My take on alternatives to Facebook (Diaspora) and Twitter (Mastodon)

Axel Segebrecht
Apr 30, 2017 · 4 min read
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You maybe reading this in the vain hope to escape the clutches of Facebook or Twitter through some form of open sourced, free and privacy protecting service or software.

Let me spare you hours of fun trying out Diaspora and Mastodon, the latest in alt-Facebook and alt-Twitter options you may have never heard of.

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Diaspora, means “scattered population” and in this case makes perfect sense for an open alternative to Facebook, which is highly dispersed and people running it on their own computers:

As their website informs us:

You choose which pod to register with, and you can then connect seamlessly with the diaspora* community worldwide.

Which is as awesome as it is frightening, especially to the uninitiated, non-technical user. It starts with the question:

“What pod do I register with?”

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Mastodon, a free and open alternative to Twitter, which has seen massive growth recently, is named after – I am not making this up – a “breast tooth”, a type of elephant or early mammoth:

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Why somebody would call a Twitter alternative after an extinct mammoth is beyond me… however, I can begin to see where they are coming from:

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Much like Diaspora, you need to find a pod or server instance to create an account with, which also automatically shows you everybody’s “tootings” (tweets… geddit?).

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One major caveat is that somebody can signup with your desired name (or handle) on other servers – unlike Twitter, there’s no protection (if you wanted to see it that way).

The federation of toots across servers works nicely, so you can follow accounts across the entire breadth of the network. However, to reach a user from another server, you need to address toots like: @localuser@remote.server, which is about as cumbersome yet logical as it sounds.

Add to that you probably need to search for the right user first and that a username is not very unique at all, and you quickly see this becoming an awfully messy experience.

My gripe with these wonderful alternatives is simply that of a bad experience as a common and garden social media user.

It starts with the names, which are cumbersome at best, despite the cute- and cleverness. Not sure about you, but I really struggle remembering Diaspora and Mastodon and often misspell it.

Twitter and Facebook are household names, and at least in part I believe this can be accredited to their easy and distinct naming.

Secondly, their distributed nature makes it really hard for non-techies to wrap their head around.

Who wants to sign-up with many servers (pods, etc) just to protect their name?

So from a pure and simplified user perspective I’d argue the effort which needs to be undertaken to understand and use these alternatives outweighs to a large extend their benefits.

From a business perspective or from a family / friends group point of view, their proposition may resonate better.

If you are looking for an alternative to Facebook at Work or Yammer, I can think of worse to choose than Diaspora or Mastodon. In fact, I would encourage you to run your own, private instance over commercial alternatives.

If you are a family, close group of friends or maybe even a hobby or sports team, I’d also recommend utilising these using your own domain and communicating in a private environment that you can control.

Just for everybody else, as a straight forward alternative to the behemoths of Twitter and Facebook, I don’t think a distributed model will work. You need an easy to remember name that’s distinct enough to stick as well as a super smooth user experience for starters.

What’s your thoughts? Have you used either of the alternatives listed? I love to hear your comments.

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