Some days ago, thanks to a blog post by Pat David, I came across Mastodon, a platform that in aspect is very similar to Twitter but it has very different principles. First, it is open source and therefore anyone can install the platform on their own servers. Second, it can be federated, meaning that different servers can communicate with each other and share information. Third, the rules are made by each admin and not by a large corporation. Fourth, user information is not for sale a priori.
The way mastodon works resembles the way e-mail works: people with different providers can still communicate because servers know how to exchange information with each other. Each specific installation of Mastodon is called an instance, and users register to different instances. Normally each instance is dedicated to a niche topic; for example, this one doesn’t allow to use the letter ‘e’ in the toots (a toot is a message). Since each instance has its own moderation with its own rules, you can expect a level of civism hardly found on Twitter.
One of the key aspects that is mentioned around the web is that the user information is not for sale, in contrast with what big social networks do. However, maintaining servers does not come for free and I honestly don’t see how this kind of services are going to survive in the long term if the user base keeps growing. And I mean not only how the developers are going to live, you also need people running instances, paying for the servers, keeping them secure, etc. If you google around you can already find references to instances that are no longer maintained.
I think it is fun to be able to run your own version of Twitter and set your own rules. Hosting one of these instances can be a great idea for institutions such as universities or larger companies. For those users who are more into following celebrities and trends, then it is not a good switch.
You can easily install Mastodon on Digital Ocean; perhaps I give it a try to see how it goes.