About the tech experience on Mastodon. I've been on the app for more than two months and have been content to ghost Twitter.

(Last updated on February 14, 2023. Added and fixed links.)

Admins Go Wild

On Twitter, you're at the mercy of Elon Musk--on Mastodon, you're at the mercy of your server admin. On some level it's not super important if you just want to chat with your mutuals, but it is important for server moderation and making sure the server stays up.

In the first week of February 2023, the mstdn.plus server glitched, feeds were frozen, and the admin couldn't be reached. The admin runs two other servers, mstdn.party and neat.computer, so users of those servers were advised by other folks to find a new server just in case the admin fell off the face of the earth since he hadn't been around for a month on Mastodon and two weeks on GitHub.

He turned up without much explanation or apology. A blog post also surfaced about the dude spearheading a hostile takeover of a digital privacy website. I don't usually gossip about circles I'm not a part of, but he used to be my admin when I first signed up on Mastodon. I don't know the dude, and I didn't deal with moderation issues on mstdn.party when I was on it, but that's a bunch of red flags.

There is a covenant that admins can sign promising that there's back up admin, users will be given 3 months notice before a server goes down, and other guarantees. But MIA admin signed it and it didn't stop him from disappearing. What stops him from disappearing again?

Disappearing admins aren't your only problem. There's also moderation issues, which servers they choose to block, and generally how hands on they are with their server. It can change the culture of your server, much like a Discord server or a subreddit. You don't get a full sense of it until you see it in action.

Migrating Should Be Simpler

If you're new to Mastodon, I suggest finding a general interest server first then migrating to a another server later. Many smaller servers are not on the join mastodon site. I found my current server, horrorhub, after I started following some folks on it.

However, migrating servers is not a one-click solution. My HTML ass managed to figure it out but it is janky. You have to download multiple .csv files and then upload them to your new account. You probably should do this on desktop and not on mobile.

You'll be fine if you're a highly evolved form of human that understands the concept of a file structure. But if you believe you download the files in the app or in the cloud, then you're fucked.

Your contacts migrate, but your posts don't. You can download an archive but it won't be reflected in your new server. It's annoying but I see posts on Mastodon as ephemeral. If I treasure a post on Mastodon, I'll turn it into a blog post for posterity.

People usually re-introduce themselves after a server move then they're back to posting their usual content. If you're chronically online, you can fill your new server with garbage easily. Your admin will be delighted to know you're the reason why they need to upgrade their RAM.

Copy Paste Galore

If you're using the default Mastodon web client, you will encounter clunky messages like "older posts in other servers are not displayed". It requires clicking around to view the posts from outside your server, so if you want to like the post, their server will say that you can't do that. So you have to copy and paste the post URL to your server's search bar.

It's a pain, but other apps and web clients have worked around this. Elk.zone is a pretty good web client but you have many other options.

DMs in the Feed

There are four levels of privacy in your posts (public, unlisted, followers only, direct) and they are all in your home and notifications feed. The DMs are lumped togeter with the rest. This is a very confusing design decision. Was I directly mentioned in a followers-only post, or is this a private message? It's not clear at first glance.

There's a tiny icon under each post to indicate what kind of privacy level it is, but the design of this is not consistent. The icon would look like the @ sign if I'm the one making the private message but it turns into the grayed-out no boosts icon if I'm the one receiving it.

Having direct messages in a separate inbox makes much more sense to me, regardless of whether they're still part of the home feed or not. This feature is regularly requested in Mastodon apps and web clients.

Repels Normies

Mastodon as it stands now will mostly be used by people who have above average tech skills. Either you grew up with the pre-smart phone internet, or you're into tech as a hobby.

If you're like me, Mastodon is a bit awkward but not a big deal. Honestly, it has a lot of features that Twitter should learn from. But what about the older and younger people whose primary experience of the internet is through mobile apps? Mastodon has too much friction for them. Third party web clients create a smoother experience but that requires being online-literate enough to learn about them on Reddit or Github.

Your average normie will struggle with the concept of federation, they'll ask for the "official" server, and they'll keep bothering admins for passwords just because they don't remember which server they signed up for. Mastodon's design will repel normies like your family members, but it will also repel most of your real life friends. That is, unless more people from Twitter and other platforms migrate to it permanently, then people will be compelled to learn new things for the sake of keeping up with their friends.

Unless there are major changes, Mastodon will not be as mainstream as Twitter, but I'm okay with that. We don't need to be all in the same super app. As much as I support open source projects like ActivityPub, rally against corporate walled gardens, and feel extreme nostalgia for the days of a more personal and open web--I'm okay with a parallel existence. Mastodon doesn't have to replace our walled gardens, and I hope support for it continues to grow. We need these alternate spaces for our collective sanity, a reprieve from the digital panopticon with that dying mall vibe.


Jeff Johnson on mstdn.plus details the outage on the server and it what it means for Mastodon as a social media platform.

Mastodon posts trilogy:

  1. People On Mastodon
  2. Posts On Mastodon
  3. Tech On Mastodon