I’m very aware that talking about alternative social media platforms is uncool, and trying to switch peoples social media habits is totally futile. So without any intention of convincing anyone I thought this project was neat enough to comment on / endorse. I should first point out that I’m still of the opinion that “microblogging” is a vapid form of communication, but I’m willing to keep my mind open about it long enough to give this a shot because I think it’s better than anything that existed prior.
Mastodon is intended to be kind of like Twitter, except it’s (of course) free/open source software. It’s “federated” meaning that, like email, you can use it without being committed to any particular organization (like how firstname.lastname@example.org can communicate with email@example.com). On Mastodon you join an “instance” which are often, but not always, organized around a theme, or at least around a shared set of values. From there you can follow users on other instances, and see a federated timeline of posts separate from your own instance’s timeline. Whenever someone on your instance follows someone on another instance, that other instance’s timeline shows up in your federated feed.
The thing that I think makes it cool, and different from the others, is that each instance is totally autonomous and can self-enforce a code of conduct. Because it’s new and therefore still mostly populated with leftist free-software enthusiasts, most instances have strictly inclusive, anti-fascist code of conduct. That led tech writer Sarah Jeong to describe Mastodon as “like twitter without nazis” (good article; worth a read).
Of course, as free software it also cannot stifle political speech because anyone is still welcome to start their own Mastodon instance, but instances can completely block each other, which makes it easier to isolate undesirable activity and cut down on cyberbullying. Hopefully this will be an effective mechanism for community-moderation of the distinction between controversial speech and harassment/hate speech, which Twitter has been notoriously bad at handling.
I guess only time will tell if this just isolates political echo chambers or promotes good behavior. It’s at least a different approach, and I think there’s a good chance that it can succeed.
For now if you do want to join my experiment and see what this is all about, you can join one of the many instances that already exist. And you can “follow” me at firstname.lastname@example.org