Since late 2022, Mastodon has become an increasingly popular alternative to Twitter for millions of users. This is partly because its CEO and founder, Eugene Roshko, has stressed that the decentralized social network – which operates as a non-profit – will never be bought by an anarchic billionaire.
However, it appears that some potential Mastodon users fleeing Twitter were unable to pass Mastodon’s more complicated registration process. Some of them quickly abandoned Mastodon after creating an account, and immediately became confused when asked to find a server to join. Because of this extra-familiar step that doesn’t require joining most mainstream social networks, it seems Mastodon was missing out on a major opportunity to attract and retain Twitter users. Those stakes are likely to be even higher now that top Twitter influencers have started affiliating themselves with another Twitter competitor called Bluesky.
With Bluesky gaining momentum, Mastodon decided to listen to user feedback and take an unexpected step to make its platform more accessible than ever. Now, Mastodon will do what social networks traditionally do and virtual users to a server managed by Mastodon upon registration. Acknowledging that the Mastodon sign-up process “can be confusing”, Rochko declared that this tweak to Mastodon removes “friction from decentralizing features” and makes it “as easy as possible” for new users to “skip through the sign-up process and more quickly engage with others”.
For users who are drawn to Mastodon because of its decentralized structure that allows users – not companies – to create and manage their own servers, moving virtual users to Mastodon-managed servers seemed like a no-brainer. But Roshko writes that “it’s important that Mastodon is good as a product on its own merits, not just because of its ideology,” noting that “if we only succeed in attracting people who actually care about decentralization, our ability to make decentralization mainstream is much harder.”
“This gives us a much better opportunity to showcase what decentralized social networks have to offer than to have this person bounce back and never hear about it again,” Ruchko wrote, noting the explosive growth over the past six months even though many users are struggling with it. Registration deadline. Rochko confirmed that users can also choose to “go to advanced server selection” when signing up if they are not interested in joining Mastodon’s virtual servers.
Building on the surprising success of Mastodon
Earlier this year, Mastodon was gaining 1,000 new users per hour. Rochko has seen its user count reach 8 million. Compared to Twitter’s 368 million monthly active users, Mastodon’s growing total number of users seems small, but for Mastodon, this rise marks a turning point that may have been a cultural shift toward decentralized social networks becoming more mainstream.
As the mastodon grew, investors came calling. Roshko told the Financial Times that he had turned down more than five Silicon Valley venture capital firms that had offered to invest “hundreds of thousands of dollars”. While for now, Mastodon is willing to compromise by putting users on a server it works on, Rochko has never been willing to compromise on the social network’s non-profit status. Instead, Mastodon’s explosive growth is primarily funded by more than 8,500 Patreon donors. Donations come to a monthly budget of $30,000, Roshko told The Verge in March, and some of Patreon’s top-tier backers are sponsors. Roshko told The Verge that Mastodon has also received a limited amount of grant funding.
After refusing to sell to investors, last month Rochko posted a blog saying “Without a doubt,” Mastodon’s sudden success has put “strain” on its resources. Even more troubling is that Mastodon has been struggling to maintain the “public Mastodon servers that we, non-profit organizations, maintain: mastodon.social and mastodon.online.” It’s too early to tell if Mastodon has fixed issues that could cause lagging performance if its virtual servers become overburdened and underfunded as more users join due to the easier registration process.
“We’ve been working nonstop to maintain quality of service on mastodon.social and mastodon.online, but you may have noticed issues like confirmation emails not arriving or home feeds being delayed,” Ruczko wrote. We apologize for the inconvenience and continue to work to address these issues.
Any inconsistencies in the performance of the platform can become another reason for fair-weather users to abandon the platform.
Ars could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ideally, new users unfamiliar with decentralized social networks will join the virtual server, but eventually migrate to a different server that provides content moderation and other policies they prefer. Mastodon is designed to give users freedom of choice and mobility, making it easy to move their Mastodon accounts and all their followers to servers that match their ideal online experiences. Mastodon users who set up servers, known as instances, set their own standards and pay to run their servers. This system of spreading users across servers takes some of the financial burden off Mastodon and seems to still be seen as crucial to the expansion of the social network.
“It is the distribution of users across different servers that makes Mastodon more scalable both socially and technically,” Roshko wrote in his blog in April.
Mastodon will continue to bow down to user feedback
In his most recent blog post, Roshko said Mastodon is now “a home for diverse discussions, viewpoints, and voices, including artists, writers, journalists, and political organizations.” Roshko said these users post more than 1 billion times a month.
It’s not a perfect platform, but it appears to be as safe to use as other social networks, although it lacks the security teams and compliance specialists who oversee each individual server. Dan Godin noted in Ars that Mastodon collects far less personal data than most social networks, and does not store phone numbers or monitor users’ interests. This means that there is likely to be less incentive for hackers to target the platform.
In March, Roshko told The Verge that he wanted the mastodon to be “polished” and “the best product it can be.” To that end, Rochko began building the Mastodon staff, replacing Twitter by hiring talent for key positions.
“I want it to be on par with any commercial alternative you might throw at it,” Rochko told The Verge.
To continue to attract users, Rochko vowed in his blog this week to “always” listen “to the community” and keep track of the most requested features. Right now, Mastodon users want to see more on serial timelines than posts with photos, videos, and polls. Upcoming features include “quote posts, improved content, profile search, and groups,” said Roshko. Roshko said Mastodon will also “continuously” update its logging, content discovery, and “wide array of moderation tools.”