When Elon Musk bought Twitter in October 2022, over a million users jumped ship. Meta wouldn’t release Threads for another nine months, so where did those Twitter users go?
The answer for many is Mastodon, one of many fediverse applications which can do things the social media platforms owned by Musk and Zuckerberg never will. Mastodon is a free and open-source Twitter – now X – alternative. It looks and feels like X or Threads. Users can write toots (tweets) with photos, videos, and everything else you would expect from a microblogging app. But the Fediverse is more than just Mastodon, and it’s steadily gaining users.
What Is the Fediverse?
When those million people left Twitter for Mastodon, it wasn’t long before many of them returned to Twitter. Familiar with the little blue bird, some missed their old followers or their time building their profile.
Others, whether they came back or tried something else, struggled to get started with Mastodon because they needed to understand how the fediverse works. The Fediverse is not an app, a social media site, or a platform in the way many users think of Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube. It’s a collection of thousands of interlinked servers running alternatives to all everyone’s favorite social networking sites.
Although Mastodon is a single platform, there isn’t a single app or website to sign up on. There are thousands of individual Mastodon servers, so whatever someone’s personality type, they can find one which suits them. Users might want to join a server where their friends are or a server built around a topic, like tech or classic literature. Once inside, users can engage with the people in their server on the “local timeline” or everyone in the Fediverse on the “global timeline.” Regardless of which server someone chooses, they are still connected to everyone on all the fediverse servers.
So omniverts or ambiverts who feel shy can communicate with only the people on the local timeline or across the entire network.
All Fediverse apps work this way. Users join a server they like or create their own and then access content across all the servers. It’s a little more complicated than simply downloading Facebook and signing in. Still, the benefits of belonging to a federated social media model outweigh the inconvenience of choosing a server once. In the federated model, no multinational company owns everything users do and post or are constantly mining data to sell to advertisers (or anyone else.) Instead, users choose a server they trust; they can build their own if they don’t trust anyone.
Twitter vs. Threads vs. the Fediverse
After Elon’s Twitter takeover and subsequent rebrand to X, the future of the microblogging service is less secure than ever. Threads recently supplanted ChatGPT as the fastest-adopted technology of all time. But many quickly discovered that Threads isn’t a genuine replacement for X.
Threads has yet to roll out in Europe due to their strict digital rights laws, and simple features such as direct messaging aren’t possible on Threads. Despite its fast rise, according to some sources, Threads is losing users almost as quickly as it gains them.
On the other hand, Mastodon and other fediverse platforms have a much more certain future. As a free and open-source project, there are no shareholders to satisfy, no advertisers to please, and no worries that the platform will become unprofitable. And with its federated model, it’s immune to cyber attacks.
Users also don’t need to worry about being banned; they can find a server with terms of service (ToS) they agree with, and if they do get banned, moving to another server only takes minutes. Mark Zuckerberg has promised that Threads will soon connect to the fediverse, which will only serve to promote the benefits of Mastodon and other fediverse services. Mastodon instances expect a wave of new users when the connection goes live.
According to the Mastodon social user counter, it started July 2023 with 12,882,491 users and, by the end of the month, had almost 13,800,000 – Mastodon gained over 1 million users last month during the release of Threads. A million new users may not seem much compared to Threads’ 100,000 million in the same time frame, but Mastodon isn’t the only arm of the fediverse.
Developers create new fediverse platforms daily, from social media alternatives to personal knowledge management and commercial platforms. Many will remain small community-driven projects used by only a handful of people. Still, some have emerged as potential future big players.
- Mastodon & Pleroma – Twitter Alternatives
- PeerTube – YouTube Alternative
- Diaspora & Friendica – Facebook Alternatives
- Lemmy – Reddit Alternative
- PixelFed – Instagram Alternative
- Bookwyrm – Goodreads Alternative
- FunkWhale – Spotify Alternative
How to Join the Fediverse
Joining and trying out the Fediverse isn’t as intimidating as it seems. Here are some simple steps to get started:
- Decide which social media alternative to sign up for, e.g., for a Twitter alternative, try Mastodon.
- Find a suitable Mastodon server by googling “mastodon servers,” or look at the official list and sign up.
- Download a client. For Mastodon search “mastodon” in the app store. Use the official Mastodon app or an alternative like Tusky or Ivory.
- Log in to the client.
Aside from choosing a server and deciding which client to use, joining a fediverse service is no different than any other social media app.
The Fediverse Is Here to Stay
With over 23,000 servers online in August 2023, the size and scope of the fediverse are expanding. While the future of X and Threads depend on their respective companies, one thing is sure. The fediverse is here to stay.