February 5, 2023

A flock and a hard place

Since late October 2022 a change in Twitter leadership has inspired users—me included 👋—to consider other places to spend time.

Mastodon became a popular choice for tech enthusiasts. Especially because the features overlap so heavily with Twitter. Hive was another alternative, but lost steam when it fell to...very unfortunate news.

Twitter is huge. It's hard to imagine (the many awful) changes at Twitter HQ to cause any significant number of users to switch to any of these services.

But, they did.

Apparently the numbers were significant enough for Twitter to enact one of the dumbest policy changes yet. (They've since reversed it. "Vox Populi, Vox Dei" 🙄)

Users left. Even ones who used Twitter since the beginning and coined terminology like "tweet".

And, like many other Mastodon users, I'm quite happy with the platform! However, it has a major uphill battle.

A user attraction problem

As of right now, if you go to Mastodon's official website and click "Create Account" this is what you'd see:

Mastodon sign up

"Getting started with Mastodon is easy".

While a distributed set of servers is one of the major value propositions of Mastodon, boy, does this keep a lot of would-be users out.

What is a 'server'?

How do I choose one?

Can I not follow my friends or other accounts if I pick the wrong one?

Can I switch?

Do I even want to introduce this headache into my life?

Choosing a server is tantamount to picking an email domain/service. You just want to pick the most safe and sensible one and never think about it again.

While tech enthusiasts are willing to sacrifice a bit of free time for a decentralized, non-algorthmic platform a lot of the people I followed on Twitter won't tolerate it.

That means Mastodon is saturated with people like myself, but lacks diversity with other interests and within other careers.

  • I can't follow my favorite sports writers reporting on what the Bears are going to do this offseason
  • I can't follow my favorite indie musicians and artists because Twitter is a larger audience
  • I can't follow some open-source developers who have limited time and choose Twitter because it's more time-efficient for them
  • I can't follow some celebrities and important figureheads who I like to keep up with

Paving the way

This is certainly not to say Mastodon won't ever attract these types of users. Not one bit.

The Twitter we know today exists because it was paved by the same people on Mastodon right now: a group of technically curious people patiently trying something new.

I hope in the coming years we look back on this time as the early, formative years before the platform became an even more diverse and vibrant place.