“I hear Mastodon is becoming popular in India now, that’s great news. Welcome everyone,” is the first post that greets your eye as you sign into Mastodon Social.
This is the post of @Gargon aka Eugen Rochko, the 26-year-old German-born coder who founded the Internet mammal that is suddenly trending in India. Created a couple of years ago and named after the extinct animal, Mastodon Social was talked about as a Twitter killer when it was born, but it’s only now that people in India — mainly Twitterati belonging to the liberal camp — are joining in droves.
The reason: the suspension of Supreme court lawyer Sanjay Hegde’s Twitter account by the micro-blogging site due to a couple of posts that got reported. Hegde, in interviews, said that he would be posting on Mastodon and, in solidarity, a host of people have joined the platform, which has been touted as a friendly, safe haven unlike Twitter, which is increasingly dominated by trolls.
It is pretty easy to set up an account on Mastodon — it takes barely half a minute. If you want to create a profile, with a picture and bio, it will take a little longer. At first glance, the design and even User Experience pretty much looks like Twitter — except that there are toots and toots and replies. The toots take 500 characters, far more than the 140 on twitter. Interestingly, you can verify yourself as the owner of the links in your profile metadata, which seems pretty meaningless.
Enter the Mastodon kingdom and you are greeted by Rochko’s post and realise that by default everyone follows him. A quick scroll shows that the ubiquitous Internet cats are there. In fact, even @Gargon seems to be posting about cats. No escaping the felines.
So why is Mastodon being touted as a Twitter killer? Well, because its anti-abuse tools are more effective. Rochko created Mastodon to escape from all that is wrong with Twitter today – trolls, abusive language, deeply political posts.
If you go to the Federated timeline (Mastodon considers itself a federation) the 379,766 odd users on Mastodon (contrast this to the 126 million daily users on Twitter) seem to be living in some alternate world as there is no discussion on current events. It’s hard to find any connect really as you run into posts on Mensa ratings, bitcoins and so on. Plus, most of the posts are not in English. Other than the cats, I could not find anything to sustain my interest apart from an ABC News handle.
Switch to Local timeline and Malayalam dominates. And a lot of discussion around Kashmir, pollution, lynching, etc. Searching for people you know is a bit tough — you stumble on to Profile Directory, which shows you New Arrivals to the platform. Well, no surprises – most new arrivals seem to be from India.
So should Twitter be worried? Long-time Twitter user Anaggh Desai is dismissive of the new network. He points out how people go through these phases of urging for a boycott of a company or service but nothing happens. “For me Twitter has been most rewarding — the amount of help both personally and business wise I have got from here is enormous,” says Desai.