Mastodon, a decentralized alternative to Twitter

The logo features the same blue as Twitter’s little bird. But here, no chirping. The emblem is a mastodon, an extinct animal, halfway between an elephant and a mammoth. And we don’t “tweet”, we “squeak”. Since the announcement of the takeover of Twitter by billionaire Elon Musk on Monday, April 25, Mastodon and its 300,000 monthly active users have welcomed thousands of newcomers.

→ EDITORIAL. Takeover of Twitter: Wild West

Free and decentralized software

“This is good news, even if the movement remains marginal compared to the number of Twitter users”, delays Christophe Masutti, co-president of Framasoft, an association dedicated to digital issues. With 300 million monthly active users, the social network of the bird is not yet hemorrhagic. But all the same, curiosity pushes some towards competition. On Mastodon’s home page, the most cited keywords are #introduction, used to present yourself on the platform, and #musk, to comment on the takeover. And on Twitter, the messages are multiplying to report a digital migration, from the bird to the mammoth.

→ LARGE FORMAT. How Twitter changed the world

Can the phenomenon be sustained over time? ” It all depends on the ability of new users to adapt to this environment, because Mastodon is not Twitter », Estimates Christophe Masutti. On the form, Mastodon does not jostle too much. But the philosophy is radically different: the platform is based on free and decentralized software. The entire code is available for anyone who wants to participate in the project. “The Internet was always designed to be decentralized, like emailrecalls Stéphane Bortzmeyer, IT specialist and user for years. Twitter and Facebook are the anomalies. »

A federation of communities

Mastodon is broken down into “instances”, communities of users who provide technical support for their corner of the platform, much like the spaces reserved for each brand in commercial galleries. To create an account, you must first choose which instance to join. A directory by categories exists, on the site. Please note that not all instances accept new users, and not all are free. Some require a contribution from their members to maintain the service.

→ EXPLANATION. Why Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter is worrying

The rules of moderation and censorship are also not the same according to the authorities. What one community tolerates, another can refuse. The user can migrate from one instance to another at will. And joining a forum does not mean limiting yourself to it. It is possible to dialogue within its community or with users of other communities. It’s a bit like Outlook or Gmail: the two systems are different and have their own storage limits, but can exchange emails.

“The principle is that of a federation: the authorities can connect to each other, or on the contrary secede», explains Christophe Masutti. If there are therefore many communities subject to caution on the platform, the others avoid in principle to rub shoulders with it. Even do not hesitate to block them.

Find contacts yourself

After choosing your instance, you still have to find who to exchange with. ” On Twitter, recommendations appear according to an algorithm that you do not know and understand. There, it’s up to you to look for friendsdescribes Stéphane Bortzmeyer. Like when you arrive in a new city! Between this need to actively seek contacts and the system of authorities, the newcomers do not hide their incomprehension and their difficulties.

→ DEBATE. Should we continue to use Twitter?

In the end, the very modest number of users of Mastodon is both an asset and a disadvantage. An asset for those looking for the comfort of small human communities. Disadvantage for those who prefer to be in contact with the world as a whole. Everyone is free to choose.


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