Mastodon - A Decentralized Social Networking Alternative
Exploring the technical, ethical, and practical differences between Mastodon and traditional platforms
Thursday, December 22, 2022
Mastodon is a free, open-source social networking platform that allows users to create and join communities, known as “instances,” where they can share messages, media, and more. It’s a decentralized alternative to platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and it has gained a lot of popularity in recent years.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at Mastodon from both a user’s perspective and a technical perspective. We’ll explore how Mastodon works, and see how it compares to other social networking platforms. We’ll also discuss the ethical implications of using a decentralized platform, and how it differs from centralized social networks.
A User’s Perspective
As a user, Mastodon can feel similar to other social networking platforms like Twitter or Facebook. You can create an account on any Mastodon instance, and start following other users, sharing posts, and interacting with the community.
One of the key differences with Mastodon is that it’s decentralized, which means that there are many different instances that users can join. Each instance has its own community and rules, and users can choose which instance they want to join based on their interests and preferences.
Another difference is that Mastodon uses a feature called “boosting” instead of “retweeting” or “sharing.” Boosting allows you to share someone else’s post with your followers, while still giving credit to the original poster.
Under the Hood
Mastodon is built using Ruby on Rails, a popular web development framework, and it uses a PostgreSQL database to store data. It also relies on several open-source libraries and technologies, including Redis, Sidekiq, and Webpack.
One of the key features of Mastodon is its API, which allows developers to build apps and integrations with the platform. The API uses OAuth 2.0 for authentication, and it supports a variety of actions, including reading and writing posts, following and unfollowing users, and more.
Here’s an example of how to use the Mastodon API to post a new status:
client = Mastodon::REST::Client.new(base_url: 'https://example.com', bearer_token: 'YOUR_ACCESS_TOKEN') client.create_status("Hello, Mastodon!")
One of the main ethical implications of using Mastodon is the issue of privacy and data ownership. Because Mastodon is decentralized, users have more control over their data, and it’s not stored on a centralized server owned by a single company. This means that users are not subject to the same data collection and privacy policies as they would be on a centralized platform.
Another ethical consideration is the issue of censorship. Because Mastodon is decentralized, each instance has its own community and moderation policies, which means that users have more freedom to express themselves without fear of being banned or censored. However, this also means that instances may have different standards and expectations for acceptable content, which can lead to confusion and conflict.
Differences From Centralized Social Networks
One of the main differences between Mastodon and centralized social networks is the issue of ownership and control. On a centralized platform like Twitter or Facebook, the platform owns the data and sets the rules for how it’s used and shared. In contrast, Mastodon is decentralized, which means that users have more control over their data and how it’s used.
Another difference is the issue of scalability. Because Mastodon is decentralized, it relies on a network of independent instances to store and transmit data. This means that it can potentially scale more easily than a centralized platform, which relies on a single server or set of servers.
Finally, Mastodon is open-source, which means that anyone can view and modify the code that powers the platform. This allows for greater transparency and accountability, as well as the potential for more community involvement and collaboration.
Mastodon is a unique and powerful social networking platform that offers a decentralized alternative to traditional platforms. It’s easy to use, and it offers a robust API for developers to build integrations and apps. It also has a number of ethical and technical differences from centralized platforms, which make it an interesting choice for users and developers alike.