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Mastodon: What to Know About The New Social Media Platform

Every so often a new social media platform arises and one cold day while I was sitting in the Toronto airport, Mastodon came to my attention. Since my co-workers had flown out earlier than I and I had some time to kill, I decided why not sign up and see what the new social platform was about. I’ve spent some time on it tooting away (yes, that’s what you do versus tweeting) and from my test drive I’ve come up with a few things you should know.

Mastodon

What is Mastodon?

To blatantly steal from their about page, Mastodon is a free, open-source social network. A decentralized alternative to commercial platforms, it avoids the risks of a single company monopolizing your communication. Pick a server that you trust – whichever you choose, you can interact with everyone else. Anyone can run their own Mastodon instance and participate in the social network seamlessly.

I will admit that when I signed up, I had no idea what a ‘Mastodon instance’ was. So I just picked a public instance to register my handle before someone else stole it. Anyone that knows me wouldn’t be surprised that I joined the @unicorn.xyz instance. One thing to note is that if you are trying to provide your handle for your friend to find, you will need to give them the handle along with the instance. An instance can be thought of as a common interest (but they aren’t always), there are ones for internet memes, Minecraft, Harry Potter, etc.

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How does Mastodon Work?

Once you are signed up and get to the platform for your instance you’ll find it looks a lot like Tweet Deck. From there you are all set to Toot away and yes, I tend to snicker every time I say or type that also. You can also do a ‘noot’ and ‘awoos’. The difference from tweeting is that you get 500 characters versus the 180 characters allowed on Twitter.

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They have a home timeline, a notification timeline and then there is the choice between viewing your local timeline or a federated timeline. Local is just people that are within your instance and whom they follow also in that instance, so in my case, just my fellow unicorns. Federated timelines add in the people that the rest of local timeline follow, so the non-unicorns that my unicorns follow. Feel confused? Don’t fret, I still am while I try to figure out how exactly I feel about Mastodon.

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There are some other things to note about Mastodon for a beginner if comparing to Twitter as that seems to be the easiest way to describe the social media platform. A “boost” is a retweet and a “like” is a favorite. Mastodon also includes a “content warning” feature which is meant for things such as NSFW content, spoilers or trigger warnings but can also be used for other things people may want to skip past, like politics.

What is Mastodon’s bragging point?

Better tools for privacy and fighting harassment is what seems to be Mastodon’s biggest bragging point aside from the 500 characters and cute mascot. Each instance is moderated by the community and specific content can be limited. For instance (no play on words here) the Mastodon.social extension limits any content that is considered illegal in Germany or France such as Nazi symbolism as well as issues such as sexism, discrimination and xenopohia.

As of the end of April there were approximately 561k users with the highest concentration of users in Japan, secondarily France and the United States is only a mere 7% of the users.

What does Mastodon mean for brands?

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Right now, not much from where I am sitting. One of the bullet points for the social media platform is that have an ethical design: no ads, no tracking. However, just because I said “not much” doesn’t mean that one should completely ignore Mastodon. Since it’s a new social platform (even though it technically launched last year) I’d recommend to keep an eye on it as there could be a potential for smaller activations to reach niche audiences via Influencers.

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After my initial hour usage while waiting in the airport for my flight and occasional pop-ins when I remember that I joined the site, I’d say don’t rule Mastodon out just quite yet. Hop in and check it out, see what instances grab your attention. It’s in the early stages so anything could happen. For now it’s not something for brands to dip their toe in but it’s worth keeping an eye on this Mastodon guy. Have you signed up for Mastodon? Thoughts? Care to explain the difference between a wooly mammoth and a mastodon?

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