If you’ve been following any of the drama unfolding at Twitter over the past year, you’ve probably heard of Mastodon. You may even have tried to sign up…and been turned off by the wildly confusing sign-up process.
If so, you may want to try again. On May 1, Mastodon founder and CEO Eugen Rochko announced in a company blog post that the decentralized social network would be simplifying the sign-up process by providing a default server.
Are you already confused? Welcome to the club! Here’s the quick explanation for the non-techy (like me) among us. Before this new update, you couldn’t just sign up for Mastodon by choosing a username and password, like you do with most social networks. The first step was to sign up for a server—all of which worked together, but all of which were run by different people and had different philosophies, communities, and rules.
This lack of a central server that everybody joined is what makes Mastodon a decentralized social network. But it’s also what stopped many (or at least, a lot of people I know) from joining Mastodon because they struggled to select a server. Now, Mastodon has fixed that problem by providing a default server that anybody can join.
But if the point of Mastodon is that it’s decentralized, why make a central server now?
“If we only attract people who already care about decentralization, our ability to make decentralization mainstream becomes that much harder,” Rochko wrote in his blog post. “Making the onboarding process as easy as possible helps new users get past the sign-up process and more quickly engage with others. This gives us a far better chance of showcasing what decentralized social networks have to offer instead of having that person bounce and never hearing from them again.”
Social media experts suspect that Rochko’s motives may be less noble than they appear. Despite attracting millions of users, at least one report found that new Mastodon sign-ups have dropped drastically in recent months.
Mastodon might fear this trend will continue as another competitor enters the picture. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s BlueSky, a different decentralized social network that’s also like Twitter, is attracting former Twitter lovers in droves. And while BlueSky remains invite-only for now, it might not be too long before Mastodon starts feeling the heat.