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What is Mastodon? All you need to know about the decentralised Twitter alternative

Elon Musk hasn’t been running Twitter for long but he’s already revealed some changes that have users hunting for a new social network to call home. 

Between firing thousands of employees in a single blunt memo and offering the verification tick to anyone willing to pay $8 a month for Twitter Blue, Musk’s decisions so far haven’t exactly proven popular with the general Twitter population, with many users already announcing they’re leaving the app for good. 

So, where are they going? 

One social network that has recently seen a huge spike in users in recent weeks is Mastodon. 

In fact, as of publishing this guide, the app’s most popular server, “mastodon.social”, has locked its registration with 819,000 users – and that’s just a fraction of the total 4.5 million accounts on the app spread across a wide range of servers. 

But, what is Mastodon? Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about the decentralised social media app, including what it is, how it differs from Twitter and who is funding it. 

What is Mastodon? 

Mastodon is an open-source software created by German software developer Eugen Rochko back in 2016.  

The app is decentralised, allowing anyone to host their own social networking server or choose to join an existing one with a Mastodon account. 

Despite accounts being hosted on different servers, users are able to interact with posts and follow users across any Mastodon server from one account, making the experience similar to more conventional social media apps, like Twitter or Instagram. 

However, unlike Twitter, Instagram or TikTok, posts are listed in chronological order, meaning you don’t need to worry about gaming an algorithm to make sure your posts are seen. 

Mastodon supports a number of post types, including images, videos, audio and “toots” (which are essentially Mastodon’s answer to tweets). The app also supports polls, custom emojis, accessibility descriptions and content warnings, to name a few features. 

Like Twitter, Mastodon fits into the category of a microblogging app, allowing you to share short, frequent posts with your followers and the wider community. However, this is where the similarities would fizzle out. 

“The entire network is like an unlimited number of different Twitter websites, operated completely independently, users of which can follow each other and interact regardless of which Twitter website exactly they are on”, explains Mastodon on its Patreon page

“This has obvious benefits as there is no single company that has a monopoly”. 

How is Mastodon different from Twitter? 

The main difference between Mastodon and Twitter is that Mastodon is a decentralised platform, meaning there’s no one company running the show. 

Unlike Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which are centralised platforms, every Mastodon server is considered its own independent entity with its own rules that are moderated and enforced locally instead of top-down. 

This means that servers can uphold their own standards and there’s no risk of one individual or corporation taking over the entire app in one sweep and enforcing massive sitewide changes. 

Mastodon’s software is also open-source, which means that users can use, copy and change Mastodon as they see fit in order to build their own communities. 

If you’re coming from Twitter, you’ll also notice that the usernames are a little different to what you’re used to. Because Mastodon user accounts exist within servers, the names of those servers are tagged onto the end of usernames kind of like an email address. 

This means that, where your username might be @trustedreviews on Twitter, it’ll probably look more like @trustedreviews@mastodon.social over on Mastodon. 

How does Mastodon make money?

Another key difference between Mastodon and Twitter is that Mastodon doesn’t display ads or push sponsored profiles and posts at you. There’s also no Twitter Blue equivalent to give paying users special privileges when it comes to verification or post visibility. 

You might worry that this means all users will need to pay a small subscription fee to use Mastodon, but thankfully that isn’t the case. 

Rather, the app is funded by “sponsors” who contribute to the app’s running via Patreon or Mastodon’s own site. 

These individuals and companies receive access to Mastodon’s development Discord for their cash, along with their name and logo in the sponsors list if they’re willing to pay a little more. 

However, the perks seem to end there, so you shouldn’t need to worry about an algorithm pushing anyone’s toots to the top of your feed.

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