Social-media has never been something of particular interest to me; of the major players out there I've found them to be either too overbearing, too corporate or too shallow in the way they promote or manage their platforms.
From the start however something seemed different about Mastodon; It was in the summer of 2019 when I stumbled across the fledging network by chance; although the details have faded I believe the author of a blog post I was reading linked to their account in their contact section so I decided to have a look.
I was met with an invite-only sign-up screen which certainly got my interest, it was like I'd stumbled across some hidden society in the corners of the Internet. I decided to have a look into this so-called 'Mastodon', what was it? It purported to have over half-a-million users and yet this was the first of me hearing about it. I decided to do some digging and read some articles; As it turned out I'd missed the platform's 5-minutes of fame in the press a few years prior in 2017 or so with some calling it 'The Twitter Killer' or simply a 'Twitter Clone'.
Of the major social-networks available, Twitter had perhaps been the one that I was most drawn too. I liked it's overall design and felt it wasn't too overbearing about demanding to know about my life compared to some of it's competitors. Still, I never found myself drawn in enough to actively participate and attempt to grow a base of followers.
This 'Mastodon' however seemed a little different, the idea of a social-networking being 'back in your hands' with no advertising and a focus on community seemed refreshing so I applied for an invitation.
A few days later, I was accepted.
Following my first login, The claims that Mastodon is simply a Twitter-clone were not immediately assuaged; the colour-scheme, grid layout and general aesthetics all made me feel like I'd tried this before. But I stuck around, set up my profile and began scouring for people-of-interest to follow.
Scrolling through the federated-timeline which shows all public posts by those on connected instances, I was unsure of how useful Mastodon would be to those of a non-technical interest since many posts appeared to be coming from Computer Scientists, Software Engineers, or just general fans of new technologies. With any fledging technology, the early adopters are likely going to be those of a technical-background so initially I was sceptical of their being a community outside of this bubble. I was here mainly for new insights into Computing however so the matter wasn't of huge concern to me.
Some months passed and I dipped in-and-out of the platform, slowly becoming aware of just how far ranging the people and disciplines that Mastodon attracts are. Ultimately I found that Mastodon is a site with perhaps one of the most diverse and multi-talented communities I've ever encountered. I frequently find myself being introduced to new topics, sources and viewpoints that I would never have found otherwise; whether that be discussions where users provide grounded sources to backup their claims, showing off a new project they'd been working on, or simply asking questions about a topic they want to learn more about. It was the kind of content that would just be buried in the never-ending wave of adverts, commentaries and flame-wars prevalent on a more typical network.
Mastodon isn't about chasing likes or growing follower numbers like you'd find elsewhere, instead what you'll often find is that if someone has nothing to say, they won't say anything, choosing to wait until there's something of interest to themself or the wider community. It's fairly common to see half a day go by with no new posts from those you follow and this is for the better I feel. It leads to less of a fear-of-missing-out by checking your timeline every other minute for all the latest 'gossip' and 'drama' and instead makes the service more of a tool where I check periodically for actual quality-content.
Another key point on Mastodon is 'Instances', as Mastodon is decentralised anyone is free to setup their own server catering to whatever interest they desire whether that be Computing, Art, Music, whatever. All you need to do is decide what instance is best-suited to your interests, sign up and you'll quickly be surrounded by like-minded individuals rather than everyone sharing opinions on everything all the time.
This doesn't mean you need to be trapped in any kind of bubble however; the federated aspect of Mastodon means that it's possible for all these different instances to communicate allowing for a wide range of interests to interact in a more focused way. If there's an instance posting content that isn't of interest to you or that you don't want to see then it's possible to completely mute an instance meaning you can easily get back to viewing the content that matters to you.
Mastodon is different to the big players as are there is a genuine focus on community that runs through all the instances I've interacted with, with users really banding together of the interest their instance caters to. It's not uncommon for the instance moderator to do period shout-outs to the users they feel really embody the spirit of the their instance.
By putting content first, Mastodon focuses on the people that populate it's platform. There's no advertising so there's no reminders between every other post that I desperately need to buy something or that a sale ends tonight and such. Instead what we get is users sharing things they've found of interest, having discussions on topics they want to learn more about, and acting in a way that is more about self-expression than about personal-branding.
Mastodon is about being free and open both in terms of it's software but also in the way it's users behave and interact, something we just don't see enough of on the modern Web.
If this post has brought Mastodon to your attention and you think it may be worth getting involved then why not consider joining today, and if you're looking for someone to follow, I can be found @firstname.lastname@example.org