Freedom never comes Free. In the case of Twitter, the price was $44 billion, which Elon Musk would pay to free the platform from its responsibilities as a public company and turn it into Xanadu Free Speech. Musk wants to open source the platform’s algorithms, ban spam bots, and allow people to tweet whatever they like “within the limits of the law.” For him, the stakes are nothing short of existential. “My strong axiom is that having an extremely reliable and broadly inclusive public platform is critical to the future of civilization,” he said in an interview at TED last week.
Musk’s vision has fueled uncertainty about what Twitter’s future might look like. But many of these ideas are already running on another social network, which has been flocked to by thousands of people in recent days: Mastodon.
Mastodon emerged in 2016 as a decentralized alternative to Twitter. It is not a single website, but a group of federated communities called “Instances”. Its code is open source, which allows anyone to create their own “instance”. There is, for example, metalhead.club, for German metalheads, and koyu.space, “a nice community for laid-back people.” Each instance runs on its own server and creates its own set of rules. There are no broad ordinances about what people can and cannot say via a “federal universe” or a “federal universe”. In Mastodon, societies adjust themselves.
More than 28,000 new users joined the Mastodon server on Monday, according to the network’s creator, Eugene Rochko. Since March, when Musk first started making noise, the network has seen as many as 49,000 new accounts. For a service with 360 thousand monthly active users, this is a huge influx. “On the Mastodon server I run, subscriptions increased by 71 percent and monthly active users increased by 36 percent,” Rochko said via email. “Many people have returned to their old news followers accounts.”
Rochko once found himself in a situation similar to Musk: he was a hard user on Twitter and had some feelings for him. The problem, as Rochko saw it, was centralization. Central authority means that the platform tends to the whims of shareholders and the rules can change without warning. It also means that the platform can stop working, something Rochko has tested with MySpace, Friendfeed and SchülerVZ, a German version of Facebook. A server owned and operated by the people who use it would allow for more control, including control over their own self-management.
Unlike Musk, Rochko didn’t have billions to burn. Instead, he was a 24-year-old undergraduate, months away from graduating from a university in central Germany. So Roshko decided to build his own social network. He created the Mastodon framework in his spare time, accepting donations from Patreon donors, who were similarly interested in a Twitter alternative that returned power to the people. In 2016, shortly after graduation, Mastodon released to the masses.
What Elon Musk Can Learn From Mastodon – And What He Can’t Learn
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