- Mastodon claims that its seen a massive increase in users since Elon Musk announced he was buying Twitter.
- Mastodon has microblogging features similar to Twitter, but each user is a member of a specific Mastodon community with its policies part of a "federated social network."
- But experts say that Mastodon is limited by its relatively small base of users.
Finding a good alternative to Twitter is a challenge since most competitors have relatively small numbers of users, experts say.
The open-source social network Mastodon claims that its seen a considerable increase in users since Elon Musk announced he was buying Twitter. Mastodon added about 30,000 new users in the hours after the sale, Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko wrote in a blog post. But switching services comes with practical issues.
“Mastodon with maybe a few million users is minuscule compared to Twitter’s 330 million users, so comparing it to Twitter is an academic exercise, not a real-world strategy,” Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, who studies new media, told Lifewire in an email interview.
Twitter recently accepted a buyout offer from Musk, agreeing to give him control of the company for $44 billion. The deal is expected to close later this year. Some Twitter users are turning to Mastodon as an alternative.
"Funnily enough, one of the reasons I started looking into the decentralized social media space in 2016, which ultimately led me to go on to create Mastodon, were rumors that Twitter, the platform I’d been a daily user of for years at that point, might get sold to another controversial billionaire," Rochko wrote. "Among, of course, other reasons such as all the terrible product decisions Twitter had been making at that time. And now, it has finally come to pass, and for the same reasons, masses of people are coming to Mastodon."
Mastodon has microblogging features similar to Twitter, but each user is a member of a specific Mastodon community with its own policies that is part of a "federated social network." This feature is intended to give users the flexibility to select a server whose policies they prefer but keep access to a larger social network.
"Unlike Twitter, there is no central Mastodon website—you sign up to a provider that will host your account, similarly to signing up for Outlook or Gmail, and then you can follow and interact with people using different providers. Anyone can become such a provider as Mastodon is free and open-source," the company wrote on its blog. "It has no ads, respects your privacy, and allows people/communities to self-govern."
Levinson said that Mastodon's advantages over Twitter include better privacy measures, increased character limit (500 in comparison to Twitter's 280), and more control by users via forking (for example, use of the source cord to increase the character limit even further). "But its disadvantage—its tiny size in comparison to Twitter—makes Mastodon not a real alternative for people who want their posts seen by the world," he added.
Josh Koenig, the chief strategy officer at the web development firm Pantheon, said in an email that Mastodon is “really great technology with tremendous promise,” but he said the platform “suffers from the Achilles heel of open source in that it’s just not user-friendly enough to catch on with mainstream users (yet).”
Social media alternatives to Twitter include Facebook, and YouTube, Instagram, but none of them have the “same dynamic of Twitter for short, expansive dialogue across different social networks of users (although, some of those others have more users)” Jeffrey Lane Blevins, a journalism professor at the University of Cincinnati who studies social networks, told Lifewire in an email interview. New platforms, such as former President Donald Trump’s Truth Social, don’t have the same kind of popularity as Twitter, he added.
The main advantage of Twitter is that it is established, Blevins said. It's also easier to build a large group of followers on Twitter because most people have their accounts set to be public (unlike Facebook, for instance, where you have to accept someone's friend request to see their activity).
"Also, because of the hashtag function on Twitter, it's easier to search and comment on specific topics across networks; that is, people outside of your own group of followers, or accounts that you follow," Blevins said.
But, Blevins pointed out, there really are no current alternatives to Twitter. "There is no other system that is as large and effective at disseminating information to the world," he added.