Mastodon, a decentralized Twitter

I recently created an account on Mastodon to try and see what a decentralized social network looks like and, I must admit, I’m surprised.

Before this experience, I thought that using any decentralized platform would be hard to understand and require technical knowledge that isn’t available to regular people. Fortunately, I was wrong. Using it is identical to Twitter: you customize your profile, post and read messages in your feed, and even explore the trending topics.

My favorite feature, though, is the ability to interact with other Mastodon providers (or communities, as they call it). As I recently wrote, I believe we should model the future web around protocols instead of platforms and Mastodon does it by implementing the ActivityPub protocol. When I scroll over my feed, I read messages that have been posted on other public Mastodon servers other than my own. Even my Mastodon handle is in the format <name>@<provider>. I love it!

Given that, I don’t think there are technical challenges preventing non-technical users from using Mastodon. However, I must mention that the experience of choosing a Mastodon community to join is sub-par. When first reading about what these communities are, I got a bit confused and overloaded with information. Which community to choose? Are there any major differences? Do I need to care about privacy and security? Who exactly is running these communities and why? Why is my community “part of my online identity”?

Maybe, a better approach is to treat it like email and lower the stakes of such a decision. Instead of “one community is going to be hosting your account and be part of your online identity”, why not change the language to “pick any community now, move it to a different one later”? This could make this decision less stressful for new users and decentralized social networks more accessible, helping to achieve the critical mass necessary for them to be a real competitor of today’s tech giants.