The Rise and Fall of Mastodon: What Have We Learned in the Last 2 Years? How Do Scientists Get Their Words, Their Work and Their Work?
The open-source platform has added nearly half a million users in little more than a week — but should scientists make the leap? We are looking at the pros and cons.
One of Twitter’s strengths that Mastodon is not replicating as well is users’ ability to broadcast their message to a wide range of people, says Brown. This is important for scientists, who are interested in communicating their work to large audiences. One of the effects of social media is democratizing, he notes.
Named after an extinct elephant-like creature that last walked Earth more than 10,000 years ago, Mastodon is an open-source microblogging platform. The main difference between Mastodon and Twitter is that whereas Twitter is centrally controlled by a single company, Mastodon is decentralized.
Multiple accounts can be registered under an instance if you want to use a Mastodon server to build and moderate your own community.
Unlike Twitter, where missives are limited to 280 characters, you can post up to 11,000 characters in a single Mastodon message — known as a toot. Mastodon has a different way in which users encounter content and it is not visible on the popular social media site. What you see is determined by who you follow and what they share.
It is like going for drinks after a conference. You get to speak to people who understand academia and rules for academic conversations. She thinks that it is comparable to the way you can find people listening and the world watching. Ian Brown, a cybersecurity researcher at Getúlio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, thinks that a considerable number of Mastodon users are probably academics.
That conversation has some qualms. There is tension on Mastodon caused by the new arrivals who bring their own social media habits to the table. Journalists who are used to sharing work without engaging too often in conversation have been chastised by longer term users, and they fear the new arrivals will change the decorum of Mastodon to be more robust.
There are other issues that might give users pause. Mastodon categorizes conversations more frequently than you would think, because of its lack of recommendations. The technical architecture of the platform doesn’t allow an obvious way to corral conversations about a particular academic paper, using a DOI reference as a #. A user has reported an issue and requested the feature to be introduced.
For that reason, Brown suggests that scientists switching to Mastodon don’t rush to delete their Twitter accounts. He says they can still use both services.
Mastodon’s software is configured with the help of Cloudflare’s Wildebeest, which will allow you to have control over your own data, including on social media. You are in charge, and Cloudflare emphasizes that it can help with setup and management of a server. “Wildebeest is not a managed service,” Martinho and Sauleau explain, “It’s your instance, data, and code running in our cloud under your Cloudflare account.”
If you don’t believe that, then consider that if you want to run a server, you’ll have to pay an Images plan, which starts at $5 a month, and can potentially be used by workers.