Twitter is in turmoil, with new CEO Elon Musk's plan to charge $8 / £8 / AU$9 for blue ticks causing an exodus of users looking for the best Twitter alternatives.
Mastodon has seen a surge in new users, for instance, with many of the disaffected Twitter users deciding it represents the closest fit in terms of form and function. But while there are similarities, there are also differences - as I've found out after spending the past week on it.
If you've not tried Mastodon, think of it as Twitter but segregated into different communities, called servers, that you can join. However, you can still follow your friends even if they're in a different server on your timeline. That sounds simple enough, but in reality it's a bit more complicated.
Eugen Rochko, creator and developer of Mastodon, has already expressed surprise at over a million new users joining the service in the past week, but if he wants to keep increasing user numbers at this level, he needs to look at simplifying how someone joins a server.
Signing up is currently a headache
I've been a user of Mastodon since 2017, but I've been using it more in the past month, as its simplicity in posting and reading content is certainly welcome, and being able to curate your timeline to your interests, without any trolls or irrelevant ads popping up, is certainly refreshing.
Yet the one glaring issue I've found so far is when you're creating a new account you're overwhelmed with sometimes rather confusing choices, such as a screen asking you to join different servers. If you have an existing account, you need to find the server you made your account on, and finding new users is particularly difficult, as it's hard to list the available servers.
It's a confusing affair - and it makes for a bad first impression if you're a casual user who just wants to try the platform out. Some people may feel confused as to what a 'server' actually means in this case.
I've also only been able to access it through the web - Mastodon's Android and iOS apps, released in 2021, both refuse to recognize my correct credentials. To be fair, that could be down to the amount of new and existing users trying to do the same at the moment, but it's still frustrating.
Whatever the case, hopefully Rochko is looking into a fix for this, as well as considering macOS and Windows apps in the future.
Yet this is very early days for the platform - Facebook, Twitter and even MySpace all had growing pains at the start, and it was thanks to its users that those issues were ironed out.
What I've seen so far is certainly encouraging, and it's a foundation that could be the start of something special for people looking to jump ship from Twitter.
However, at the moment it's simply too complicated at the signing-up stage. If Rochko doesn't redesign the onboarding process soon, Mastodon may prove too much of a leap for the casual user.
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Daryl had been freelancing for 3 years before joining TechRadar, now reporting on everything software-related. In his spare time he's written a book, 'The Making of Tomb Raider', alongside podcasting and usually found playing games old and new on his PC and MacBook Pro. If you have a story about an updated app, one that's about to launch, or just anything Software-related, drop him a line.