On April 20th, I created my first mastodon account, @dmerej@mamot.fr.

In this article, I’d like to show you why this matters a great deal to me, using three articles I’ve already written:

Previously, on dmerej.info/blog

Heard and seen at FOSDEM 2017

When I was at FOSDEM in February, I spent a lot of time in a room called “Decentralized Internet”.

I heard about many nice projects and people.

All of them shared the same concern for their users’ privacy, and all of them wanted to avoid having all their data centralized in one place.

They were trying to fix the same problems, but each of them with a different approach.

There was not a single way of doing things, (except of course using open source software), not a single set of tools, not a single protocol, even though people were trying to share ideas and code.

But that was kind of the point, right? If you want to build a “decentralized” Internet, you’ll like the fact there are lots of alternatives and choices.

Twitter and me, me and twitter

Here I explained that when twitter did not have that many users, it was a much nicer place to hang out and share experiences.

I also said that by following too many people, I ended up spending a lot of time and energy going through my timeline, and how I “fixed” this by making sure I would never follow more that 20 people on twitter.

How to build decentralized social networks

Lastly, I said that for all these reasons, I had an idea for a twitter alternative, and I enumerated two key features:

  • Easy to deploy
  • A maximum number of people per instance.

Here comes Mastodon

And then I heard about the Mastodon project.

As you would have guessed, some characteristics of the project match what I was talking about on my blog.

Easy to deploy

There is already quite a lot of documentation on the subject.

Among other things, you can use Heroku or Docker to quickly and simply deploy your own instance.

It seems to work well, given the list of instances that are already available.

The big bazaar at work

Mastodon is an alternative to an existing project, GNU Social, which itself was a continuation of the StatusNet project.

For me it’s just an other example of the “Cathedral and the Bazaar” phenomenon1. Instead of having a few people trying to design something monolithic and centralized, Mastodon kind of emerged from a big “bazaar” of people and solutions with no discernible leaders of central authority, which what exactly what I was expecting after going to FOSDEM 2017.

Small instances

As soon as Mastodon starting to become “popular”, it was no longer possible to create an account on the main instance, mastodon.social, so naturally people started creating and using new instances.

Here’s the “maximum number of users” feature I was talking about. True, it’s not hard-coded in Mastodon’s source code, but because instances are usually installed and maintained for free by small communities with few financial resources, most of them naturally refuse to host too many accounts.

Conclusion

I encourage you to give mastodon a try. After you’ve chosen your instance, using the website is not very difficult if you already know how to use Twitter.

You can use mastodon-bridge or the search bar at the top left to find friends.

There are also some nice features:

  • The 500 characters limit makes it easier to have meaningful conversation.

  • There’s no algorithm building a “You might like” list. Instead, you can see everything that happens in you “local timeline”, which fosters serendipity and avoids the Filter Bubble effect.

Lastly, it may be the first truly “social” website, as Lionel Dricot pointed out on his blog (in French).

I’ll leave you with one last quote, a translation of a tweet from a friend:

Changing the world is hard. Some people more clever and active than me are already on it.


  1. Here’s the wikipedia article if you’ve never heard about it. [return]