So I jumped on Mastodon recently. Before I get into my experience, I should probably explain a little about what it is.
The Federalist Tweets
Mastodon is a federated social network. Federated systems don't have one server (like Twitter or Facebook), instead there are many Mastodon instances that you can sign up for. The cool thing is that they can all talk to each other! This means it doesn't really matter which one you sign up for as long as you like the server. You can network with friends over the network.
Turns out computers are good at that...
Think, Twitter meets Email. Just because you have an email from Google that ends in @gmail.com doesn't mean you can't email your grandmother on her @aol.com email address. The part before the @ is the user. The part after tells you were that user is at (now the @ makes sense, huh?). Well, on Mastodon, I'm @email@example.com. That means you can go to https://chaos.social and find me!
So, how is it?
Glad you asked! Overall, its basically the same as any other network... Just without as many friends. This is one of the major challenges with competing in the social network space. Before I get into some of the struggles and some potential ways to solve them, I'll start with the pros!
What's so great about it?
One thing that surprised me about Mastodon is how simple and polished it is. If you've used Twitter, you'll be right at home. The website is fast. Following users is easy. It's got the latest web technologies powering browser notifications. It supports two-factor authentication (you should care about this). It supports photos and up to 500 characters! How novel!
Essentially... It's basically everything you're used to.
OK. So why wouldn't I use it?
Well... Because it's basically what you're already using. Besides longer text posts, it offers no real advantage over the idealistic one of supporting an open Internet. If that's something you don't care about, I may have a hard time convincing you to switch networks.
On that note, switching networks is a pain! Migrating content is easy, but migrating your friends is the single biggest deterrent to switching networks. So let's say you and some friends are into the hype right now and all sign up on a Mastodon server somewhere. Great! Now, let's say the owner of that server realises it's a lot of work to maintain and shuts it down. Not so great. You don't really have any options other than to migrate everyone again.
migrating your friends is the single biggest deterrent to switching networks
There isn't a great way to migrate between servers and keep your network. If there was some built in forwarding system it would make it easier to migrate, should it be a personal choice. However, if the owner takes down the server entirely, you're just out of luck.
At this point, I'll recommend it to a few friends who are interested in internet freedom and mirror my posts over to Twitter for visibility. It's just not at a point where spending the time to try and migrate my entire network will really be worth it.
Some critical things that would help the platform be successful would be a built in forwarding system, "official" mobile apps, and migration and mirroring utilities to help users make the switch. These aren't terribly difficult to do, but hard to do right. Creating a seamless experience across the seams of social networks is not going to be easy, but I think it's worth it. I'd love to see social blogging have the lasting power and freedom that email has today. So far, Mastodon is the must promising shot at it.