This article was published on December 7, 2022

Vivaldi browser backs Mastodon to free social networks from Big Tech

Alliances between open platforms are forming

Vivaldi browser backs Mastodon to free social networks from Big Tech
Thomas Macaulay
Story by

Thomas Macaulay

Senior reporter

Thomas is a senior reporter at TNW. He covers European tech, with a focus on deeptech, startups, and government policy. Thomas is a senior reporter at TNW. He covers European tech, with a focus on deeptech, startups, and government policy.

Vivaldi browser is backing Mastodon to release online communications from Big Tech’s stranglehold.

The Oslo-based company today became the first browser to integrate Mastodon — just weeks after launching its own server on the federated social network.

The moves aim to accelerate the uptake of Mastodon, while attracting more users to Vivaldi’s privacy-focused browser. They arrive amid a backlash against Silicon Valley’s closed platforms and lock-in algorithms, which spread deeper into the mainstream after Elon Musk bought Twitter

Since the world’s richest person took over the bird app, Mastodon’s active user base has soared from 300,000 to 2.6 million — a growth that’s been tricky to accommodate. 

The sudden influx has overloaded many servers (known as instances) on the federated social network, forcing them offline and overwhelming the volunteers who maintain them. Vivaldi’s instance has the capacity to alleviate some of the strain.

“We wanted to lend a hand.

Jon von Tetzchner, the co-founder of both Vivaldi and the Opera browser, told TNW that the plans were first mooted over five years ago.

“​​To be frank, we should have joined then, but when we saw the rush of users over to Mastodon and we saw some of the servers struggling, we wanted to lend a hand,” he said.

Von Tetzchner also hopes to lower the barriers to entering Mastodon.

Vivaldi’s sidebar now integrates Vivaldi Social, a Mastodon instance.
Vivaldi Social, a Mastodon instance, is accessed in the browser’s sidebar. Credit: Vivaldi

Mastodon is a fediverse of many interconnected instances, which means anyone can create or join a community of their preference, but can still interact with members of other instances. Unlike at Twitter, no individual plutocrat can dictate all the rules. 

Yet this decentralized approach — as well as a new interface — can scare neophytes off. Many Mastodon newbies complain about the complexity of joining and using the system. Vivaldi’s integration could ease the transition.

“This is a win-win.

If you already have a Vivaldi account, you automatically get one for Mastodon. To access the Vivaldi instance, just tap on the network’s sidebar icon in the browser’s latest desktop version.  Users can also add any Mastodon instance of their choice as a web panel to this sidebar, which creates a split-screen view.

Vivaldi, of course, also hopes the strategy attracts more users to its browser. The six-year-old company claims over 2.4 million active users, but that number is negligible compared to an estimated 3.3 billion on Chrome.

“There is a win-win here,” said von Tetzchner. “We help Mastodon grow and clearly that also helps us grow if people choose to access Mastodon from Vivaldi.”

Jon von Tetzchner
Jon von Tetzchner founded Vivaldi after growing concerned that Opera was abandoning its principles. Credit: Gaelle lo

Von Tetzchner adds that it’s a natural pairing. Like Mastodon, Vivaldi is billed as a community-driven system that’s controlled by users instead of corporations. Unlike many Big Tech platforms, the companies also pledge to embrace open standards, while renouncing user profiling and advertising. 

These principles hark back to the early web, which was made to be distributed.

“Big Tech has tried to reverse this movement and has had some success with that,” said von Tetzchner. “Silos have been created, where content has not been available except through those silos. This has been particularly visible with regard to social networks. 

“Mastodon and the fediverse changes all that. You can connect through one of many servers. You can even swap servers if you do not like the one you connected with.”

The Vivaldi integration is also evidence that alliances between open platforms are strengthening. They’re still a long way from competing with the tech giants, but further collaboration can make the alternatives more compelling to the wider public.

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