mastodon is called a “toot”
- Hate speech is not permitted
- There are no ads!
- Timelines are chronological rather than organized by non-human algorithms (so it’s a fluid chat)
- Forget about changing character limits; Mastodon gives you 500 characters (so you can dump the truncated words and cutesy lingo (“b4,” “cu l8tr,” etc.)
- Registration with the original instance of Mastodon (mastodon.social) closes periodically when there’s a massive influx of users (like last week)…but there are plenty of other instances through which you can register and enjoy all that the platform has to offer
- Mastodon was named after a band of the same name…because the founder likes them
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