The Man Behind Mastodon Eugen Rochko Built It for This Moment

What did you make of Elon Musk poking fun of Mastodon in a recent tweet?

Honestly, it was really a good thing for us. It’s free advertising, and he’s just making a fool of himself. I could barely see the screenshot because the screen was so dirty, but I think he was making fun of somebody having trouble posting after signing up. The thing is, the massive influx of new users obviously puts a lot of strain on this volunteer network. So you should not be surprised that people are struggling with the load. It is just a question of scale. With more Mastodon servers springing up than ever, there are more and more options for people to join.

Although Mastodon has a lot of new users, many are finding it doesn’t have the features they were used to on Twitter. Are you listening to the complaints?

I am listening, but I am not eager to jump on new feature requests. We have our own plans and strategies and our conception of what Mastodon is. All the new feedback is definitely flowing into our impression of what Mastodon is, what it needs, and where it’s going to go. Just not necessarily in an instant way, and maybe not in exactly the same way that somebody would ask for.

Is there anything in particular that you’ve heard that seems like a good idea?

A lot of requests don’t make sense, because people have not yet learned about the platform. Like “Why isn’t Mastodon a single server?” We’re not going to jump on the opportunity to undo all of the decentralization.

Another feature requested by users is quote tweets. It has been debated for years, and when Twitter introduced them, around the time I left the platform, I wasn’t a fan. Even if it’s not always toxic, it can definitely tempt you to do what people call dunks. That being said, I don’t feel as strongly about that now, as I used to back then, and I’m definitely taking into account how often people ask for this feature. It’s not all set in stone.

Corporate social networks have struggled most when their communities got really large, into the hundreds of millions. Have you seen more toxicity or other problems as more people have joined Mastodon?

There’s a kind of self-selection going on where the people who join Mastodon are maybe more civil. But it should not be discounted that all the different servers, with their rules about hate speech and against harassment, are doing moderation work and acting as gatekeepers against bad actors. When you sign up on a server that has rules against, let’s say, racism, or transphobia, and then somebody else signs up on the server and starts posting something transphobic, then your moderator bans the person, and you don’t have to see them.

As more people join the platform, will it be more difficult for it to remain decentralized?

There are always certain centralization forces at play. It is more cost-efficient to have more users on one server. And people tend to gravitate to servers that are seen as more trustworthy. The choice of the server is often difficult for people—this is the one big difference between something like Twitter and something like Mastodon. How do people choose an email provider? They often go to Gmail because it’s the biggest one out there. But I’m not using Gmail, and I can still use email just fine. It is not an irredeemable situation. And there’s no single Mastodon server with the proportions of Gmail.

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