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article imageMastodon is an open alternative to Twitter

By James Walker     Apr 17, 2017 in Technology
Mastodon is a rapidly growing social network that's like a more open, less abusive version of Twitter. Open-source and decentralised, Mastodon gives you a say over how your data is used. It takes away the algorithms and returns to simple chronology.
Mastodon is similar to Twitter but it features a more permissive 500-character limit. Its interface is very obviously derived from Tweetdeck, the power-user friendly Twitter interface that lets you set up columns for users and timelines.
Mastodon was quietly launched six weeks ago. Its popularity recently soared though, due in no small part to Twitter's changes to its replies system. Mastodon grew by 70 percent in two days, outgrowing its servers and finally making money for creator Eugen Rochko.
Rochko intends Mastodon to be Twitter stripped of the hostility that’s associated with the platform. Mastodon gives you protection and control, letting you customise privacy settings for every post, block any user and hide your account. There are no ads and the site doesn't feature any tracking code.
Mastodon is the most successful GNU Social implementation yet to grace the web. GNU Social is a free and open source Twitter-like system that can be expanded on to build networks like Mastodon. So far, open-source advocates and activists haven't been able to noticeably disrupt the established investment-driven mainstream networks. Mastodon seems to represent a shift, indicating a growing discontent at the power held by companies like Twitter.
Mastodon is a decentralised server framework from which social networks can grow. There are multiple Mastodon servers and you can start your own instance if you want to keep your data closer to home. Irrespective of the server used, you can always interact with every Mastodon user. The system is a working implementation of a fully decentralised web app.
Instances outwardly appear to be isolated from each other, akin to chatrooms and discussion boards. They're actually linked together though, enabling you to appear in any instance even if you've only signed up for one. It's somewhat similar to Reddit's system of subreddits where you can seamlessly transverse compartmentalised communities.
The system can also be likened to email. Existing in an instance gives you a username in it, like getting an "" email address. When you sign up for another instance, it's like you just created an "" account too. When you're browsing federated posts across every instance, you're in your email inbox and can receive messages from any server.
Once you're signed-in, you can view posts in the current instance and the federated feed that surfaces content from the entire network. You can write new status updates, dubbed "Toots," using the composer on the left-side. The columns interface allows you to monitor multiple discussions at once but also adds complexity that could intimidate new users.
Mastodon's entire concept is likely to feel alien to people unacquainted with decentralisation and federated systems. Its users have welcomed it as a marked step forward in the progress of the web's decentralisation, noting that the lack of single governance enables true freedom of speech. Although admins can control what happens on their instance, you can simply start your own if you disagree.
You can get started on Mastodon by creating an account on the primary "web" instance, found at This will get you acquainted with the social network and life in the "fediverse." A full list of instances is available at the Mastodon website. The app's source code resides over on GitHub.
More about Mastodon, Twitter, decentralised web, Social network, Social media
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