Mastodon – Another Social Network For You to Worry About?
It has a tanking share price, falling advertising revenues, a reputation for giving a voice to trolls and abusers and is losing some of its highest profile celebrity uses. Yes Twitter’s board has plenty to worry about at the moment. So they could quite probably do without the recent rush of press articles about a new social network that some pundits predict could eat its lunch – Mastodon.
If the name sounds familiar you are either au fait with prehistoric animals or American heavy metal bands. Quite which of the pair inspired the network’s developer, German Eugen Rochko is open to debate, but one thing is for sure, he has been very heavily influenced by Twitter.
Open Mastodon’s home page and you are presented with something that looks a lot like Tweetdeck the third party Twitter web tool which the company liked so much it bought a few years ago.
There are other similarities too. Mastodon is a microblogging network, where users post messages and have conversations – though the character limit is significantly more generous 500 compared to Twitter’s 140. Yet that’s where the similarities largely end.
As Rochko explains Mastodon seeks to take the best bits of Twitter but improve on them. “I brought all my friends to Twitter back in the day. I kept promoting it to everybody I knew. I really loved the service. But it continuously made decisions that I didn’t like. So in the end I decided that maybe Twitter itself is not the way to go forward.”
One good bit of news for the Twitter board though is that the Mastodon creator doesn’t seem overly ambitious, for now. In fact the site is largely financed by donations through the Patreon network – and Rochko has only asked for a paltry 800 Euros per month.
The other thing about Mastodon which may be the thing that keeps it from becoming the social network that does cause problems for Twitter is that it is, well a little esoteric. The network is decentralised and split into various sectors – think old school web newsrooms – which are called Instances. There are several hundreds of these and they typically revolve around a specific topic. So, for example, you can become a member of the animal rights group, or try the cat group.
So users get the dual benefit of being able to post on their own groups but also the “federated timeline.” This is analogous to a single Twitter feed containing everyone’s tweets (a.k.a. toots).
Another reason why some fans rate the new service so highly is that it has really powerful privacy controls. So users can choose who sees individual toots for example, or issue a content warning with a toot, so anyone who wants to read it has to click to uncover the text.
Not surprisingly the main users of the service are the type of people who were early adopters of Twitter – namely tech heads keen to find a space to share their in jokes without fear of being parodied or misunderstood. For the time being I think it is unlikely that too many more mainstream Twitter users will fancy joining them. However Mastodon’s rise does highlight a couple of key points.
Problems for Twitter
First is that Twitter really has failed to innovate. Sure it has made a partial success of some of its side projects like Periscope and Medium, but the actual core service channel hasn’t changed a great deal. And when Twitter has changed the service, such as moving from an chronological display of posts to one determined by an algorithm, the tweaks haven’t sat well with their users. Individual groups, better privacy options and longer posts are all things that should, in my opinion, have been integrated into Twitter.
Perhaps more importantly Mastodon’s meteoric growth shows that even Twitter’s core audience is starting to tire of it. Writing the social network off seems very premature, but there is a growing disenchantment with the way it has not tackled some of its core problems – such as the level of abuse dished out by people with anonymous accounts.
Twitter should be a significant part of most brand’s social networks strategy. Yet for how much longer?
It didn’t take too long before brand starting sizing up Mastodon (Wal-mart allegedly set up a account, though this might just be a hoax). If Twitter doesn’t finally address some of the concerns of both its individual and corporate users brands might start looking elsewhere.
Commissioned by The CMA