Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover last October and the associated chaos drove millions of people into the arms of niche open source microblogging platform Mastodon. Overnight, a shaggy extinct mammal became associated with a buzzy network touted as the independent future of social media.
Companies and politicians joined up. Twitter users put Mastodon usernames in their handles and trumpeted their migration. The new traffic knocked many Mastodon instances, or servers, offline. In less than two months, Mastodon’s monthly active users climbed from 380,000 to more than 2.5 million. But not everyone stuck around.
Mastodon’s active monthly user count dropped to 1.4 million by late January. It now has nearly half a million fewer total registered users than at the start of the year. Many newcomers have complained that Mastodon is hard to use. Some have returned to the devilish bird they knew: Twitter.
After a decade of Big Tech dominating social media, the idea of a small, alternative, and open source platform like Mastodon growing into a truly mainstream challenger was alluring to some. The decentralized platform operates very differently from services like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and demands volunteers take on the job of sustaining and moderating servers. That’s because Mastodon is part of the Fediverse, a network of servers running interoperable open source software.