Twitter’s problems with trolls and abuse have been publicly acknowledged by the firm and it has introduced changes in an attempt to address the issues. It’s latest update, replacing an anonymous user’s ‘egg’ avatar with a human silhouette, has been criticised for failing to address those abusing the platform.
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There may, however, be an alternative to the social network. Mastodon is a free, open-source Twitter clone that is aiming to provide an alternative to Jack Dorsey’s social media company and in the last 24-hours has become increasingly popular.
“[Mastodon is] A decentralized alternative to commercial platforms, it avoids the risks of a single company monopolizing your communication,” Mastodon, which was created by Eugen Rochko, says on its about page.
It works in a similar way, both in look and feel, to Twitter. It has public timelines that are chronological where users, who have @usernaes, are encouraged to share posts. Unlike Twitter, the new distributed social network allows posts of 500 characters rather than the 140 on Twitter and it is possible to make individual posts private.
Those using Mastodon are able to follow other users and posts appear in a timeline that looks the same as Twitter’s. The creation also has Twitter’s old style of replies, following a change that caused confusion with users last week.
The biggest change between Mastodon and Twitter comes in the way that it is run across multiple servers, with various instances. Usernames work like email addresses (e.g. email@example.com) and as a result, different servers have slightly different names – a list of some instances, designed for differing communities, has been produced here.
Being open-source, the service also has an open API for apps and developers to use, it says there is no ads or user tracking and it is easy to use its mute and blocking tools. All of the code for Mastodon is also available on its GitHub page. For those wanting to make the change from Twitter to Mastodon, there’s also a tool that allows people to find friends who are using both Twitter and Mastodon.
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However, the service’s rapid growth in users may cause a problem for those wanting to sign-up at the moment. As note by The Verge the website’s subscriber numbers grew 73 per cent in 48 hours to around 41,000 and Rochko has since paused sign-ups through its main page. Its current user base has created 1,004,819 statuses since the website launched in October last year.
Rochko says he is funding the website through a Patreon account and is using that money to pay for server costs plus his own expenses.
Despite its sudden growth in popularity, Mastodon’s user numbers are still a long way from Twitter’s 319 million active users, across an entire year. It also isn’t the first time someone has tried to create a version of Twitter that incorporates the real-time nature of its updates but avoids being tied to the company. In 2014, App.net was created as an semi open-source Twitter alternative.
App.net was created as a subscription service that would bring the best parts of Twitter into a new network. Unlike most social networks, users were required to pay for access to the service and ultimately this led to its decline. Despite surviving for a few years, App.net was shutdown in January 2017.