March 25, 2023


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This is how the Twitter alternative works

Berlin, Dusseldorf There’s always hype around new platforms – some are growing to global size, like Instagram and Tiktok, and some are disappearing from the public eye again after initial interest, like Clubhouse and Diaspora.

The Mastodon micro-blogging service, created by German software developer Eugen Rushko, is currently causing a lot of discussion. Ago TwitterHe took office on October 27 TeslaPresident Elon Musk doubled the number of active users to over 1 million. In the meantime, Mastodon is no longer accepting new registrations due to high demand.

Proboscis instead of birds, horns instead of tweets – is this a long-term trend? With Mastodon, experts at least see the potential for a long-term role in large social networks.

“There was a kind of unease about Twitter before, but now the change of ownership has made a lot of people think about whether this is the place for them,” says social media researcher Jan-Henrik Schmidt. With Mastodon there is now a convenient alternative.

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The two SMS services Twitter and Mastodon are similar in the way they work. However, the latter is based on a decentralized and open source system, and when registering you have to decide on the server – the so-called instance or home.

Assignment of volunteer supervisors the rules

The rules are set there by the operators, often volunteer administrators. One of them is Julian Lobstein: A Bochum web developer founded with two friends in 2017. He describes his motives as follows: “I want to contribute to a large, completely non-profit public infrastructure that is not controlled by a company.”

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In this part of the digital sphere, Lobstein and his associates are responsible. They make sure the technology is turned on and intervene when users complain about content. For example, they do not accept far-right statements, nor do they accept content that hates transgender or gay people.

If you do not agree with this, you can look for another example in the “Fediverse” – as enthusiasts call the Mastodon world. Lobstein compares it to the nightlife area: “Brawls are fine in one pub, but not in another. One has loud music, the other is quiet.”

The crucial question: Is there suction?

This principle was well received. On Twitter, many users are adding a link to Mastodon to their bio. For example, lists of active scientists from various disciplines are drawn up.

“The crucial thing we will notice in the next few weeks: Will the many individual decisions to go to Mastodon become a key step?” says Schmidt, who researches digital media and political communication at the Hans Bredeaux Institute in Hamburg. It is the network effect as with Facebook And Twitter: The interest increases with each participant.

In any case, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (BfDI) noted an exponential growth in Mastodon – measured in terms of the number of cases and users. This week alone, the Federal Ministry of Construction and the Federal Ministry of Economy were registered.

Famous and influential players play a critical role in the success or failure of social networks. In the case of Mastodon, it is personalities such as the satirist Jan Boehmermann or the federal government and the authorities who have compiled their many addresses eg Boehmermann’s follower count, at 92,000, is not even close to 2.7 million followers on Twitter.

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Infrastructure is funded by donors

For Mastodon to be successful in the long run, the infrastructure must grow with it: the more users connected to the Internet, the more servers will be needed. Since the network is organized in a decentralized manner, the commitment of users and private organizations is required, whether by donations or technology.

Laubstein’s employer, developer 9Elements, is currently funding the server for an instance of It costs up to $200 a month. “We’re thinking of starting an association,” says the IT professional. Then you can democratically decide on topics like technology and moderation – and also accept donations more easily.

Mastodon gGmbH, which develops the program, is also dependent on support: it deliberately avoids advertising and finances itself with donations. Starting at €1.50 per month for a basic membership up to €214.50 per month Gold Sponsorship, which is currently on sale.

It’s unclear how far the nonprofit company will ultimately be at its disposal. The budget will likely be much lower than Twitter’s. The US service reported advertising revenue of nearly $1.1 billion in the second quarter. Sales were fueled almost exclusively by ads, similar to the owner of Facebook dead.

Another important point for the future is moderation in content. Because: If growth continues as in the past few weeks, Mastodon should soon be subject to NetzDG (NetzDG) ​​law enforcement. This comes into force from two million registered users and is intended to facilitate law enforcement on the Internet, particularly in the case of illegal hate speech.

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“There is still work to be done on one major authority or the other,” says BfDI spokesman Christoph Stein. According to Schmidt, controlling small groups of users has been working well so far: “If more people come in, there may also be more trolls – then the question of moderation arises more than before.”

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