February 2, 2023

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Mastodon Features Twitter Should (But Shouldn’t) Steal

Any platform that supports free speech should have a content warning system very similar to Mastodon’s. I bet Musk won’t do it because his Snowflake fans would find that kind of free speech annoying (and he’s afraid of them).

Mute people for a while

Sometimes a person you like to follow gets in the mood. You don’t want to unfollow them, but you don’t want to engage with what they’re yelling about either. Maybe they’re endlessly discussing a movie you’ll never see. Maybe they’re live-tweeting a sporting event, or maybe they’re excited about something political. You don’t have many options on Twitter – you can no longer follow them, mute them or block them. However, all of these changes are permanent.

With Mastodon, you can mute people for a set amount of time – anywhere from five minutes to seven days – enough time for the person to work through whatever they’re posting. It’s a great compromise and Twitter should add it.

A simpler verification process

The purpose of Twitter’s verification system, at least in its early days, was to confirm that a particular account was actually owned by a particular politician, celebrity, journalist, or organization. However, the system for obtaining the tick was opaque, leading to the tick becoming something of a status symbol. However, Musk’s early attempts at “reform” mostly just created a haven for spammers.

Mastodon, meanwhile, has a system that allows for quick verification with no overhead. Basically, when you link to your Mastodon account on your website with the tag “ref=me”, Mastodon emphasizes that you control the website in your profile. This gives people a quick way to confirm your identity without creating a lot of work for moderators. Twitter could do worse than copy this strategy for “official” accounts. However, Elon Musk won’t implement this, possibly because he wants to make you pay for verification while calling it democratic.

A (free) edit button

Twitter users want an edit button. They can get one if they are willing to pay $8 a month. Mastodon users get an edit button for free. However, Elon won’t offer this – probably because he likes money more than you.

Actual support for 3rd party clients

The best way to use Twitter used to be through third-party clients, which generally offered a much smoother and more customizable experience than the official Twitter app and website. TweetBot, for example, is a much nicer way to use Twitter on a Mac than anything developed by Twitter. The problem: Twitter severely restricted its API a few years ago, limiting what third-party clients could do. You cannot receive notifications for likes or retweets. Polls are just broken. I could go on.

Mastodon does not have this problem. Third-party clients can do everything – and in some cases more – than the official website and applications. It’s refreshing and something Twitter should be doing to reward its power users. But it won’t. There …

follow hashtags

On Twitter, you can follow accounts and search for hashtags. Mastodon allows users to follow an entire hashtag so that all related posts appear on your home screen. I don’t know if Twitter should add this, but a lot of people like it and it’s a really great way to find people who post regularly about the topics you’re interested in.

No ads or subscriptions

Town squares are open to everyone. They do not charge an entrance fee and are not covered with advertising. Sure, there might be a shop or two next to the town square, and there might be a few walls covered in flyers for punk concerts, but for the most part a town square is primarily a non-commercial place. Twitter, if it really was a town square, it would be like this. Mastodon already is. There is no company involved in Mastodon – it is an open source program owned by a non-profit organization. The network is run by volunteers who set up servers for their friends and communities. Anyone can set up a server and connect to everyone else, and moderation is handled by volunteers.

Well, I don’t think Elon Musk is going to make Twitter free and non-commercial. It’s a business, and he’s a businessman — not an engineer, not a free speech advocate, and not someone who actually cares about the community at the end of the day, regardless of their public statements. He’s a money person who likes money and would love to have more of it (although the money he currently has is clearly not doing much for his mental and emotional health).

And that’s the problem: a town square, by definition, cannot be a business. It must be a space that belongs to the people. This is what an Elon Musk twitter can never be and what Mastodon already is. I’ve written about how to get started with Mastodon, so check that out if you’re curious.