Ever since the news broke about violations of privacy on mainstream social media, we may be in need of finding good alternatives. Social platforms that are preferably open-source and decentralized. I would like a platform that is not owned by one humongous, centralized corporation such as Facebook is. And one that can be verified by it’s openly available code base, posted to Github for instance. This allows users to see how their data is available and how the platform functions.
The first platform I stumbled upon after querying Google for ‘decentralized social media platform‘ was Mastodon. Actually, Mastodon didn’t turn up in the Google search results, but rather a critical article in Wired, called ‘Decentralized social networks sound great. Too bad they never work’.
Ironically, the negative premise of the article did not stop me in my quest for decentralized social platforms, instead the article provided me with a link to Mastodon via this quote, that sparked my interest:
Similar to bitcoin, decentralized platforms have no single organization controlling the network. The decentralized web employs technology that eliminates such choke points in the technical infrastructure of the web. This has given rise to projects like Mastodon, a federated social media platform that resembles Twitter; Blockstack, a distributed system for online identity services; and Steemit, an online community using digital tokens to encourage people to contribute to a Reddit-like online community.
‘Similar to bitcoin’ and ‘no single organization controlling the network’ immediately triggered my attention!
So what is Mastodon? I could explain it here, but this video is much better at it:
So, Mastodon is open-source and it’s decentralized in the sense that anyone can host an ‘instance’ of Mastodon on their own web server and set their own rules. Additionally, each Mastodon instance can be focused on a particular theme, such as comic books, cryptocurrencies or whatever niche you can think of. The interesting thing is that these self-hosted instances can communicate with each other. You have a Local Timeline and a Federated Timeline. This article (gist on Github) by Noëlle Anthony explains it well:
Mastodon has two additional timelines that you can view: the Local timeline and the Federated timeline.
The Local timeline is every post with a public status posted by users on your instance, with the exception of replies. (A reply is any toot posted in response to another toot – NOT any toot that simply mentions another user!)
The Federated timeline is every post with a public status posted by any user that your instance knows about, even from other instances. Your instance knows about a remote user if at least one user on your instance has EVER followed them.
A post (or micro-blog) on Mastodon is called a ‘toot’, and allows for a maximum of 500 characters. You can also include links, emojis and images in your toot.
And like Twitter and other well-known social platforms, you can embed a toot on your website, like so:
- Mastodon blog on Medium
- Find Mastodon instances that fit your language & interest
- Mastodon support forum
- Mastodon on Wikipedia