Mastodon: Is It A Good Alternative To Twitter?
(Last updated November 25, 2022)
Like many others, I’ve been checking out Mastodon as a possible alternative to Twitter, if the latter implodes the way some say it might. Of all social media platforms, Twitter is my personal favourite. I get why some people say it’s negative but for me, it’s not. I’ll explain more about how I use Twitter later in this post, but for those who just want to know the answer to the question “Is Mastodon a good alternative to Twitter?” my short answer is: No, at least not for me. However, there is no one right way to use social media and if you enjoy using Mastodon, then use it.
[Added November 25, 2022: Meanwhile, I’ve signed up for Post.news; I do think it has long-term potential; here’s my Post profile, for those on the platform. Even though it’s in beta, Post is MUCH more up my alley than most other social media networks. I would not consider it a Twitter replacement yet, but I’m hopeful by the thoughtful approach to roll-out, scalability, response of developers to suggestions, longterm planning.]
I’m really enjoying learning about Mastodon, but am still trying to figure out how I should use it. My main challenge has always been to balance my enjoyment of connecting with others via social media with protecting my creative time.
Over the years, I’ve seen many shiny new social media platforms come and go, many claiming to be “Facebook killers.” Even though some of these DO have much more sophisticated or easy to use interfaces, the main reason these don’t succeed longterm is because in the end, a social media platform is only as good as its community or communities. I remember embracing Second Life when it first launched years ago because I loved the user experience so much, established a children’s book writer presence there, hosted chats, etc. After putting hundreds of hours into this platform, I only ran into a handful of children’s book creators. Sooooo, I decided to go where the kidlit people were at that time…and that was Twitter. The reason SL never took off with the kidlit community? The on-boarding process required effort and a learning curve.
The takeaway for me? Before investing too much time and effort in a new social platform, I need to think hard about WHY I want to do it. To connect with a particular community? To reach a wider audience? For strengthening existing relationships? Or just for the pure fun of it? The latter is important BUT I’m also aware of how many social communities I’m already a part of on Discord, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc.
As Mastodon exists right now, I don’t think it will appeal longterm to enough people fleeing from Twitter to make it a viable alternative to Twitter. A LOT of people have been signing up these past few weeks (including me), but I’ve noticed that many are still trying to figure out how things work, and if/how they’re going to use Mastodon.
I had originally planned to make this a primer on how kidlit creators could use Mastodon. I’ve changed my mind, however, since there are already SO many excellent beginner guides out there (scroll down to the end of this post for a list of just a few I’ve found). I want to emphasize there are SO MANY things to love about Mastodon, and I do plan to keep using it.
However, here are the main reasons I am NOT going to switch from Twitter to Mastodon:
Reason #1: No global search or global hashtags
Mastodon was originally created for those who did not feel welcome on mainstream social networks. The emphasis is on community, NOT outreach and discoverability, and it was designed with this in mind. Because of this, there is no global search, and there will likely never be (one developer who made a global search tool available ended up taking it offline within hours of the release with an apology, because of backlash from the Mastodon community).
I want to emphasize: I am NOT complaining about the lack of global search. Again, I know this was on purpose, to help protect marginalized communities.
I like the analogy this How To Mastadon article made, that Twitter is like a public library whereas Mastodon is more like someone’s private home. Up to now, most Mastodon instances/servers are run by individual volunteers, not big companies with deep pockets. I would never barge into someone’s living room and complain about how they’ve arranged the furniture. I also strongly recommend reading this post. As I’ve mentioned before, I can totally understand why some longtime Mastadon people might not be thrilled with all the new users migrating from Twitter, and why there are so many separate instances/servers. And as this article predicts, Mastodon users should prepare themselves for fees and fundraising campaigns to help cover server hosting costs that can go into hundreds of dollars per month per server (I was proactive and made a donation to my server host to help, and encourage others to do the same).
In any case, the decentralized aspect does make it more of a challenge to find info, conversations, and like-minded people in the community.
Clicking on a hashtag in a post won’t turn up all posts across all servers. Note: I’ve been told by Mastodon longtimers that “server” is not the correct term, but I’m using it here because it’s less likely to cause confusion for those unfamiliar with the Fediverse. See Everything you need to know about hashtags on Mastodon. Entering a hashtag in the search field will not globally search all servers.
Thanks to @mntle @stonebear and @mojomoomoo for helping explain and test this today. Searches are local, but will search all posts that your Instance has seen coming in from other servers. If a post is boosted on another server, then that post is searchable on that Instance also. NOT ALL SERVERS RECEIVE ALL POSTS. @mntle points out “It would make running a server near impossible for a small use, due to the drive space requirements.”
He also points out that it works out better this way, because instead of chasing followers and Internet ‘clout’, it encourages us to engage with people. “More conversations means more interaction. More interaction increases everyone’s ability to find conversations to engage with.”
Anyway, there are MANY, MANY instances/servers, each with its own community guidelines. Some are open to participating with other servers, some aren’t. I tried to look up exactly how many Mastodon servers there are, but apparently the number is currently increasing so quickly that the usual lists have given up trying to stay up-to-date. I would guess the number is in the thousands. [Edited: Mastodon CEO/Founder said there were more than 6,000 on Nov.18, 2022].
Be aware that in theory, an Instance can be run by a single individual on their laptop at home. It would be impractical since the laptop would need to be open and running 24/7 (thanks to Tim Aidley and other tech-types on Mastodon who confirmed this). SigmaTank says that most would just be renting virtual space from a dedicated company providing it – as their communities get larger, they’d have to rent more space, which would cost more money…but this would be easier than physically upgrading a server. But the takeaway is that you should research before picking/settling into one particular Mastodon Instance. You may have picked an Instance because the name is cool and a bunch of your friends are also on it, but it’s worth taking the time to research where and how it’s hosted, and if the server admin has a plan IF the community grows big enough that they need more resources. Also be aware that server admin will have access to all posts (including Direct messages). This is the same on bigger social media platforms, of course, but it’s another reason to make sure the person or people who are running your Mastodon instance are reliable and trustworthy.
Reason #2: Connecting with people can be a challenge
Clicking on someone’s follower list, depending on what tool you use (I usually access from my desktop, as I do Twitter), will only show followers in the list who are also on your own instance/server. For example, suppose I want to see whom children’s book author Barb Rosenstock is following on Mastodon:
Note that Barb is on mastodon.social (I’m on mstdn.social). If I click on “8 Following” above, here’s what I get:
Note that even though Barb is following eight people, I can only see TWO people show up in the displayed list, and that’s because both Erin Entrada Kelly and I are on mstdn.social. If I was on another server, I would only see those users. Message at the bottom says “Follows from other servers are not displayed.” When I click on “Browse more on the original profile,” I’m logged out and taken to Barb’s main Mastodon.social page, where I *can* browse people she’s following. However, in order to follow any of them, I need to sign back in …. and so far, I have been unsuccessful in signing in via this type of page (from what I’ve heard, there are others who have also experience this tech glitch).
At present, the only way I am able to follow people on someone’s list who are NOT on my server is to carefully copy their user id text, go back to the page where I *am* signed in, paste it into my search field. THEN the user turns up and I can follow them. Or at least I can follow them except when the instance/server isn’t overloaded with new users trying to join. 🙂 I’ve heard it’s easier when using the mobile app, but I try to do most of my social media stuff via my desktop because it saves me time AND helps keep me from being compelled to constantly check social media from my mobile devices.
Side note: Even though I’m following Barb on Mastodon, entering just her name in the Search field when I’m logged in does NOT turn up the account I am following, but another account on another server. Confusing and somewhat frustrating.
Reason #3: Easier to connect with my educator and librarian friends on Twitter (at least for me)
This is the main reason I am NOT leaving Twitter.
Twitter has brought me much more joy than angst, and a big part of the reason is because of being able to interact with educators and librarians there. I love when they tag me in their posts showing how kids are enjoying my books, art they’ve drawn, etc., and I enjoy responding.
While there ARE some educators on Mastodon, the decentralized nature of the Fediverse means that it’s going to be more of a challenge for them to easily find and interact with book creators….at least for now. Plus the on-boarding process can be somewhat frustrating and time-consuming, and most educators I know already have a ton on their plates.
I’ve had several worriedly message me and say they’re hoping I don’t leave Twitter. I reassure them I am NOT leaving anytime soon.
Reason #4: Mastodon has been a refuge for marginalized communities, and I’m hesitant to change that
When I first signed up for Mastodon, I immediately filled out my profile, uploaded a header image promoting my books, etc. etc. But then I started doing more research, I learned more about the history of Mastodon, how it’s been around for years, how different parts of Mastodon have their own culture.
As I’m becoming more familiar with the space (and it definitely does feel more like being in someone’s living room than in a public library), I feel uncomfortable about posting the same way I would on Twitter. I’m also feeling weird about what feels (to me, anyway) like barging into a room where others have been enjoying each other’s company and working on keeping their instance/server a safe place, and trying to turn it into a Twitter replacement. I’m not the only one who feels this way.
“[Twitter users] been taught to behave in certain ways. To chase likes and retweets/boosts. To promote themselves. To perform. All of that sort of thing is anathema to most of the people who were on Mastodon a week ago. It was part of the reason many moved to Mastodon in the first place.”– A Mastodon long-timer
I’ve been told by some that things are going to change, that things NEED to change, because of the huge influx of users from Twitter. I can’t help but worry, though, about how much of this is going to have a negative impact on the marginalized communities for whom Mastodon was a safe refuge up to now.
[Added November 25, 2022: I also have to say that I’ve encountered more negativity on Mastodon than I have on other social networks, mainly from Mastodon long-timers who strongly feel that there is a right way to use Mastodon, and many wrong ways. While I understand and support Mastodon longtimers for resenting the huge influx of new users, and will still drop by from time to time, I would rather find a living room (using the analogy of a public library vs private homes) that WANTS new visitors. Again…I completely support Mastodon communities for wanting to keep their members safe and also NOT wanting to turn Mastodon into another Twitter.]
I’m also so aware that many of us haven’t fully read the community guidelines of servers we’ve joined. On mstdn.social, for example, the community rules say “No advertising.” Does this mean no promotion of one’s own work? Upcoming events? Promoting friends’ books? etc. I’ve tried messaging the owner of the server but haven’t received a reply yet.
Reason #5: Do I have enough time for yet another social network?
I plan to stay on Mastodon and keep exploring it because I DO find it intriguing and fun. I love how easy it is to Filter out content I don’t want to see in my feed (politics, for instance). I like that Mastodon has private lists, though I find it sometimes takes me several tries to be able to add a user to one of these lists, if I can at all. I suspect it’s because of the huge influx of new users right now. These Lists are going to be essential for me, though, for helping to curate my feed as I start following more people….not just kidlit friends but also friends from gaming, filking, VR and 3D, and so on.
I’m enjoying connecting with friends on Mastodon whom I don’t tend to see elsewhere, but I can see it becoming a tad overwhelming as it is on my personal FB feed if enough people from different areas of my life want to connect on Mastodon. However, I enjoy my user experience on Mastodon MUCH more than Facebook so far. I also *love* that there are no truly private messages on Mastodon (there are DMs, but @ mentioning someone in your conversation immediately adds them to your conversation) – as someone who already gets a ton of email, being messaged from many different social media platforms can feel overwhelming and stressful.
I’ve been told I should check out Mastodon.art to see some great art by talented illustrators. Thing is, I ALREADY can see great art and interact with illustrators on Twitter and Instagram.
Yes, I can have some topic-specific discussions on Mastodon, but I find Discord much better for that sort of thing (an aside: I also love that I can turn off private messaging for a Discord server). Or Reddit.
So I have to ask myself: as much fun as Mastodon is, how much time should I be investing in this platform when I already have such limited time for social media these days? And when I have finally found my creative mojo again post-pandemic, and am ramping up work on my book projects?
Because I am genuinely enjoying Mastodon so far, I am going to continue using it via https://mstdn.social/@debbieohi. So far, I’ve mainly been posting things I’m learning about Mastodon, in case it helps other newbies, but occasionally posting comics or art. I’m mainly listening and learning right now, though, rather than promoting. Again, I feel like I’ve just walked into someone’s living room as a guest – I want to take the time to get to know what kind of community I’m in, get a sense of the etiquette of the others in this particular living room, before I start talking too much about myself.
The main reason I’m not leaving Twitter: I still find Twitter is the best place to connect with my educator and librarian friends. I’ll also still be on Instagram via my personal IG and my Bookstagram, and Facebook Author/Illustrator Page. I also find it easiest to curate what I see on Twitter via private and public lists.
In the end, it’s up to you. Remember that there is no ONE right way to use social media. You need to find what works for you.
Meanwhile, here are some resources I’ve found useful for Mastodon beginners:
How to get started on Mastodon (Nov. 16, 2022) by Justin Pot via Wired
Fedi.Tips: An Unofficial Guide To Mastodon and the Fediverse: Also be sure to follow FedTips on Mastodon!
What Is Mastodon? – Mastodon’s official documentation.
4 thoughts on “Mastodon: Is It A Good Alternative To Twitter?”
I agree, Debbie. I find the Canadian kidlit community on Twitter such a positive place. My twitter feed is filled with people who support each other and animals. It’s a pretty fantastic place. Thank you for this information. Not sure I will be heading to anyone’s living room any time soon.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love Twitter and plan to stay and do not need another social network. Now I feel better about my decision!
Reason #1 – Just wanted to say that global hashtags actually work really well on mastodon. Better than on twitter. And you can follow them too (up to 4 per column on the web version).
People from every server imaginable show up in the hashtags so it’s definitely global. For me that’s the best way to find new people to follow. #KidLit or #KidLitArt throws up LOTS of people for example.
Lisa: I agree – I find the kidlit community (esp the Canadian kidlit community) mostly very positive! Thanks for the kind words about my post.
Carol: Thanks so much! There’s no one right way to use social media; we all need to find out what works for us. I’m staying on Twitter, too!
Ken: Hashtags work to some extent, but they are not global (they do not search all Mastodon servers). I’ve had this fact confirmed with Mastodon tech types. However, you’re right that you can still find a lot of kidlit people!
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