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The secret to Mastodon’s success is mastering the hyperlocal

Mastodon Social

Maybe you should install Mastodon, the latest-and-greatest Twitter-killer, onto your own server and launch your very own community in support of your own personal community of interest or of action.  Why invest in a walled garden community without neighbors, when you can plop down your very own community-focused social network that has turn-key and built-in neighbors? Maybe Mastodon is exactly what you need.

Have you heard of Mastodon? The latest and greatest social media platform?  The social network that is both the Twitter-killer and never going to work. While it probably won’t kill anything at all, Mastodon makes so much sense — for those of us who get Inter Relay Chat (IRC) or spend time on Reddit and message boards and forums.

Or maybe you, too. What makes Mastodon different as a social media platform is that it’s distributed over many different privately-owned and hosted servers, called instances. Anyone can install and run a Mastodon instance. And while each instance is completely autonomous, they’re also stitched together through something called federation. It’s a lot like IRC. Each instance can communicate with every other instance, emulating one social network. The federation is loose. Each instance runs its own software and can build, develop, and grow their own community.

Unlike Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter, there are no global handles. While I am @chrisabraham on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter, I need to register a separate handle on every instance of Mastodon I join. On the largest and most-popular instance,, I am @chrisa and on Adam Curry’s new brand new instance,, I am @chris. If I want to communicate between instances, I am neither @chrisa nor am I @chris, I am and respectively.

While it’s a lot to learn, it’s not nearly that confusing. Mastodon steals a lot from Twitter. It gets hashtags, it gets @handles, and it looks and feels a lot like Twitter as viewed through Tweetdeck of yore. Unlike Twitter, Mastodon’s tweets are 500 hundred characters instead of 140. Another alien concept is the concept of “local timeline” — the server instance you’re currently logged into — versus “federated timeline” — the entirely of the greater Mastodon universe, ie everyone —  can be a little bit of a brain-bender.

But it’s not going to be technology that kills Mastodon, it’ll be loneliness. Too many people come on board only to type “hello world” or “hello?” and have nobody respond. Onboarding — being neighborly and welcoming — is going to be the piece that saves it.  No matter how much of a Twitter-killer is, it’ll come down to the success of each particular instance — each unique community, each part of the Mastodon quilt — in wooing new and regular users to stay and participate. It’ll demand facilitation, it might even demand a community manager or facilitator.  It’s sort of like when I was on the Vestry at St. James’ Episcopal Church. One of our most important jobs every Sunday was to identify each and every newbie and everyone who hung in the back, kept to themselves, or seemed lonely or confused and it was our number-one job to make sure we personally brought them into the fold — and to know when they weren’t interested.  If Twitter hadn’t been adopted by everyone and their brother, I don’t know if Twitter would have become my jam and it might never have gotten off the ground (I mean, Facebook was already open for business and powerfully-popular in 2007, if I remember right).

I was born on Twitter on 6 January 2007.  And then I disappeared for months.  When I joined, nobody I knew was there. It was a ghost town. It wasn’t until months later when the entire world jumped on board and it all started to make sense to me. In a case of déjà vu, I started hearing a lot of buzz about a new social network named Mastodon from Mr. Chris Brogan over on Facebook and popped over, signed up, and realized that I had joined six months ago. I joined, nobody I knew was there, then never returned.

No Agenda Show PodcastWhen I came back, logged into as, there still was no there there. What a drag. Luckily, only days later, Adam Curry, the godfather of podcasting and co-host of The No Agenda Show podcast, launched his own instance of Mastodon and named it

Now I’m and have stumbled into an exciting community of interest, “a gathering of people assembled around a topic of common interest. Its members take part in the community to exchange information, to obtain answers to personal questions or problems, to improve their understanding of a subject, to share common passions or to play.

In just 24-hours, I am sold. I have turn-key friends based on our collective love of a podcast and that excitement has resulted in getting connected and involved in the larger federated Mastodon community, including instances from around the world.

I even sorted out an Android app for Mastodon called Tusky which works for me (though many others are having loads of problems with their installs).

Hell, at the end of the day, I don’t care about any of the other instances. I really only care about the No Agenda Community, first and foremost. The greater “cloud” and the greater “social network” is just cream. It’s nice but even if every other instance except fails, I will still be happy in my little community of interest.

Mastodon will only succeed if everyone who launches an instance outside of the main instance,, focuses on developing a unique, attractive, compelling, and supported community that does not demand or rely on the greater networked community.

It’s like my church. While I might very well be a member of the greater Episcopalian faith community, part of a Global Anglican Christian faith, I really only care about my church, first Saint James’ and now, Trinity Episcopal Arlington.   If I don’t like my clergy, if I don’t like my community, if I am not drawn to Mass, if I am not committed to the literal community of the local church, then how committed am I really to the greater church community?

I am not necessarily advocating that every brand installs their own vanity Mastodon instance unless you already rock. If you have a multitude of followers and an active fan base on Facebook and Twitter or you’re a god on reddit or already run your own limping message board, then you might consider it.  But you’re not going to make a community.

I predict an explosion of Mastodon instances (ie servers), peak Mastodon, and then an extreme die-off of servers and instances and the cost of hosting and the lack of momentum on “zombie ships” — server instances with lots and lots of members who register, are ignored and abandoned, and never come back — turn people off and they give up their Mastodon (how aptly named. Maybe I need to use some tar pit analogies, though that’s only just occurred to me).

The Mastodon that will survive — and thrive — will need to be an amalgam of social networks, online virtual communities, message boards, and reddit. They will be popular, quirky, unique, extreme, gonzo, vertical, eccentric, or appealingly mainstream. The most successful instances with be facilitated be real people — gardeners, if you will — who will tend to the garden and make sure everyone and everything blooms. And not just when it’s new and interesting.

Mastodon can still be a flash in the pan. It could be that exciting nightclub that’s all shtick and theme that nobody connects to and never returns to. Hopefully, after Mastodon goes through it’s eventual extinction event, there are some really great instances left for the rest of us.

Feel free to own the yacht but hire a crew if you’re not yet seaworthy. If you get my drift and want to adopt the yachting lifestyle yourself but either don’t have the mad sailing skills yourself, don’t yet posses a world-class crew, and don’t know yet where to go, then you should give me a call or reach out me by email — so I can help you pilot your vessel now, in the tranquil blue-green shallows of the Caribbean, as well as in the roughest seas and into — as well as out of — the storm.

If you’d like to chat more, call me at +1 (202) 869-3210 Ext 0001  email me, or feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call with me.

Chris Abraham

Chris Abraham

Chris Abraham, digital strategist and technologist, is a leading expert in digital: search engine optimization (SEO), online relationship management (ORM), Internet privacy, Wikipedia curationsocial media strategy, and online public relations with a focus on blogger outreachinfluencer engagement, and Internet crisis response, with the digital PR and social media marketing agency Gerris digital. [Feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call with me] A pioneer in online social networks and publishing, with a natural facility for anticipating the next big thing, Chris is an Internet analyst, web strategy consultant and adviser to the industries' leading firms. Chris Abraham specializes in web technologies, including content marketing, online collaboration, blogging, and consumer generated media.  Chris Abraham was named a Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer by Forbes, #1 PR2.0 Influencer by Traackr, and top-10 social media influencers by Marketwire; and, for what it’s worth, Chris has a Klout of 79 the last time he looked. Chris Abraham started doing web development back in 1994, SEO in 1998, blogging in 1999, influencer engagement in 2003, social media strategy in 2005, blogger outreach in 2006, and Wikipedia curation in 2007. Feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call. If you want to know the services that Chris offers check out Services If you want to work with Chris use the Contact Form You're welcome to follow me via Social Media You can learn more about Chris over in About Chris writes a lot so check out the Blog Chris offers webinars so check Events

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  1. Avatar Ike

    The onboarding piece is SO critical — that’s why you are seeing it take root in established communities. What makes the No Agenda instance hum is that you already have a critical mass of people with established identity — even if they don’t know a lot about each other, they know enough to recognize who is already “in.”

    The second critical piece becomes Discovery. It isn’t enough to have a known quantum of people land in a server. There have to be enough Unknowns (or those unknown previously to me) to allow for the creation of new connections and nodes.

    1. Chris Abraham Chris Abraham

      I’m sorry for the delay but I wanted to play a couple more days on the servers and have some more experience with the federation and other instances and servers and see if there’s sustainability or if this excitement around a No Agenda Instance is a flash-in-the-pan.

    2. Chris Abraham Chris Abraham

      One of the things I didn’t know was the history behind Mastodon and how the platform was perceived as being a safe-haven by design focused more on being a safe space rather than being a platform for free speech. It’s very confusing. So, will the become a pariah in short order, becoming isolated from the larger community? And will we thrive without a larger social network? A larger federation? Do you have any new follow-up thoughts after these days gone by?

  2. Avatar Mike McDermott

    Mastodon lost me with the complexity of the install process. Why worry about that? Well, because the person that sets up a Mastadon “neigborhood” probably also should know how to fill it with vibrant conversation and connections. Leaving the distribution to the most uuber of introverted IT geeks who won’t get federation or how socialization works is the death knell from square one.
    I liked that comment Chris.. “safe space”. It’s a social network where you can be totally cool without talking to anyone, posting things you like where there is nobody to critique your thoughts. Kinda like Twitter in Private mode.

    1. Chris Abraham Chris Abraham

      Well, if and when you choose to install Mastodon on your local server, you need to literally install a very complex Ruby application. Not just an install of WordPress. Maybe they’ll add it to your cPanel App Catalog in the future. Of course, because there is federation with almost a thousand other instances, there’s going to be huge bloat since it’s a lot like USENET: everything that’s accessed from a different server is copied to the local server. So, it’s an investment of space and bandwidth.

      You can have a safe space. and prove that. Also, Facebook, sort of, because you can limit your friends to just your posse. Down to three people. And there are a lot lot lot of people on Twitter and Instagram who are on private mode — it’s not nearly as limiting your life to just making personal entries in your own leather-bound diary with a fountain pen.

      On The Meta Network, I felt very safe. Even in the commons. There was one “channel” or group that was all men. All member men. And was a real name space and the facilitators and admins had a lot of power.

      In the all-men group, called Fire, I talked with fellow guys about my feelings for my dad, for my feelings and frustrations for my mom, dealt with my dad’s death and all sorts of very personal things.

      It was a safe space. Women had their own group, too, called Spirit.

      Yes, I was a 20-something hippy.

      You do know that you don’t have to actually install your own instance to take a bite. I feel like you’d really love the install. It’s all you. I can’t believe you’e not a No Agenda listener.

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