How Mastodon is scaling amid the Twitter exodus
Twitter is in crisis These days. The service, which has been owned by Elon Musk since its acquisition, has lost more than half of its staff due to layoffs and quitting. It has also made erratic decisions in its platform and product strategies, and is now facing reports about its financial condition.
In true tech industry fashion, disruption has led to the emergence a multitude of alternative options, some still in germination, and some fully formed and waiting for their moment on the spotlight.
Mastodon, a network built on ActivityPub that hosts servers and allows others to join or create their own servers to interact with and see each other’s content, is one of the leaders.
Mastodon’s founder Eugen Rochko (currently the sole full-time employee) stated in an interview with TechCrunch, that the service has grown rapidly and now has 2.5 million active users per month across no less than 8,600 servers. Mastodon has several of these, with mastodon.social having the largest number of registered users and 210,000 active.
Rochko has shut down Mastodon’s servers to new signups. He described it as a “victimless” decision because there are many other places where you can register an account and still interact within the Mastodon universe. However, the move has created a curious demand/scarcity situation: Rochko has received requests from people and organizations for access to his servers.
“The main reason the registration is not being closed is that it is too burdensome for DevOps to scale up beyond the number of users. [we have now]He said. He said, “I don’t want to say, ‘oh, software is not good enough for scaling’ or whatever. It’s not the reason. It’s simply a matter of not having a dedicated DevOps person right now. I don’t have the time or resources to manage all these organizational tasks. It’s easier to close registrations and ensure the quality of service for those who are already there than to allow more people to sign-up. Then I have to stay up all night fixing things.
“The decentralized nature of the service and the fact there are many servers to sign up for makes it a difficult decision.
Rochko is now looking at the next steps in his operation.
Mastodon, as it exists now, is a not-for profit organization. It is funded mainly by a Patreon account Rochko created that currently brings in $31,000 per month. This figure, he said, “has risen dramatically over this past month…from $7,000.”
Rochko stated that Mastodon will continue to be non-profit. However, it is looking at a split model, “like Mozilla’s”, where the nonprofit will continue to work on the core product, which will still remain open source and nonprofit, and then we might start a for profit side business for software as an service. This will first provide hosting for Mastodon’s for those who want that.
He stated that the goal is to create a sustainable and fair business. We would only do the hosting, and the server would be entirely under your control. We would let you take your data and move it to another hosting provider or migrate from one.
Contrary to the approach taken by WordPressHe said that there are no plans for ads to be integrated into the hosted service. He doesn’t dismiss them completely, but it seems that he has his own feelings about them.
He said, “You must consider that the network is fediverse.” “Anyone could create another platform using the ActivityPub protocol.” [that Mastodon does]But they would use completely different software, with different expectations, and different features. They could also add ads to it, theoretically.
“As a user, the question is: Would you go to a site that has ads? To make those ads more effective, the service tracks your interests and whereabouts. Or would you choose to go to another service that doesn’t offer it? Mastodon is not interested in implementing ads into its code. It’s open-source and free, so anyone can modify it. They would do it at their own risk and with different business models.
He said that he left it up to Mastodon server operators, but he favors something similar to what Musk has proposed for Twitter.
He said that he sees a method in the framework for building interoperable social networks. One server could be considered a separate social network like Tumblr or Instagram. “With interoperability built right away, I think it makes sense that they could explore different business models or build out different features. The paid accounts model is probably the most fair model that could be found in the ecosystem. This is something App.net tried in the past but failed to achieve. It wasn’t clear if this was due to the paid account or because they didn’t really build a great flagship product.
He also revealed that he has been in contact with investors. However, it seems that most of those who want him to make money don’t really get what he’s trying. One recurring theme is the idea of further commercializing his platform.
“Over the years, there have been many cold contacts I’ve received from various VCs. They were previously ignored, but now they are Felix [Hlatky]He is a CFO but doesn’t hold the title. He said that he forwards them to him, and then he attempts to talk with them. Sometimes I even tune in to the calls.” “We have tried to talk to some VCs over the hosting business idea in the last few weeks. They are interested in the main product, but not in a sustainable hosting company. VCs won’t help. We are not allowing them to access the main product in any manner. We will probably have to partner with an angel investor or crowdfunding the hosting company separately. Or maybe, just personal funds. This is not clear.
Mastodon’s success in attracting attention after Twitter’s drama has made it notable. It triggered a Musk-era rule prohibiting links to other social networks. Mastodon’s Twitter presence was suspended during this process.
It is also fascinating because of the way it approaches social space.
Mastodon is an open-source, “federated” idea. Different servers use the same protocol for communicating with each other and sharing content. Server operators monitor the activity of users who are registered on their respective servers.
Although it might sound confusing, there are tools that allow you to import your Twitter account to Mastodon and keep much of the same experience.
The metaphor describes the servers as a group of animals, Mastodons included, that move in the same direction but are distinct from one another. Mastodon’s ethos, however, is not extinct. DetailOpen source is something that many other social media platforms, including Twitter, are also considering.
Mastodon seems to be a particularly popular platform. The platform’s mobile apps receive about 4,000 downloads daily on average. However, at one peak, downloads were as high as 149,000 on Android and 235,000 iOS.
Rochko stated that this spike occurred during the days Twitter announced massive job cuts. These included those in communications with the media, moderation, security, curation, and a number technical teams.
In fact, the inverse variation — Twitter’s decline equals Mastodon’s rise — is one that is working out very well right now for the former.
It is not clear if it will survive. Twitter’s ups-and-downs as a platform have been a trademark of the company since its inception. Many have wondered if it will ever be successful. Better to think of it as a utilityIt is not a business.
Twitter has grown and stayed the same. This latest bout of Twitter has been called “the last straw” by many. However, it is still possible to see if things settle down and users accept the new status quo or if there is any meaningful change in social media platforms.
Technology evolutions can happen quickly, or they can take years. (You can read more about Rochko’s life over at TC .)
Mastodon’s financial aspect continues to hover over him, regardless of what.
It has played a role in the company’s growth. Rochko might be the only full-time employee. Five other freelance moderators work on Mastodon’s servers. Felix Hlatky, who is on Mastodon’s financial front, is also involved. One of the main goals was to find a way to add more people in a steady manner.
Rochko stated that the $31,000 he makes monthly through Patreon isn’t enough nor stable enough to pay for staff. However, he has been considering a secondary business to generate more stability for the business. He operates a second service that hosts Mastodon servers for other people.
He said, “I’m my only full-time employee and the rest — five people – are contractors at the moment.” “I am looking to expand the full time team and have been working with job listings. It’s a slow process. It would be much easier if I could do it faster. It’s a new frontier in a company that was a one-person operation for six years. It’s been great so far, but we need more people.”
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.