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Mastodon – an open source alternative to Twitter (mastodon.social)
241 points by PleaseHelpMe on Sept 10, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

Perhaps it would be better to submit https://joinmastodon.org instead of the flagship instance. The project homepage has links to all the info as well as a directory of servers (instances), which might spread out new users better.

When did the 'flagship instance' begin accepting new users again? I wonder how long it will last this time, and whether or not this HN post will affect that!

Of all the random strangers hosting the service, I waited until I could get onto the instance hosted by the actual project itself; the bus factor feels higher, and the account suspension process less arbitrary.

https://web.archive.org/web/20170406103653/https://mastodon.... (April 2017)

Due to exceptionally high traffic, registrations on this instance are closed until quality of service can be assured for existing users. Choose one of the various other public instances to sign up!

https://web.archive.org/web/20170806214711/https://mastodon.... (August 2017)

Given that this is most shared instance, to preserve the ideals of decentralization we have closed sign ups in favour of spreading new users through the various alternative instances — you get the same network wherever you sign up. Click below to find one:

Gargron closed it off during its peak, not because of the load, but because mastodon.social became too synonymous with Mastodon proper, so he forced people to go to other instances so everyone wouldn't be in the same basket of eggs.

A few months later, I think mastodon.social has been fairly open to signups, especially now that we've got all these French and Japanese instances up and running.

... and here we have one of the largest problems with the federated model of decentralization. Who wants to be in a province when they could wait for an account in Rome?

Throw in a DHT and a key pair for every user and you could fully divorce account ID from instance.

One that may interest HN is called mathstodon.

For people who want to know more, I wrote this:


Submitted it here ...


... but it got very little attention. In fact, checking my logs only about 20 people even clicked through.

Perhaps people are genuinely not interested. Attention fatigue?? Who knows?

Edit: I should add that I'm here: https://mathstodon.xyz/@ColinTheMathmo

https://mathstodon.xyz is very quiet, but building slowly.

I believe it's quite random whether a link trends on HN or not, even if other links about same topic had got a quite large number of upvotes in past. Cool visualizations and engaging title helps, but isn't a guarantee. Maybe also the time of the day makes a difference (though I have no idea what would be the best timezone to optimize for popularity).

I am a huge advocate for Mastodon. It is worth remembering that nearly all of the value for the users of a social network comes from other users. Most of Twitter's defining features -- retweets, hashtags, and @ mentions -- were invented not by Twitter's employees, but by its users:


As a result, building services like this in a distributed way a la email seems much more appropriate. Why let Twitter greedily monetize your content?

Talking about mentioning people and retweets (ie forwarding) like they are grand monolithic features just blows them up to insane proportions. These aren't anything new or special, if you list them as core "features" then you have a terrible product with more marketing bullshit than quality

I'm looking forward to platforms that are decentralized as well as allow rich media content (photos, videos, etc.) to be embedded/uploaded. Such platforms would have some chance of being an alternatives to centralized walled gardens like Facebook and Google+.

Edit: As pointed out by daveid (thanks!), Mastodon does allow uploading photos and videos. So my statement referring to it as text-only was incorrect, and I've removed that part.

Update: I created an account on an instance and it looked like Tweetdeck's web interface, which is something I do like during the rare times I login to Twitter. I personally would still like to see something richer and more familiar to people who use Facebook and Google+ in terms of the interface, features like groups, etc. I struggle to keep up with Twitter, and I find groups to be the best place for me on social networks. I also like that longform articles can be posted on Facebook with Notes. The 500 character limit in Mastodon seems a lot better than Twitter, but is still a huge restriction.

For groups, people just tend to pin hashtags at this point. Glitch.social added a feature to pin a column from a search and it looks like most instances have added it now, too. Also, there are a some instances that tend to loosely target certain themes/subjects.

I totally agree that it is a bit barebones at the moment and could use real groups and other social features. The fact that admins of different instances can hack on their servers separately might promote third party features being created and merged.

Mastodon supports photos and videos.

There is also https://mediagoblin.org/ , which is more oriented toward videos.

I'm a mastodon user, so I might be a bit biased, but I find it a lot better than twitter. Different servers can also carter to different cultures or groups so you can find your own niche there.

Same here, I've been using Mastodon for the past 3 months, and I find practically everything works better than on Twitter.

The site loads much faster, and it's more responsive because it doesn't load trackers and ads to monetize users. 500 char limit actually facilitates having meaningful interactions with people. The column UI layout lets you see the timeline and notifications without having to jump between tabs.

Fundamentally, Mastodon is exactly the way social media should work in my opinion. Anybody can run their own instance and configure it any way they like. Since Mastodon is open source and community driven there aren't any VCs driving it, and it doesn't need to monetize to stick around. As long as people want to use Mastodon, it'll continue to thrive. Any features added to the platform are there for the benefit of the users and on one else.

I also think that Mastodon happens to be at the right place and at the right time. Hosting has become very affordable nowadays. You can get a DigitalOcean VPN for 5 bucks a month. Docker makes the installation process a breeze, and Let's Encrypt provides free TLS. You can literally spin up an instance in an hour or so. I wrote a short guide here https://github.com/yogthos/cheatsheets/blob/master/mastodon....

We took a big detour with walled gardens like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. It's time to go back to the original spirit of the internet where anybody can run a server and people can interact with one another on their own terms.

Counterpoint: True, there are many "niche" instances available, but on the other hand, finding the one that aligns with your interests may be difficult.

That's why there's a wizard that helps you start that's https://instances.social that's linked from https://joinmastodon.org/

Niche? Most every Mastodon instance I've joined has been more like clique, almost the exact opposite of an open social thing.

I really want to embrace this - but I'm still not able to make up my mind whether I object more to Twitter the company or to the whole concept that Mastodon is implementing.

(edit: not that Twitter themselves have done much to offend me - "Twitter the company" above is more of a stand-in for commercial social networking companies at large)

2nd edit because I've not had my coffee yet and didn't explain myself properly: the "whole concept" that I'm talking about is, I guess, what people used to call 'microblogging' - a service of which Twitter is the holotype; as far as I can see, the real utility of it is in its constant presence via a phone app, but I am not sure if I want to do that. I definitely don't want to have that in my life by joining Twitter, but I can't make up my mind whether my dislike is more about the companies providing the service, or more about the generic service itself.

Does that make better sense? :)

I don't mind the company, but I don't like that a product of a single company has become the defacto communication channel for tech people.

In many gatherings speakers identify themselves by twitter handles instead of email. Do you think that is sound?

  In many gatherings speakers identify themselves 
  by twitter handles instead of email. Do you think 
  that is sound?
No, I very much dislike that. Part of it is that I am (by choice, for sure), not able to use that information, but part of it is, as you say, an objection to a single commercial offering having that position.

I find that 500 chars limit is enough space to express ideas, and facilitates meaningful discussions around them.

> or to the whole concept that Mastodon is implementing.


You can have a user on any Mastadon or GNUSocial server, and communicate with any other user on any other Mastadon/GNUSocial server.

So, no get tied in there.

That's the main complaint I see with people and social networks... So can you expand?

Edited my post. More coffee needed, evidently.

What do you object to about the concept of what Mastodon is implementing?

See 2nd edit above :)

Honestly, it's a barren wasteland, worse than Google+. As far as I've seen it's mainly used as a replacement for imageboards. Most of the server topics are either a variant of /b/, or a gathering place for SJWs, furries and lolicons.

You are describing a completely different platform from the one I visit and post to every day. For one, it's not barren; it's quite active. One of the distinguishing features of mastodon compared to other decentralized platforms is that people use it. In fact one of the complaints about the federated feed is that it updates so fast it's hard to keep up with.

As for the people there, the people I talk to are interested in games, philosophy, linux, vaporwave, memes, and meta talk about mastodon and decentralized platforms. There are a lot of trans and and furries and people interested in politics. The vast majority have been unfailingly nice. The granular privacy options allow one to mute those who are overbearing.

And the biggest difference between it and /b/ is that conversations tend to be two-way a lot more. People aren't purposely posting to try and anger you. In fact, here's a post I see on my feed right now:

>someone should write a paper on mastodon as a model of a therapeutic community

If what you're saying is you just don't like platforms that have lots of people you disagree with politically, that's one thing. But the behavior and subject matter and culture are significantly different from /b/ and in no way a wasteland.

That mirrors my experience as well. I also find that the 500 char limit makes for much more interesting conversations than Twitter. I've discussed books, games, and programming on Mastodon, and I wouldn't have bothered having these discussions trying to fit my thoughts into 140 chars.

I totally agree that the higher character limit contributes to better and deeper conversations. This was one thing excited my about Google+ when it first came out. People could write essays, explain long processes and they didn't have to worry about a character limit.

I also like how you can make part of the post hidden by default, so you can have a summary and then people click to expand if they're interested. I see that used a lot in my timeline. It's kind of best of both worlds where everybody isn't posting walls of text.

Because of the federated nature of mastodon, experience on one instance might be quite different than another.

If the instances that are not "barren wasteland" are difficult to find, it's a problem.

Finding instances is very easy because there's a registry and a helpful wizard linked off the main site https://joinmastodon.org/#getting-started You can specify what the minimum number of users you want on an instance, what topics you care about, and so on.

I actually think this is superior to Twitter model, because you can find an instance that fits your interests closely and not have to deal with the noise you don't care about.

Right. Fortunately, the offshoot instances are easy to find.

But even if they weren't, the extremely active main instances are enough to show the platform isn't a barren wasteland. And the difficulty of finding offshoot instances with lower amounts of participation is a different category of problem, however real, from the platform itself not having people.

Semi-related: is there any easy way to follow local timelines of multiple instances with a single client? My current main instance has only handful of active people, so I've been wondering if I should look at somewhere else. However, I'd rather not leave my current instance altogether; on the other hand, registering n accounts on n instances and then opening n web browser clients to "see it all" seems like an unnecessary hassle.

I think the easiest way to get views into other instances is to follow people from there. You'll start getting whatever they boost in your feed that way. Being able to follow timelines from other instances would be handy though.

I'm really enjoying Mastodon. It feels like it's geared more toward conversation than counting coup. I have asked several tech and programming questions, and gotten fast and comprehensive responses. For those interested in science, tech, privacy, history and philosophy of software development, and econ, and willing to tolerate t h e a e s t h e t i c and Tuxedo Mask memes, it's a cool spot.

That's completely opposite of my experience using it for the past 3 months.

What no Nazis? Can't have an imageboard without Nazis. Then you have the Nazi furries...

The wanna be Mastodon users could use reading my blog post The Importance of Choosing the Correct Mastodon Instance https://carlchenet.com/the-importance-of-choosing-the-correc...

There are some ideological and technical points to consider before choosing your instance.

Previous discussion of Mastodon here - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13303346

How does it compare to GNU.social?

It's a new implementation of the GNU Social spec.

It is built on top of it.

It isn't.

Mastodon impliments a very very confusing username system, due to the design of domain-name based federation.

Twitter suffers from impersonator accounts on its own network, imagine the confusion of an unfamiliar user having to find a real account on mastadon.

You hear this a lot, but I don't really get this... Everyone is using email and I have never heard anyone complain "email implements a very very confusing username system" because alice@gmail.com and alice@hotmail.com are not the same people.

Maybe it would help to make it more explicit that Mastodon works more like email than Twitter in that respect, but to be fair joinmastodon.org and also the new user onboarding tutorial do try hard to make that very clear.

A big difference is that with e-mail we've long ago stopped expecting discoverability. You don't expect to be able to search <insert random celebrity> and find their e-mail address. You do expect to be able to search for them on Twitter.

I think not being able to search for <random celebrity> is a good marker of how mastodon is trying to be something other than just a decentralized twitter clone. I personally find the twitter microblogging model, wherein most tweets seem to be retweets of high-profile users or comments on their posts, quite unhealthy for discussion among equals. Twitter is essentially a media site, whereas (I think) Mastodon hopes to be something else, more of a forum for actually taking to people. Whether it can work as/if the userbase grows remains to be seen, but I'm cautiously optimistic.

The other thing to keep in mind is that idiosyncratic norms and conventions pop up that are products of how people use the platform, and these have a way of turning problems into non-problems.

Maybe the network will just evolve to value interactions that aren't centered around brand pushing. Maybe it will let the rest of the social ecosystem take care of that and meanwhile mastodon will do it's own thing.

Or maybe a mastodon instance will seek to distinguish itself by providing this kind of verification and become the de-facto instance for verified brands. (There's already a mastodon that explicitly courts business brands.) Maybe we'll even discover that we just don't value such a thing that much, when it occurs on a network structured to make it easily separable from the rest of social activity.

All of which is not to say we should waive away the problem, only that it need not be a conversation-stopper when it comes to the question of whether mastodon has offers "enough" value in its current form.

In which case it is highly misleading when it is presented as an open source alternative to Twitter.

You do hear those complaints, but they tend to take the form of bemoaning the prevalence of phishing emails.

Perhaps it's just a different target audience. People who want to follow celebrities and and brands are certainly better off on Twitter. However, if my main interest is in interacting with individuals this isn't a problem at all.

I met a bunch of people on Mastodon whom I find interesting, and I have conversations with. There's no need for me to verify their identity because I'm enjoying the interactions I have with them.

This is really how internet was originally envisioned to work. You don't need to know anything about the person on the other end, the interaction itself is what's valuable.

On the flip side, Alice could have Alice@alice.com thanks to federation. There isn't all that nice software for it yet, but that could be be an attractive option. It protects you from an external instance dying and links your user clearly to your other web presence.

Haven't we been through this with the likes of identi.ca / statusnet?

If I understood it correctly, Mastodon is actually compatible with them (yay standard protocols), so it's more like their rebirth rather than one or the other having to "win" :)

I would say that this is happening at the critical time when Twitter is under a shit ton of pressure: not fighting bots and abusive accounts, not implementing features requested by its users, its overall incompetence to roll out new features in a sane way, and them fucking up the homepage with algorithms.

If there's any decentralized service that has even a remote chance of succeeding, I would say that it's Mastodon. Simply because of the time when it appeared.

I think the climate might be more favorable today. People are starting to realize that walled gardens have serious drawbacks, so there's more interest in decentralized solutions.

Conversely, hosting has become much cheaper and easier than before. You can spin up a DigitalOcean droplet for 5 bucks, get a Let's Encrypt cert, and spin up a Mastodon Docker image in an hour or so. The barrier to running an instance is very low nowadays.

Yeah, but does it run on blockchain?! :)

That's Twister http://twister.net.co

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