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Elon Musk’s $44 billion October 2022 Twitter takeover led to a rash of quick-paced changes and challenges. Since then, many are wondering if the popular microblogging network will continue to be the “global town square,” or if it will crumble under Musk’s leadership.
Since then, millions of users have flocked to Mastodon to see how it measures up. Regardless of your feelings toward the enigmatic billionaire, we’ve pulled together a comprehensive comparison of Twitter and Mastodon, an open-source project started in 2016 that now has more than 1.6 million active users.
Launched in 2016, Mastodon is a decentralized, open-source microblogging and social networking platform solely operated and maintained by the creator, CEO, and lead developer, Eugen Rochko.
Mastodon users can create and publish 500-character posts (photos, polls, videos, etc.) and interact with other users within their chosen communities. Mastodon’s posts appear chronologically.
Unlike Twitter, Mastodon isn't a single website. Instead, users create an account with a provider or server (users can also create their own servers). This allows Mastodon to work more like a private social network—called a federated platform. Mastodon is a part of the Fediverse, a group of federated platforms where users can publish content and host files. It also leverages the ActivityPub protocol, which offers users increased privacy and control over their data.
"We've been steadily working towards the ultimate goal of providing a viable alternative to Twitter since 2016 and have proven the scalability and resilience of the platform through organic growth over the years," Rochko writes on the official Mastodon blog. "However, without doubt, the sudden and explosive success is putting strain on our resources, specifically the public Mastodon servers that we, the non-profit, maintain ourselves: mastodon.social and mastodon.online."
On March 21, 2006, former CEO and co-founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, posted the internet's first tweet ("just setting up my twttr"). Four months later, Dorsey introduced the full-fledged version of the platform to the world.
The New York Times reported in February that following Musk’s 2022 takeover, Twitter’s reliability has deteriorated due to workforce layoffs that include engineers who work on cloud storage, server maintenance, and back-end technology. Users report issues ranging from outages, inability to tweet or send direct messages, data lags, tweets appearing from blocked users, followers disappearing, and more. Musk’s attempt to charge a fee for a blue check, an indication that the account is verified, also led to several debacles, including one in which a blue-checked account claiming to be Big Pharma company Eli Lilly tweeted out a message saying, “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.” The company later apologized to users who read the “misleading message.”
With approximately 450 million active users, Twitter is currently the most popular microblogging social network. According to social media management software provider Hootsuite, Twitter is the ninth most-visited website on the internet and the world's seventh favorite social media platform.
Twitter limits users to 280 characters per post, which may include photos, videos, links, and text. However, users who pay for Twitter Blue can post up to 4,000 characters at a time. These tweets are shown to users using an algorithm that accentuates doom scrolling, a term describing when users excessively scroll though bad news on social media and may experience a negative impact on their mental and physical health.
Comparing Mastodon and Twitter
|Format||Desktop and mobile||Desktop and mobile|
|Interface||Sleek, modern, and user-friendly||Designed for the tech-savvy|
|Cost||Free to get started with premium options available||Free|
|User Support||Robust, with plentiful documentation and user education||Limited, varies depending on the server|
|Content Moderation||One set of moderation rules, which have fluctuated under Musk||Each server creates its own moderation rules|
|Feature upgrades and changes||Fluid as Twitter frequently announces changes following the Musk takeover||Company-announced plans for 2023 include groups, metadata editing, role badges, list tweaks|
|Monetization||Advertising, promoted accounts (Twitter Blue), and data licensing||Crowdfunding|
Mastodon and Twitter are available on desktop and mobile (iOS and Android). However, the difference is that when you sign up on Mastodon, you have to choose a connecting server. Server category options include General, Music, Activism, Religion, etc. You can also select the language and whether you want to join a private or public organization.
Once you choose a server, the site asks you to fill in a few details (email, username, password), and then verify your email before participating on the platform.
With Mastodon, you join small, independently-run communities created and moderated by the server owner. With Twitter, you're a member of the public sphere, and posts are shown based on an algorithm.
Mastodon can be challenging for new members to navigate. Additionally, Mastodon's privacy settings are complex, and choosing a server to join takes some up-front research.
Columns organize the interface design: One column is dedicated to toots (posts), one shows the timeline, and one displays a menu.
Twitter has a more straightforward design that many users find easier to understand and navigate.
Mastodon is free to use, whereas Twitter offers users the option to upgrade to Twitter Blue for $8/month or $84/year.
Twitter Blue allows users to edit tweets within a 30-minute window, further customize their user profile (NFT profile photos, themes, custom navigation), and undo tweets, among other features. Twitter Blue users also receive the blue checkmark following a quick review.
Unlike Twitter, Mastodon relies on servers and their owners. These independent social networks are called Mastodon Instances. If you're experiencing technical issues with Mastodon, finding a reliable source of support can take time.
Conversely, Twitter offers support via a dedicated help center, allowing you to contact the company with your issue. The Twitter Support page provides real-time updates on bug fixes and sitewide issues.
On Twitter, all content is subject to the moderation rules created by Twitter. Conversely, each Mastodon community moderates its own content. Each server owner makes their community guidelines and practices—so every Mastodon Instance is unique in how — or if it moderates content.
Which is right for me?
Great for you if you want to prevent doom scrolling or are privacy-conscious. Mastodon is a great fit for privacy-conscious users, and businesses focused on people who value privacy can use Mastodon to reach a targeted audience. To get the most from Mastodon, be ready to do a bit of initial groundwork.
Pass if you or your business rely on advertisement traffic to keep you afloat, or if you need the biggest audience. Mastodon is strictly against serving ads.
Great for you if you're interested in keeping up with the latest news and trends or want to have a quick glance at what's happening in the world. Twitter is also good for creators who wish to learn more about niche topics or connect with other professionals in their industry. Its larger user base will also allow you to reach the greatest number of people.
Twitter also allows users to view profile insights, build their brand, gather customer feedback, and engage with customers and partners. Twitter Blue accounts offer a streamlined user experience, quicker engagement rates, increased reach, and more visibility on their content.
Pass if you or your business are privacy-conscious or do not want to give customers the ability to complain about your products or services in a public setting.
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