After the recent events of Elon Musk taking over, I and many others started using Mastodon and reduced Twitter activity. I avoid calling this a “switch” because I do not plan to remove my account on Twitter. However, I have reduced my time on Twitter by easily 95%. In this post, I’ll dive into how daily life is a little different now, why I like Mastodon so far and what worked for me.
A significant difference between Mastodon and Twitter is that Mastodon has no incentive to maximize interaction and engagement across the platform. No tweets of people you don’t follow are injected into your timeline, and no algorithm is trying to show you things you are likely to engage with. Mastodon offers you all the “toots” of everyone you follow in chronological order. If you refresh the timeline and there are no tweets, nothing changes. You are done. You have read it all. This was refreshing because it broke the cycle of refreshing the timeline to see new things. Ever felt like you just wasted 30 minutes reading random tweets? This happens much less on Mastodon, and it feels good.
Another powerful difference to Twitter is that the entire timeline feels much more civilized. People are nicer to each other. I know this is probably because the community is still much smaller and more tightly knit than on Twitter, but I hope some fundamental decisions Mastodon made in the past can help keep it this way. One of those decisions that stuck with me is that there is no “Quote Retweet” feature. The original author of Mastodon, Eugen Rochko, describes it perfectly himself:
There are more of those features, including a content warning functionality that can broadly describe a toot’s content and hide it until a user clicks on it. I have never needed content warnings, but it helps me because if I’m not interested in the topic, I can quickly scroll over it and read other content instead.
I was surprised how I had used Twitter as my main way to receive news and updates for things I’m interested in and I deliberately changed this. Moreover, you also start with 0 followed accounts, and it’s an excellent chance to re-consider who you want to follow on this new platform. More on that later.
The actual move was easy. I picked a Mastodon server, created an account and tweeted on Twitter that I started using Mastodon using that profile. I also added a link to a new Mastodon profile in my Twitter bio to show that it was indeed me.
That was all. Both my following, as well as my follower lists keep on growing steadily. I keep discovering new people I know who just started using Mastodon.
Deleting the Twitter apps from my mobile devices helped to break the habit of opening them so often. I am still logged in using my mobile browser, but I rarely use it.
Other Things I Ended Up Replacing
As already mentioned, I quickly discovered that I had used Twitter for much more than just microblogging and talking to people I know. For example, it became my primary source of news. Dozens of accounts were tweeting the moment something in the world happened, often before there were any details or any level of reliable information.
Twitter also became a method to stay up to date with the products I use. I relied on Twitter to learn about new releases or updates to all sorts of physical or software products. Another worrying thing I noticed was that there were several people I am in frequent communication with, but I don’t even have their email addresses or phone numbers. I used Twitter, and if Twitter disappeared, I’d have difficulty getting back into contact.
Things I started to use more now that I use Twitter less include:
- RSS of blogs, news sites and vendors I am interested in. The Reeder app on iOS and Feedbin are awesome.
- The Washington Post mobile applications to read news once they are worth reporting.
- Email. I made a deliberate effort to collect more email addresses of friends and safely store my address book.
- Podcasts. The Overcast iOS app lets you build collections of podcasts. I have one list that includes all podcasts I listen to and another list that excludes all news podcasts.
- Discord. The direct message communications with many of my online friends moved here.
- YouTube. I subscribed to many topics on YouTube (like flight simulators, photography, etc.) to learn new things and buying YouTube Premium to get rid of ads was a great decision.
- Some good Subreddits for specific topics like film photography or my favorite flight simulator
Continuing to Slow Down Life
I’ve been trying to deliberately slow down daily life and reduce interruptions for years. It started with turning off most notifications on my devices and included things like not having your phone around you all the time, especially when sleeping. An excellent way to do this is to remove the mobile phone charger from your nightstand.
I believe that Twitter itself was a substantial unneeded accelerator. Replacing it with all those specific services allowed me to restructure a few things. Most importantly, I started using the iOS “Focus” feature more.
For example, in the morning, I use my iPad Mini in the “Good Morning” focus (it turns on that focus automatically between 6am and 10am), which only has one home screen with my RSS reader, Post, Reddit, ProPublica etc. on it. I use it to catch up with what happened overnight or even yesterday and plan my day. No notifications, no micro bits of news on Twitter.
Will Mastodon Ever See Mass Adoption?
Short answer: I don’t care. Most of the people I want to follow are on it and active, and I’ve replaced most things that would require mass adoption to provide value with other services already.
Mastodon and the Fediverse don’t require mass adoption to be viable because they don’t chase VC or public market growth figures. I am happily donating $20 a month to my server and might increase that in the future.
We’ll see how this plays out, but I don’t see a need for ads and mass adoption. In fact, mass adoption could become a problem. There were times of unstableness and unavailability of Mastodon servers when millions of users moved over from Twitter. Risks I see in the future are that the architecture of Mastodon will need a lot of work to be massively scalable. I worry about Elasticsearch as underlying search technology because it’s great for certain use cases but not necessarily for the needs of a social media platform that can use eventual consistency and tier storage based on data age or current popularity. I also worry about Ruby on Rails in the stack. It’s an excellent choice for many things, and I was a full-time professional Rails developer for a huge social media platform in a previous job. Still, it’s tough to maintain and scale for non-professionals. I think being a Mastodon admin can be tough right now. Yet another reason to donate!
Another area of concern is verification. Twitter was able to reliably verify users, but the decentralized model of Fediverse servers means that every admin can handle this differently. I like the “Link Verification” approach that uses an HTML header tag to prove that the website you linked on your profile is yours. I’ve done this on my profile using a link to this blog.
All this can be fixed, but rapid mass adoption could bring the network to a breaking point quicker than improvements can be developed. My monthly donations are meant to help with the development, and I encourage everyone to consider donating, too.
I’m having a great time on Mastodon, and the move over from Twitter gave me a chance to make deliberate changes to further slow down my daily life. The chronological timeline without injected Tweets to create engagement is extremely refreshing. Let’s hope this experiment keeps on going well. It’s up to all of us to keep it a great place and welcome new users.
Do you have questions about Mastodon or moving to it? Ask in the comments of this post or reach out directly: @[email protected]