What is Mastodon?
Looking for an alternative to Twitter? Mastodon offers similar functionality, but with a few key differences. Read on to learn more.
With all of the chaos engulfing Twitter lately, a lot of people have been looking around for another option. Mastodon has emerged as a popular alternative. In this article we dig into some of the differences between Twitter and Mastodon and why we see Mastodon as a great option to support dialog and encourage action on global environmental initiatives.
First, let's cover the key differences between Mastodon and Twitter.
Twitter is controlled by a single, (now) private company. The company is responsible for building and running the service, and deciding what content is acceptable to display on it. The service is offered for free in exchange for your attention to and potential interaction with ads shown in your timeline.
At present, there's no difference between Twitter: the platform and Twitter: the company. Theoretically, the software used to run Twitter could be open sourced and run by other organizations that have nothing to do with Twitter: the company. That's not likely to happen, but it does illustrate an alternate structure closer to how Mastodon operates.
The Mastodon platform is an open source project (you can check out the source code on Github). Anyone can download the code and start running their own Mastodon server. Which is exactly what's happened - there are now over 6000 Mastodon servers. If you want to use Mastodon, you can sign up to create an account on one of these servers.
The question then becomes which server to sign up for. Each Mastodon server is focused on supporting a specific community with their own distinct set of interests. They have will have their own policies constituting acceptable use and content for their server.
This is what makes Mastodon decentralized. There's not a single controlling authority dictating and enforcing what is acceptable. The operator of each Mastodon server and the community supporting it are responsible for moderating the content on it. There is, however, a base set of values that the Mastodon community embraces which is defined by the Mastodon Convenant. Specifically they encourage:
Active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia
All of the servers listed on the main Mastodon site have agreed to the Mastodon Convenant. But it's worthwhile reviewing each server's policies and checking out the community content to decide where to sign up.
When you sign up for Twitter you get a handle or address that provides a short way to refer to your account and feed. For example, ours is @doteco. With Mastodon being decentralized, your address is relative to the specific server that you've signed up for; you can think of it being more like an email address. As our account is on mastodon.eco, our address is @firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like Twitter, you can follow other people on Mastodon. By default, it's relatively easy to see other posts on the server that you belong to through your Local Timeline. If you see someone you know, you can choose to follow them and then their posts will start to show in your feed.
There's also a Federated Timeline which shows posts from other servers that your server is connected with. But this is a bit like drinking from a firehose.
To follow people on other servers, you will need to search for them. Remember to enter their entire address into the search bar (prefixed with an "@" symbol).
Mastodon uses some different terminology from Twitter, but many concepts are pretty similar:
- Tweets are called toots (think: the trumpeting sound of an elephant vs the sound a bird makes)
- Retweets are called boosts.
- Likes are called favorites.
With so many Mastodon servers, choosing which one to sign up for can be a bit of a challenge. One of the awesome members of the .eco community, Gershon Bialer, has set up mastodon.eco as a server for the environmental community. This aligns well with the mission of .eco.
If you belong to the .eco community or if you are passionate about environmental issues, we encourage you to check out mastodon.eco and consider setting up an account. If you have questions or comments, feel free to reach out to us.