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Social Media: Getting To Know Mastodon - Executive Leadership Articles

Social Media: Getting To Know Mastodon

Executive Leadership Articles

Social Media: Getting To Know Mastodon

Twitter: Good and Bad

If you only joined Twitter in the past five years or so, you only know it for what it is today with its 335 million active users. It is an amazing space where people of common interests can get to know each other across vast distances and social backgrounds. It’s a place where celebrities from countless levels of recognizability interact directly with their fans. It’s a way for companies and their clientele to engage directly about all manner of concerns on both ends. Where customer service telephone lines have become the stuff of nightmares, customer service Twitter accounts can be the immediate, one-on-one assistance we all wish we could get from a service call. This accessibility applies to many leaders in government as well, an immediate source of feedback and public announcement.

However, it’s also being weaponized, one reason so many public figures refuse to participate on Twitter. Tweets long ago by people famous today are uncovered for purposes of either (depending on your point of view) public shaming or public accounting. Disinformation campaigns by nations with malicious intent sow discord and confusion. Because of the democratic nature of the internet, where everyone has his or her platform, fringe groups speaking loudly enough can normalize points of view considered hateful or otherwise unacceptable in most communities.

A New Space

In order to help people get away from what some consider poisonous discourse, not to mention agendas by Twitter for keeping itself economically viable, a developer in Germany built Mastodon, an open source, decentralized microblogging platform very much like Twitter in user experience, with a chronological timeline and the ability for communities of users to set their own rules for behavior.

Here’s how Mastodon works. The software is free, but it must be installed on a server by someone who knows how to do it. Individual servers set up their own rules and often define their communities of users: this administrator sets up a Mastodon server (called an “instance”) for people who want to talk about sports. Another sets up an instance for tech talk. Yet another sets up an instance for adults-only conversation. Each instance determines its concept of acceptable behavior.

The Mastodon web interface looks a lot like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, or other columns-arranged Twitter clients. Where Twitter has “tweets,” Mastodon has “toots” (sometimes referred to by other names depending on instance). One column is the “home” column, which streams toots by people you follow. Another column is for notifications, which are similar to Twitter’s notifications: “boosts” instead of retweets, “favorites” instead of likes, and mentions. A third column can be the “local” stream, for toots on your instance, or the “federated” stream of toots in the other Mastodon instances.

That’s right. You may be affiliated with one instance, but Mastodon users on other instances can usually be followed on your interface. This is determined by the administrators of your instance who, for example, might not join up with instances featuring adults-only conversation.

Tooting its Own Horn

Mastodon toots are limited to 500 characters (more than twice the maximum length of a tweet) and can embed graphics, sound, and video. There is a “content warning” button for toots that may need to be tagged as such according to the rules of your instance. These toots show up with hidden content which must be clicked to be read, and can include such messages as movie spoilers, political talk, or profanity. Toots may also be designated as “private,” for only the people following you or “direct” for only people mentioned in the toots.

Finding people you know is a challenge, especially since most people you follow on social media aren’t on Mastodon. One strategy that sort of works is to do a Twitter search (search.twitter.com) for “mastodon,” then filtering results so only those from people you follow are displayed.

Local streams can also be very slow-moving, as Twitter was in its early days. In fact, for people who remember Twitter in the 2006 to 2008 years, Mastodon will feel pleasantly comfortable. Perhaps not everyone you follow is on Mastodon, but you’re not looking for a duplicate of the Twitter experience anyway. Remember when you first signed up on Twitter and didn’t know who to follow? Mastodon can be like that. Search hashtags on Mastodon for interesting people to follow, and send out your own toots so others can discover you.

“What am I supposed to do with this thing?” many people asked in the early days of Twitter. Now it can be asked on Mastodon, with its exciting possibilities. It’s quite possible that, like so many other social media networks that have come and gone over the years, Mastodon will die a slow, quiet death. On the other hand, it could be another big thing, not merely a copy of Twitter but its own thing evolving according to the people who use it. Recent funding seems to point to some belief out there that it can become something. For those seeking something like Twitter but not Twitter, it may just the thing.

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Social Media: Getting To Know Mastodon - Executive Leadership Articles

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