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E78: Why Mastodon Has Failed To Scale

by Sean Boyce

Twitter has done everything they can to help Mastodon scale, so why hasn’t it happened?

The turmoil at Twitter has created a huge opportunity for Mastodon to fill the vacuum.  Despite some aggressive growth, it has failed to scale.

I want to talk about why and what this means for your product in terms of being ready for opportunities to scale.

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Episode Transcript
Hey, folks, Sean here.

And today what I want to talk to you about is

why Mastodon has failed to scale, despite the fact that Twitter

has done everything in its power to send as many of

their users as possible over to that platform.

Just in case you’re unaware, there’s been quite a bit

of turmoil going on over Twitter, and every time something

major hits the news, a new wave of users goes

from Twitter over to a platform called Mastodon.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what Mastodon is,

it’s essentially an open source equivalent to Twitter.

It’s got a relatively similar user experience,

or it’s considered by many to be

the most similar product on the market.

And as such, many were expecting it to

kind of fill the vacuum that Twitter seems

to have been creating all on its own.

But despite that fact, and despite the fact

that in a single day when it was

at its peak growth rate from converting users

from Twitter over to mastodon, those numbers where

over 100,000 users per day are leaving Twitter.

And joining mastodon.

Not only have they failed to continue to scale

at that rate, that trend has since somewhat reversed

itself almost as aggressively as it was once growing.

So the question here is why?

Why has Mastodon failed to scale despite having

this tremendous opportunity, it seems, to kind of

fill the vacuum that Twitter has been creating.

Like I said, all on its own.

In fact, there’s a great chart and article from

the Guardian about this event that has taken place,

and it’s overlaid essentially in a series of a

timeline where there is a chart reflecting the growth

of Mastodon and when new waves of users have

spiked joining their platform.

And that timeline of events is also mapped

to when controversial things have happened at Twitter,

or just things like Elon Musk taking over,

but him announcing massive layoffs, him doing really

questionable things, or Twitter doing very questionable things

like banning journalists and things like that.

Every time any one of these controversial things have

taken place, mastodon has seen a massive spike in

user activity and people joining the platform.

But despite the fact that that’s been happening in

almost rapid succession over time, giving macedon time and

time again opportunities to capitalize or benefit from this

level of scale, not only has that growth kind

of stalled or stopped, it’s reversed itself and almost

aggressively as it was once growing.

So ultimately, what looks like is happening now

is people aren’t adopting the Mastodon platform.

In fact, many of them are probably actually going

back to Twitter, which is really interesting trend, despite

the fact that the motivation was probably pretty high

given the fact of what has taken place more

recently over at Twitter for them to join really

any other platform that can meet that need.

And that’s what I want to talk about now.

Probably the biggest reason why Mastodon has really failed

to continue their aggressive growth and scale is for

something that I talked about before, which is very

important in order to really nail a product experience,

and that’s the user experience.

The usability of Mastodon is very

different than that of Twitter.

It is much harder to use, quite a bit

more complex, and requires the user to have to

do things that they really don’t have to do

to get the same experience out of Twitter.

In addition to that, the feature set which is

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prominent over Twitter, is not really all there when

it comes to the Mastodon experience as such, because

it’s been hard to make that transition for users.

They’re not sticking around.

I think what they were probably all hoping for

was a relatively similar experience to that of Twitter.

They were looking to kind of fill the void

in the value that they were getting from the

feature set that’s been popularized over at Twitter.

But Macedon largely just doesn’t offer it, or doesn’t offer

it in the way that the users have yet found

to satisfy what their need was from before.

And this is why they’re either quitting social media or

many of them are flocking back over to Twitter.

So this really underscores the level of

importance of nailing the product experience.

And what’s interesting here is that Twitter

doesn’t really have dramatically complicated tech.

In fact, there are many programming languages like

starter courses like Ruby on Rails, which is

something that I took many years ago.

That part of one of the larger but earlier projects

that they actually have you do to really get familiarized

with the language is building a Twitter clone.

I mean, if you think about the

tech that goes into making the Twitter

experience, it’s really not all that complicated.

As such, I’m surprised that another platform has yet to

kind of take the reins here because this is a

golden opportunity to satisfy a bunch of users who are

frustrated by what’s going on at that social media company.

Yet it really still has yet to happen.

And I would point to the largest reason for

that not happening is that user experience, the usability.

So this really underscores the level of importance.

There something that might not seem as important from

time to time, but when we see lessons like

these, it really underscores its level of importance.

So this is why, to me, the aesthetic

or the user interface is not as important

anywhere near so as the user experience.

Because despite this golden opportunity, right,

mastodon has yet to capitalize it.

And largely I feel it’s because of

the difference in the user experience, because

Mastodon’s is significantly more complicated.

So I know the two of those

concepts are often talked about together.

People often refer to them as UI UX.

In fact, there’s usually slash in between

them whenever either one is mentioned.

And I feel like they are dramatically they’re

significantly different enough to the point where they

largely probably shouldn’t be lumped together in the

same category because I’ve seen great UIs with

terrible UX’s and vice versa.

So it’s really important to nail UX and

in the way that they reflect that.

UI is always mentioned first, and

I feel like that’s a mistake.

It always should be user experience first because

you’re creating the right type of user experience.

Something like this would not happen.

In fact, Mastodon had every opportunity in

the world to scale here really aggressively,

yet it’s failed to happen.

I think largely because of that.

And that’s what we’re seeing from most people as I

review different threads and I see what people are saying

about what their experience has been like thus far.

So let this be a lesson.

I think the thing to take away from

this is the level of importance of really

making sure that you nail that user experience

and the product experience that you’re delivering for

users really gives them what they’re looking for.