We May Be Approaching Critical Mastodon

Mastodon, part 1

On April 25th, Mastodon began trending on Twitter. Elon Musk had just announced he’s finalized a deal to buy the platform. I, like many others, was concerned. Musk has a lot of different and often contradictory ideas about how Twitter should be run, but they all share one thing in common: they’re hilariously bad.

I went and found myself the first Mastodon instance I could and signed up. I wasn’t looking to move just yet, it was more of an apartment tour. I wanted to get a feel for what Mastodon was about, and see if it could really compete with twitter. My answer was no. Mastodon was clunky, the features felt not quite there yet, the fediverse was confusing, and I didn’t like that anyone could just register my name on any of a gazillion different instances. I soon returned to Twitter.

What I failed to realize at the time was, I didn’t go back to Twitter for the features. Mastodon just felt like it was missing something. At the time, there were 2 types of Mastodon users:

  1. The natives
  2. People who believe Musk will ultimately kill Twitter.

Most Twitter users simply decided to reserve a Mastodon account just in case. Even if they did believe Twitter was ultimately doomed, it wasn’t yet. Why dive off a perfectly good ship just because it might sink later? This was ultimately why Mastodon never took off. The people we all wanted to interact with were still on Twitter.

Reaching critical mass

Yesterday, I again returned to Mastodon. This time I wasn’t looking for the new Twitter. I was there because I’d seen an influx of tweets about a Mastodon instance specific to my community. What I found this time was, seemingly every person I’ve ever known was there, and actively posting too. I had noticed a shift in the signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It just felt like Twitter had gotten worse. I was seeing fewer tweets from friendly faces, and a spike in obnoxious replies from insufferable Musk fanboys with .eth usernames and NFT profile pictures. Honestly, spending time on Twitter has started to feel really draining.

Each Mastodon instance is like its own separate Twitter. They all connect with each-other, allowing people to communicate across instances. A Mastodon Instance can also block incoming interactions from other instances they deem to be low quality or malicious. Every instance also has a directory which lists the local users. I was able to quickly see and connect with familiar faces, rather than sifting through a jumble of random posts. I decided to join the instance myself and connect with some friends.

Throughout the day, people maintained posting consistently. This time it wasn’t a “hello world”, followed by never coming back. There were journalists posting scoops, cybersecurity threat tracking threads, my friends, the whole shebang. Some users had even chosen to cease posting on Twitter entirely. This time Mastodon felt like Twitter, rather than an empty void. I didn’t really care for whatever features it does or doesn’t have, just that my friends were there. I still have some reasons to log on to Twitter. My reach there is 316,000 followers, compared to 5,000 on Mastodon; but that is up 1,000 on the hour. Despite the much smaller following, I’ve noticed my posts still reach a similar number of people, but garner zero obnoxious replies.

Only time will tell

Social media is nothing, if not people. We’ve all had great times hanging out with friends in an empty parking lot. I’m not saying Mastodon is bad, actually quite the opposite, there’s a lot I prefer. Feature wise, it doesn’t feel quite there. But, what I’ve realized is the features, they don’t matter. Facebook was a feature rich platform, but the only time I remember it exists is when their latest stock crash hits the news. Ultimately, people go where people go, and right now that is Mastodon.

It’s possible over time activity dwindles, and we see a retreat back to Twitter. It’s also possible that this is just an occurrence within a few subcultures and the majority are hard set on Twitter. But one thing is clear, if the bulk of activity shifts away from Twitter, no amount of bells and whistles will bring it back. If the exodus continues as it has been, Twitter may not be dying, it may already be dead.

For now, I’ll be hanging out on both platforms. If you want to come and follow me on Mastodon, I’m [email protected]