Thursday, June 29, 2023

Why Has Mastodon Adoption Stalled?


A lot of that influx has not stuck around. Everyone is very aware at this point that active user numbers have dropped off a cliff.


These are people and organisations who were engaged with Mastodon and fediverse to the point of investing real time and resources into it, but simply dropped out without a trace some time between November 2022 and now. I know multiple people who tried it and then gave up, due to lack of engagement with what they were posting, lack of people to follow, inability to deal with the platform’s technical foibles, or worse because they found the experience actively unpleasant. Something has gone badly wrong.


As it exists at the moment, Mastodon functions essentially as Twitter did in about 2008. In some ways, that’s nice. The userbase is calmer, the DiscourseTM does not get spun up as easily.


So what does Mastodon bring to the table in addition to Twitter, that might justify someone deciding to take the plunge and move to it? There are a few unique things about the platform, but they generally fall into the broad category of “things users don’t care about”. Chief among these is decentralisation.

Via John Gruber:

I would like to see Mastodon thrive. But the platform’s ideological zealotry is obviously holding it back and seemingly isn’t going to change. That’s why I’m much more optimistic about Bluesky’s long-term prospects.

The Mac and iOS developer community has largely moved over to Mastodon. But most others have not, and there’s enough happening on Twitter (both with developer content and questions about my apps) that I still feel the need to check it. This isn’t so easy without a client app. For now, I’m using Fluid to make an app for each account. I need this because Twitter’s e-mail notifications have never worked for me, and the Web site doesn’t show all the mentions if you aren’t logged in.

Mastodon works OK, but I haven’t found much to like about it other than that it’s not Twitter. Maybe there’s less drama, but that hadn’t been a problem with my feed. Overall, I would say that almost everything about the Mastodon user experience is worse. Search is just terrible in comparison with Twitter. The best parts are that it works with RSS (like old Twitter) and that, although pages require JavaScript, they do load completely and so can be easily saved and searched offline.


17 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

I miss Tweetbot dearly, but the Mac community being the only one to really move seemingly wholesale is pretty accurate in my experience.

Everything else (news, sports, gaming) is still ultimately on Twitter and I definitely feel the tech splinter being the main change. Maybe one day federation will bring things into one experience again… but the interim is decidedly worse.

I commend people for putting their money where their mouth is in regard to changes, but aside from some stability changes the content on Twitter largely seems the same as ever and the sky-is-falling seems overhyped, so I struggle to move away from the network effects and for all the hate of the algorithmic timeline on twitter the global on mastodon is nearly 100% useless in comparison. Never mind losing long-crafted lists.

I find the stock apps on all of these websites to be a poor experience. Right now I’m using Mastodon because of Ivory, though there are several other good 3rd party apps available.

The Twitter app and this experience is horrible in my opinion. Bluesky isn’t much better - at least there are no ads yet.

Corentin Cras-Méneur

I'm in the same boat. I mostly use Mastodon, but still sometimes need to check Twitter.
For Twitter, I now use Tweetdeck ( since it allows me to use multiple columns for each of the lists I created. You can keep the feeds from auto-scrolling by scrolling down a bit in each of the columns. They'll retain the present location in the feeds if you do that.
All my contacts are in lists… This way, I can read the content without ads, injected content, etc :->


Old Unix Geek

I like (and its mirrors). (I'm a lurker on twitter). Loads much faster than twitter and lets me see what a specific person has to say. I've stopped paying attention to most mac devs since they moved to mastodon.

I'm using RSS and LinkedIn a lot more for ingesting information and individual Slack instances a lot more for interacting.

Michael, regarding your Twitter solution, have you tried TweetDeck? It's great for working with multiple accounts. The streamlined columnar interface is so much better than Twitter's regular website too.

Couldn't agree more on how awful search is on Mastodon. Hope it will improve soon, which I think is on the roadmap.

That being said, I think it's too early to claim that the Twitter migration has "failed". Platforms with hundreds of millions of active users don't collapse overnight, it takes time for that to happen. By all account, Twitter is in dire shape these days; for instance, traffic is falling YoY by almost 10%.

The competition is beefing up: Mastodon is improving fast, and Threads will be a very dangerous competitor to Twitter, especially if Meta manages to attract celebrities and influencers on the platform.

@Old Unix Geek Yes, Nitter is great. That’s mostly how I follow Twitter these days. It just doesn’t handle mentions and searches.

@Nick TweetDeck doesn’t seem like a great solution for me because, as far as I can tell, it limits you to 5 accounts, and the columns can only display one account at a time. I want to be able to quickly open all the accounts at once. Also not a fan of TweetDeck because the Page Down key doesn’t work in the timeline.

Seems that Nitter is no longer working now that Twitter is requiring an account to view tweets.

@remmah Apparently, that is only temporary. Seems like it would be disastrous for Twitter if they did that for real.

Old Unix Geek

@Michael Tsai, I hope they realize that. No more "central place for all your news" if they keep this idiocy up. I'm certainly not going to sign into any account, and load 10 Mb of spyware to read a 140 character tweet.

I was grateful for the period where the login requirement was lifted from Twitter. Possibly the only time I've seen anti enshitification.

@Kristoffer What do you mean? I thought it never had a login requirement until just now?

Old Unix Geek

@Michael Tsai, I think there was a short period when they nagged you if you looked too far back in time. Never affected nitter though.


It used to be that I could see a tweet and then a handful more (in a thread or replies to the original) then it would ask me to log in. Dave if I clicked on user profile. That went away a few months ago and I could browse Twitter freely without an account.

Now it seems completely locked down.

Old Unix Geek

Apparently this mess has to do with Twitter "migrating" away from Google Cloud. A lot of little blue birds got lost somewhere.

This post certainly annoyed me, but largely because I couldn't help agreeing with it, particularly the bit about the stuffy elitism of Mastodon's culture and its, shall we say, contradictions. I find his nihilism problematic though, particularly (and surprisingly) because I also largely share his politics, and wish there were more of a left (as opposed to just bourgeois liberal) presence on Mastodon. Ultimately though, I think it's still too early to know, and being burned by Twitter is something I think a lot of good people will realise can't be allowed to repeat itself, whatever form it takes; right now the most obvious candidate is indeed Bluesky. If a platform that's decentralised, free (libre and beer) and makes moderation a cooperative community responsibility forms around a usable and fully-featured enough alternative, I think people can be persuaded to use it; the hard parts really are the barriers to entry caused by decentralisation and the more tribal aspects of Mastodon culture, which are ultimately best served by a stronger emphasis on popular engagement, and that's a role that civic-minded individuals or companies could well choose to fill with a few concessions on a credible funding approach and/or recognisable public presences that are clearly differentiated from the existing reference implementations. I do not give up hope that this could happen, or that Mastodon, with a bit more work, could, if built out, eventually turn into that platform. But we shall see. I think he's right that "build it and they will come" is a good starting point for any system though. Everyone now takes for granted that you can host your email anywhere; no reason to believe the same couldn't happen for social networking.

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