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Mastodon is a decentralized and federated social network based on the open standard protocol ActivityPub. It was launched in October 2016 by Eugen Rochko as an alternative to centralized and commercial social networks. The platform belongs to Fediverse and is similar to Twitter in its functionality, allowing users to post status updates and follow other users.

The particularity of Mastodon is that it is not a unified platform, but a federation of independent instances. Each instance has its own rules and management, but users can interact with other users from any other instance of Mastodon, and also with users from other networks that use the ActivityPub protocol.

Main Features

Mastodon's main features include decentralization, federation, real-time publication timeline, and the ability to set different levels of privacy for publications.

  • Decentralization: Mastodon is composed of numerous independent instances, each administered by different people or groups. This avoids the monopolization of control and favors the diversity of communities.
  • Federation: Through the ActivityPub protocol, Mastodon instances can interact with each other and also with other federated networks. Users can follow and communicate with other users from different instances.
  • Real-time timeline: Like Twitter, Mastodon offers a real-time timeline of posts, or "toots," of users being followed. However, Mastodon does not use algorithms to sort or promote content.
  • Privacy levels: Users can set different levels of privacy for their "toots", from public to private or only for followers.

History and evolution of Mastodon

The history and evolution of Mastodon have been marked by constant growth and a response to the needs and challenges of a decentralized and federated social network.

  • 2016: In October, Eugen Rochko launched Mastodon with the intention of creating an alternative to centralized social networks. Mastodon's code is open source, which allowed the community to contribute to the development of the platform.
  • 2017: At the beginning of the year, Mastodon experienced significant growth in the number of users and instances. This increase was partly attributed to dissatisfaction with Twitter and other commercial social networks.
  • 2018: Several updates were introduced to the platform, including improvements to the user interface and new features, such as the ability to adjust the level of privacy of publications.
  • 2019: Mastodon released version 3.0, which included moderation improvements, new privacy options, and a redesigned homepage to help new users understand the concept of the federated network.
  • 2020-2021: The platform continued to grow and evolve, with thousands of instances and over two million users by the end of 2021.
  • 2022-2023: Platform enhancements have continued to be implemented to accommodate the needs of the growing user base, with a focus on moderation and user experience.

Throughout its history, Mastodon has proven to be a resilient project that has responded to the demands and challenges of a federated and decentralized social network.

Advantages of Mastodon

Mastodon offers several advantages over traditional social networks:

  • Respect for privacy: Since Mastodon is decentralized and non-commercial, it does not use user data for advertising purposes.
  • Control over experience: Users can choose or create an instance that fits their needs and preferences.
  • Censorship resistance: Mastodon's decentralization makes it more resistant to censorship and centralized control.
  • Interoperability: Users can interact not only with other Mastodon users, but also with users from other federated networks.

Mastodon Challenges

Despite its advantages, Mastodon also presents some challenges:

  • Technical barrier: For some users, understanding the concept of instances and decentralization can be confusing at first.
  • Fragmentation: Diversity of instances can lead to community fragmentation, with different norms and cultures in each instance.
  • Moderation: Similar to other federated networks, moderation can be a challenge on Mastodon, especially when it comes to content that crosses instance boundaries.

Mastodon servers or instances

Mastodon's servers, also known as instances, are the basis of the decentralized structure of this social network. Each server is a community unto itself, with its own users, rules, and moderation.

One of the key features of Mastodon is that, although each server is autonomous, all servers can interact with each other thanks to the ActivityPub protocol. This means that users on one Mastodon server can follow and communicate with users on other Mastodon servers, and also with users on other networks that use the ActivityPub protocol.

Each Mastodon server has its own set of rules and a community with its own culture and approach. Some servers may be generalist in nature, while others may be focused on specific interests or topics, such as art, technology, video games, etc.

In technical terms, anyone with the necessary skills and resources can host their own Mastodon server. This allows a high degree of personalization and control over the experience on the social network. On the other hand, it also means that users should trust their server administrator for proper management and moderation.

When selecting a Mastodon server to join, users are encouraged to consider the rules, culture, and management of each server. It is possible to switch servers, but this may require account and content migration.

Mastodon instances vary in size and focus. Some of the most popular include:

  • Mastodon.social: This is the main instance of Mastodon, managed by Eugen Rochko himself. It is one of the largest and has a generalist approach.
  • Pawoo.net: This is one of the largest instances and is popular with artists, especially in Japan.
  • Wandering.shop: This instance is focused on science fiction and fantasy, and is popular among writers and fans of these genres.
  • Mastodon.art: This instance is dedicated to artists and creatives of all kinds.
  • Cybre.space: This instance has a cybernetic and futuristic theme and is popular with fans of science fiction and cyberpunk culture.
  • Todon.nl: This instance is focused on social and political issues and is popular with activists and those interested in digital rights and privacy.
  • Octodon.social: This is another instance of a generalist nature that is popular with a wide range of users.

Each of these instances offers a unique experience and demonstrates the diversity of communities and approaches that can be found at Mastodon.

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