Of Course Mastodon Lost Users
This week (Feb 10–17), I’ll be in Australia, touring my book Chokepoint Capitalism with my co-author, Rebecca Giblin. We’re doing a remote event for NZ on Feb 13. Next are Melbourne (Feb 14), Sydney (Feb 15) and Canberra (Feb 16/17). I hope to see you!
Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover plunged the service into chaos: between mass layoffs, sweeping policy changes, reinstatement of known harassers and more ads in feeds that themselves were stuffed full of cackhanded algorithmic suggestions that displaced the posts from people you followed, there was cause for genuine alarm.
The enshittification of Twitter drove a mass exodus. Some users — who’d failed to learn the lesson of trusting in the beneficence of a benevolent dictatorship — fled to walled gardens like Hive and Post.
But for the majority of Twitter evacuees, the destination of choice was Mastodon, the federated, open social media service built on the ActivityPub standard, a gateway to the wider “Fediverse” of services that fill the niches occupied by YouTube, Instagram, GoodReads, and a host of other monopolized, enclosed, enshittificaiton-prone walled prisons masquerading as walled gardens.
After half a decade of sedate, steady growth, Mastodon suddenly surged, from 600,000 daily users to 2.6 million in the space of months.
Though the vast majority of servers don’t charge anything to sign up, switching to Mastodon and the Fediverse isn’t free.
Departing Twitter for the Fediverse comes with high switching costs: locating and reconnecting with friends; saying goodbye to friends, family and customers who aren’t ready to move; and mastering a new technology, with its own mechanics and norms. What does it mean to use a “protocol” rather than a “platform?”
Services like Twitter have an inescapable imperative to shift surpluses from their users to their shareholders. For Twitter, the more expensive it is to switch to Mastodon, the larger the ration of…