Thomas is a writer at TNW. He covers the full spectrum of European tech, with a particular focus on deeptech, startups, and government polic Thomas is a writer at TNW. He covers the full spectrum of European tech, with a particular focus on deeptech, startups, and government policy.
Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter has divided the platform’s users. While fans crave his business acumen and free speech absolutism, critics renounce his biases and record of censorship.
The simmering discontent at Twitter has sparked a wave of interest in decentralized alternatives. Advocates say the approach will shift control from central governance to users.
A prominent proponent of the model is Mastodon. The open-source social network this week capitalized on a surge of interest by launching a free Android app.
What is Mastodon?
Mastodon consists of independent communities spread across different servers, which means no single company — or billionaire — can control them.
Instead, anyone can create and run their own version of Mastodon with its own set of rules. Each is then owned, operated, and moderated by the community that made them, but members can still follow users of other servers.
Mastodon says that this approach means the network can’t go bankrupt, get sold, or be blocked by governments.
The costs of running the network are offset by crowdfunding and volunteers.
At Mastodon, we present a vision of social media that cannot be bought and owned by any billionaire. Your ability to communicate online should not be at the whims of a single commercial company!
— Mastodon (@joinmastodon) April 14, 2022
Another compelling difference from Twitter is Mastodon’s feed, which is chronological, ad-free, and non-algorithmic.
The social network also offers anti-abuse tools that users can deploy as they see fit.
Free speech absolutists, however, may balk at Mastodon’s code of conduct, which prohibits a broad range of bigotry.
What’s the app’s future?
Mastodon already had an iPhone app, web version, and several third-party services, but Android users were cruelly overlooked until now.
I gave the new app a spin — and was fairly impressed by the potential.
The platform combines an interface that apes Twitter with federated communities that are more evocative of subreddits.
It’s straightforward to use and the UX seems smooth, but it’s fairly drab in appearance and lacks some of the bird app’s features.
The biggest issue, however, is the quantity of content. While Mastodon says it has more than 4.4 million users, the Android app remains pretty desolate for now.
The project should attract more Musk haters and decentralization fans, but it may soon face competition from big-money rivals.
Nonetheless, Mastodon’s future looks brighter than that of Donald Trump’s Twitter knock-off — which even the former president can’t be bothered to use.
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