Mastodon is a distributed social media platform, based on free and open source software developed by a German group of hackers / developers. It is quite similar to Twitter on the external layer, but completely different under the trunk: it works as a federation of different servers (instances) that anyone could setup and connect to the wider Mastodon network, or the Fediverse, as they call it.

the Mastodon watching the Fediverse - official illustration from Mastodon website
Mastodon and the Fediverse

It reminded me the glory days of BBS / bulletin board system networks in the early 1990s, when you could host a digital board on a home computer, collect messages and content that would be then forwarded to higher points in the net, and could so reach wherever another point in the net was. I used to send messages to a board close to my home, and in 24-48h I could get answers from the States – and this is way before the internet and its emails could get to my place. I know people hosting their own Mastodon instances today, shaping them as they like more: places to discuss about this or that topic, in this or that language… and you can anyway access all the rest of the people (and the content) shared in the Fediverse.

So Mastodon is somehow a modern implementation of the old concept that was, for instance, behind the FidoNet bbs network, but with a better graphics. Well, not so difficult to achieve, since back then we had no graphics at all. Here’s the original FidoNet logo, with text-based drawing (aka ASCII art) :

Fidonet text-based logo - the inspiration for Mastodon

Until a few weeks ago, this was just another example of useless geeky stuff, interesting but doomed to only be part of the conversation of the usual circuits of hopeless nerds. Including me, obviously: I opened my Mastodon account in 2019, and then more or less let it there for good.

Then enter Elon: Musk was forced to buy Twitter after boasting to do so without actually doing, to avoid legal consequences. So he did, and in literally 3 weeks he made it to destroy the whole platform: thousands of people were fired and even more technicians and developers are now on the run (Tumblr offered to hire teams from Twitter in stock, just a few days ago…) , spam and hate speech are rampant, and every time Musk speaks to the users on the platform, he just makes it worse.

For this reason, many people decided to leave Twitter, and the most similar platform was… Mastodon.

It is a proper migration, and a Mastodon user created an account to tell this story, with a Medium page too, to share it with the (yet) non-users. The numbers alone, are impressive:

Mastodon gained almost a million users in just 3 days, with a vertical hourly increase graph. The hashtag #mastodonmigration and #twittermigration are going wild. It’s unprecedented. We never assisted to such a thing. It’s a digital mass-migration, and we are watching it happen. This could teach us something interesting about our relationships with digital spaces.

First of all, many people are commenting that they never thought to get a chance to learn how to use a now social platform again. Of course it’s not kids, but adult people, many of them were convinced that the landscape was fixed, once and for all, for good. Instead, a change is coming and I love to see what happen when people face change.

mastodon flying with little birds lifting it, as in the Twitter error image

One thing I noted, in these crazy days of migration, is that so many newcomers, once they land on Mastodon servers, notice the different atmosphere: iIt’s calm, it’s slow, there is no algorithm pushing for more interaction nor willing to show you what other people are interacting with. It’s you in charge.

It’s how it was supposed to be, and it is so refreshing for who had some idea about the internet of the beginning. And even more, I would say, for those who grew up in the internet of social media platforms and algorithms: I cannot count how many comments I read, from people wondering about the different atmosphere.

But one could say, it’s just because it’s the beginning. More idiots will come, more crap will come with them, more hate speech, more nazi and racist propaganda…

Well, maybe not this time. The opensource, distributed platform means that every instance can moderate their users and what they can take from the fediverse. And nobody is gaining anything from days-long flame wars, simply because there is no owner behind counting data they could extract from these interactions.

So I guess nazi will not be tolerated in most instances. They can build up their own ones, for sure. What I am not so sure about, is that moderators will be ok with having that part of the Fediverse being in touch with their own.

The community will have to take care of their moderators, though; donate for the server maintenance expenses, create charities to support or even to own the instances and their management. We could have a user-supported internet, as we were dreaming of many years ago.

Maybe nothing of this is going to happen, but what I am already taking from this situation is a refreshing, healthy reminder of how the internet should be, and how online interaction could be. If not with Mastodon, let’s keep on trying.