Mastodon doesn't want to go the way of Twitter

Mastodon doesn't want to go the way of Twitter

Eugen Rochko looks exhausted. The 29-year-old German programmer is the founder of Mastodon, a decentralized platform that has seen its popularity increase enormously in recent weeks, since many people began to consider it as an alternative to Twitter after the acquisition of the social network by Elon Musk has panicked users. Rochko started developing Mastodon shortly after leaving university in 2016. He was a fan of Twitter, but wanted to create a platform that wasn't controlled by a single company or individual because he believed online communication was too important to submit to commercial interests or fickle CEOs. Rochko believed that removing the profit incentive and adding an attractive design could deter harassment and abuse and give users more control.

Instead of creating a unified platform, Mastodon's protocol allows anyone to use open source software to create a server and host a community of users similar to that of Twitter, but with its own rules. Collectively, these servers form a collective of interconnected communities, called the Fediverse, where users can meet on a channel that aligns with their interests and community standards, but also connect with users on other servers or block them altogether. content from a particular community.

Mastodon has grown slowly since the platform's initial code was released in 2017, attracting mainly free software enthusiasts. But then came Elon Musk's $44 billion acquisition of Twitter. His promises to weaken moderation, massive job cuts, and chaotic changes to the platform have alienated many users. In recent weeks, according to Rochko, about 800,000 new Mastodon accounts have been created, crowding the most popular servers and flooding users' timelines with questions and complaints from newcomers. Last year, donations to the non-profit organization that manages the social network and of which Rochko is CEO amounted to 55 thousand euros, of which only 23 thousand have been spent.

Since Musk took over controlling Twitter, Rochko works overtime to keep his server, Mastodon.Social, up and running as he prepares a major platform upgrade. Despite his busy schedule, the founder of Mastodon found time for an interview with US, via video chat from his home in Germany. The conversation has been edited, and translated, for length and clarity.

Will Knight: How have the last two weeks been?

Eugen Rochko : People would probably prefer to hear that all of this growth and success has been fantastic, but I'd rather stand back and observe. There's more work, there's more trouble to solve. It's very stressful. I work fourteen hours a day, sleep little and eat badly. All this coincides with the process of launching a new version of Mastodon software, which needs to be focused a lot. And then there are the press inquiries to be answered and social media accounts to be managed to capitalize on the opportunity.

Despite the difficulties, it is gratifying to see that Mastodon is where people come to away from Twitter?

Yes, it was beautiful and objectively rewarding. I'd like to relax and enjoy the fact that so many people, even famous people, are choosing for Mastodon, such as Stephen Fry [British actor and comedian, ed ]. Unfortunately I don't have time to relax and enjoy this moment. We've seen an unprecedented surge in funds from all the new Patreon donations over the past ten days.

What do you think of Elon Musk's recent tweet teasing Mastodon?

In all honesty, it was very positive for us. It's free publicity, while he's just making a fool of himself. I could barely see the screenshot because the screen was so dirty, but I think he was kidding someone who had trouble posting after signing up. The fact is that the large influx of new users obviously puts a strain on our network of volunteers. So it's no surprise that we have difficulty managing the workload. It's just a matter of scale. At a time when Mastodon's servers are popping up like never before, there are more and more options available to users who want to join.

Although Mastodon has many new users, many are finding that there are no are the functions they were used to on Twitter. Are you receiving complaints?

I'm listening, but I don't want to jump right into feature requests. We have our plans, our strategies and our conception of Mastodon. All the new feedback is definitely flowing into our overall understanding of what Mastodon is, what it needs and where it's going. But they won't necessarily be satisfied right away, and maybe not in the way some people ask.

Is there any suggestion that sounds like a good idea to you?

Many requests are meaningless, because people have not yet learned about the platform. For example, "Why can't Mastodon become a single server?". We have no intention of using this opportunity to cancel server decentralization.

Another feature that is being requested is the ability to quote tweets. It's been talked about for years, and when Twitter introduced it, around the time I left the platform, I didn't like it. While it's not necessarily a toxic tool, it can definitely entice you to do dunks. That said, I now have a more nuanced opinion and definitely factor in how often people request this feature. I haven't decided yet.

The social networks of large companies are the ones that have struggled the most when the communities have expanded to reach hundreds of millions of users. Have you experienced increased toxicity or other problems when more people have come to Mastodon?

There's a sort of self-selection: people who sign up for Mastodon tend to be less unruly. However, we must not forget that all servers, with their rules on hate speech and harassment, carry out a moderation job and act as guardians against trolls. If you subscribe to a server that has rules against, for example, racism or transphobia, you won't even notice the presence of a user who starts posting something homophobic, because the moderator will ban him instantly.

As more people sign up for the platform, will it be harder for it to stay decentralized?

There are always forces pushing towards centralization. From a cost perspective, it is more cost effective to have more users on a single server. And people tend to hang out with servers that are considered more reliable. For most, choosing a server is often difficult: this is the big difference between a platform like Twitter and a service like Mastodon. How do you choose an email provider? Gmail is often chosen because it is the best known out there. But I don't use it and can still use e-mail without problems. It is not an irremediable situation. And Mastodon doesn't have a server on the scale of Gmail.

Won't the costs of hosting Mastodon instances rise significantly now that the service is becoming more popular?

Yes, the bigger a server gets, the obviously more hosting costs. And when you're not interested in monetization or profits, growth is actually a bad thing. Now I will have to pay more for servers. But Mastodon and the fediverse provide the ability to distribute the load across different servers. I can unsubscribe to my server and the others, along with the general network, will pick up the people who are trying to subscribe right now.

What if someone wants to set up a hater server on Mastodon?

The administrator of another server may decide he does not want to receive messages from you and block it. This usually happens in cases of spam, abuse or harassment.

Do you expect community management to become more difficult as you add more and more users with differing opinions? Or is hosting a wide range of different locations part of the original vision?

That's the idea. There is no consensus, or single idea of ​​what to moderate and what not to moderate. Some will have different expectations about what they want to do or how strict they want to be about who they talk to and with whom. The fediverse offers several places to find the social media experience you prefer. It is possible to create an extremely safe space with very strict moderation; no one asks you to compromise on anything.

What can people who like his ideas do to help Mastodon?

I would say contribute to the Patreon of the server their account is on. It's the people who run the servers that need to get support from their subscribers.

What if someone, maybe an impulsive billionaire, wants to buy Mastodon or take control of it in some way?

The network is protected from such events. The code is free, the software open source, and no one can change the license or withdraw it retroactively. Also all the various servers are owned by other people. Someone could buy Mastodon GmbH [the German non-profit association that manages the software, ed ] and with it the brand and the servers we manage – and – but there would be no significant consequences on the faith.

This article originally appeared on US.

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