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The secret to Mastodon’s success will be mastering the hyperlocal vertical

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Mastodon can still be a flash in the pan. It could be that exciting nightclub that’s all shtick and theme that nobody connects to and never returns to. Hopefully, after Mastodon goes through its eventual extinction event, there are some really great instances left for the rest of us.

Maybe you should install Mastodon, the latest-and-greatest Twitter-killer, onto your own server and launch your very own community in support of your own personal community of interest or of action.  Why invest in a walled garden community without neighbors, when you can plop down your very own community-focused social network that has turn-key and built-in neighbors? Maybe Mastodon is exactly what you need.

Have you heard of Mastodon? The latest and greatest social media platform?  The social network that is both the Twitter-killer and never going to work. While it probably won’t kill anything at all, Mastodon makes so much sense — for those of us who get Inter Relay Chat (IRC) or spend time on Reddit and message boards and forums.

Or maybe you, too. What makes Mastodon different as a social media platform is that it’s distributed over many different privately-owned and hosted servers, called instances. Anyone can install and run a Mastodon instance. And while each instance is completely autonomous, they’re also stitched together through something called federation. It’s a lot like IRC. Each instance can communicate with every other instance, emulating one social network. The federation is loose. Each instance runs its own software and can build, develop, and grow their own community.

Unlike Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter, there are no global handles. While I am @chrisabraham on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter, I need to register a separate handle on every instance of Mastodon I join. On the largest and most-popular instance,, I am @chrisa and on Adam Curry’s new brand new instance,, I am @chris. If I want to communicate between instances, I am neither @chrisa nor am I @chris, I am @[email protected] and @[email protected] respectively.

While it’s a lot to learn, it’s no nearly that confusing. Mastodon steals a lot from Twitter. It gets hashtags, it gets @handles, and it looks and feels a lot like Twitter as viewed through Tweetdeck of yore. Unlike Twitter, Mastodon’s tweets are 500 hundred characters instead of 140. Another alien concept is the concept of “local timeline” — the server instance you’re currently logged into — versus “federated timeline” — the entirely of the greater Mastodon universe, ie everyone —  can be a little bit of a brain-bender.

But it’s not going to be a technology that kills Mastodon, it’ll be loneliness. Too many people come on board only to type “hello world” or “hello?” and have nobody respond. Onboarding — being neighborly and welcoming — is going to be the piece that saves it.  No matter how much of a Twitter-killer is, it’ll come down to the success of each particular instance — each unique community, each part of the Mastodon quilt — in wooing new and regular users to stay and participate. It’ll demand facilitation, it might even demand a community manager or facilitator.  It’s sort of like when I was on the Vestry at St. James’ Episcopal Church. One of our most important jobs every Sunday was to identify each and every newbie and everyone who hung in the back, kept to themselves or seemed lonely or confused and it was our number-one job to make sure we personally brought them into the fold — and to know when they weren’t interested.  If Twitter hadn’t been adopted by everyone and their brother, I don’t know if Twitter would have become my jam and it might never have gotten off the ground (I mean, Facebook was already open for business and powerfully-popular in 2007 if I remember right).

I was born on Twitter on 6 January 2007.  And then I disappeared for months.  When I joined, nobody I knew was there. It was a ghost town. It wasn’t until months later when the entire world jumped on board and it all started to make sense to me. In a case of déjà vu, I started hearing a lot of buzz about a new social network named Mastodon from Mr. Chris Brogan over on Facebook and popped over, signed up, and realized that I had joined six months ago. I joined, nobody I knew was there, then never returned.

When I came back, logged into as @[email protected], there still was no there there. What a drag. Luckily, only days later, Adam Curry, the godfather of podcasting and co-host of The No Agenda Show podcast, launched his own instance of Mastodon and named it

Now I’m @[email protected] and have stumbled into an exciting community of interest, “a gathering of people assembled around a topic of common interest. Its members take part in the community to exchange information, to obtain answers to personal questions or problems, to improve their understanding of a subject, to share common passions or to play.

In just 24-hours, I am sold. I have turn-key friends based on our collective love of a podcast and that excitement has resulted in getting connected and involved in the larger federated Mastodon community, including instances from around the world.

I even sorted out an Android app for Mastodon called Tusky which works for me (though many others are having loads of problems with their installs).

Hell, at the end of the day, I don’t care about any of the other instances. I really only care about the No Agenda Community, first and foremost. The greater “cloud” and the greater “social network” is just cream. It’s nice but even if every other instance except fails, I will still be happy in my little community of interest.

Mastodon will only succeed if everyone who launches an instance outside of the main instance,, focuses on developing a unique, attractive, compelling, and supported community that does not demand or rely on the greater networked community.

It’s like my church. While I might very well be a member of the greater Episcopalian faith community, part of a Global Anglican Christian faith, I really only care about my church, first Saint James’ and now, Trinity Episcopal Arlington.   If I don’t like my clergy, if I don’t like my community, if I am not drawn to Mass, if I am not committed to the literal community of the local church, then how committed am I really to the greater church community?

I am not necessarily advocating that every brand installs its own vanity Mastodon instance unless you already rock. If you have a multitude of followers and an active fan base on Facebook and Twitter or you’re a god on Reddit or already run your own limping message board, then you might consider it.  But you’re not going to make a community.

I predict an explosion of Mastodon instances (ie servers), peak Mastodon, and then an extreme die-off of servers and instances and the cost of hosting and the lack of momentum on “zombie ships” — server instances with lots and lots of members who register, are ignored and abandoned, and never come back — turn people off and they give up their Mastodon (how aptly named. Maybe I need to use some tar pit analogies, though that’s only just occurred to me).

The Mastodon that will survive — and thrive — will need to be an amalgam of social networks, online virtual communities, message boards, and Reddit. They will be popular, quirky, unique, extreme, gonzo, vertical, eccentric, or appealingly mainstream. The most successful instances with be facilitated by real people — gardeners, if you will — who will tend to the garden and make sure everyone and everything blooms. And not just when it’s new and interesting.

Mastodon can still be a flash in the pan. It could be that exciting nightclub that’s all shtick and theme that nobody connects to and never returns to. Hopefully, after Mastodon goes through its eventual extinction event, there are some really great instances left for the rest of us.

Mastodon is a free and open-source self-hosted social networking service. It allows anyone to host their own server node in the network, and its various separately operated user bases are federated across many different servers.

Apr 12, 2017 03:55 PM