I've been fiddling with Mastodon (to the tune of over 500 toots). I've also been reading up on the history of the service a lot over the last few weeks. Here are some general observations that I've made along with a few helpful links.
- Mastodon isn't a single service. It is an open source app that runs on multiple "instances" but are optionally connected together. So an Admin can run an instance for his soccer team to track their weekly progress but, optionally, connect it to other soccer team instances or even all public instances. Instances can also be completely private. Imagine having Twitter for just your family. With Mastodon that is possible.
- Think of Mastodon like email + microblog + Twitter. Just like you can have email addresses on multiple domains (like Gmail or work email) you can, but are not required to, have multiple accounts across different instances of Mastodon. It is a good microblogging solution due to its slightly longer character count restrictions. And, it is like Twitter because most of the lessons that platform has learned have been absorbed into Mastodon such as mentions, hashtags, etc.
- On Twitter my username is @cdevroe. On Mastodon my username is @email@example.com (update August 2018: I'm now on a new instance) - So my username includes the instance I'm on. If I were on more instances (I'm not, currently) I'd have other usernames. This is similar to email. My personal email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my work email is email@example.com
- Mastodon isn't an overnight success. In fact, the seed was planted over 10 years ago. Mastodon is an app (built using Ruby on Rails for the geeks) that uses the OStatus protocols to create a federated, or shared, timeline across instances. In other words, users on one instance can see the posts of users on other instances via a shared timeline.
- Mastodon's success is not contingent on mass popularity. Those calling for it to "fail" don't realize it has already won. The web community is so used to seeing platforms reach hundreds of millions of users and die as a result of running out of money or traction whereas Mastodon needs neither (relative to something like Snapchat or Twitter) to be considered a massive success. As it stands Mastodon has dozens of instances (if not hundreds) that are fully funded by their respective communities and over 200,000 people have signed up to them. (Though, the above link mentions 1.3M users. I think that count is wrong.) Only a few thousand will stick around but that is more than enough for it to continue long into the future. Also, private instances may well live on for a very, very long time.
- It will never replace Twitter for most people that use Twitter. However, it could bring more people into using a Twitter-like experience than Twitter itself would have. Because instances can be spun up by anyone, a company could use Mastodon internally or a community (like a soccer team) could use it as well. It allows different instances to own their community. In this way it could also be used like Slack is being used by small communities.
- Mastodon, like Twitter, has terms for the things within it. Toot instead of Tweet, etc. Qina Liu wrote a great piece on Medium describing all of them.
- There are several very good mobile clients for both iOS and Android. And, I've seen both Mac apps and VR apps in the works.
I hope to keep playing with Mastodon for a while. I've already contributed to the instance I'm on, the apps I use, and the overall project itself to help make that happen. If you end up playing around with Mastodon I suggest you do the same.