Mastodon: an alternative for Twitter users, still baffling for non-Twitter users

Briavel Schultz
Briavel Schultz // April 13, 2017

You might have heard some buzz around the platform Mastodon, an up and coming alternative to Twitter. It’s comprised of “instances”, which are basically mini-sites on the platform, all sharing one big timeline, while having their own unique one too.

I wanted to give Mastodon a try for a lot of reasons:

  1. Mastodon actively works to curb online harassment
  2. It’s a small community (actually, a series of small communities)
  3. Posts appear in chronological order – no mysterious algorithms to game
  4. Ownership of the platform is decentralized

And lastly, instead of “tweets” posts are called “toots.”

For my inner child this is a selling point.

The biggest conundrum when signing up for Mastodon is choosing your instance–the particular Mastodon community you want to join. One clever analogy I heard likens this to choosing your Hogwarts House. You can still interact with everyone in the larger Mastodon universe, but your instance is like your particular common room. You can sign up for as many instances as you want, but one or two is plenty.

I signed up for a bunch of instances because I wasn’t sure which one would be the best fit. After three days of hopping in and out of all my various accounts, here are my initial Mastodon impressions:

  1. Mastodon is just as confusing, if not more confusing, than Twitter. It looks a lot like Tweetdeck so if you know how to use that, you have a leg up.
  2. There are many internet meme jokes, and I don’t understand most of them. Is this because I’m approaching 30 or because I don’t use the internet enough?
  3. People seem a lot nicer than on Twitter. I really appreciate this civilized internet thing.
  4. The different instances have totally different vibes, so it’s worth putting in the time to find a good fit.



Mastodon vs Tweetdeck

In the end, I don’t think I’ll be using Mastodon very much. Ultimately, the same problem I have on Twitter trips me up on Mastodon — what the heck am I supposed to say to a bunch of strangers on the internet? I wrote one funny post about my cats and then I was out of ideas.

But if you’re a regular Tweeter/micro-blogger who enjoys writing pithy observations about life in general and talking to random people online, I think you might love Mastodon. The community is clever and fresh without the overt corporate vibes of Twitter.

Personally, I’ll be sticking with my visual platforms, Instagram and YouTube. If anyone wants to invent an alternative to those, I’m game.