Mastodon 4.2: A major update for the open-source social network

Mastodon, the open-source Twitter-like federated social network server, has released a major update that adds features aimed at making life easier for new users. Version 4.2, released on Thursday, is the first release Mastodon has deemed worthy of a blogged announcement since March 2022’s version 3.5. The update comes amid growing discontent with X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, which has been accused of censorship and mismanagement by its owner Elon Musk.

What is Mastodon and why is it different?

Mastodon is a decentralized social network that allows anyone to run their own server, or instance, and connect with other instances in a federated network. Users can see whatever servers their Mastodon host chooses to expose. One way to understand Mastodon is to consider each instance as an email server that can talk to other email servers – all of them if an admin wants to, or a select set if that’s preferred. The result is what’s come to be known as “the Fediverse” – a federated universe of content that feels a lot like using Twitter, but in fact touches multiple Mastodon instances run by different operators.

Mastodon 4.2: A major update for the open-source social network
Mastodon 4.2: A major update for the open-source social network

Mastodon is based on the open-source ActivityPub protocol, which defines a standard way for servers to communicate with each other and exchange social media data. ActivityPub also powers other platforms such as PeerTube (a YouTube alternative), PixelFed (an Instagram alternative), and WriteFreely (a Medium alternative). This means that users of different platforms can interact with each other across the Fediverse, creating a diverse and vibrant online community.

What’s new in Mastodon 4.2?

The most notable feature in Mastodon 4.2 is a rebuilt search facility, which matters because it’s something users expect to just work. Mastodon 4.2 has therefore made it possible to search for users using by words in their bio and their names. “The most exciting news is that for the first time, you can now search for posts,” wrote Eugen Rochko, the founder and CEO of Mastodon, in a blog post. Users can also filter their search results by various criteria, such as date, language, and media type.

Another important improvement in Mastodon 4.2 is a revamped sign-up flow that aims to make the onboarding process more user-friendly and intuitive. “User tests have helped us to identify areas where people lose their way during sign-up, so we’ve added progress indicators to guide people through the multi-step sign-up process and rewrote copy and labels to be more intuitive,” Rochko explained. “Upon login, you are pointed to recommended first steps that include filling our your profile, following people, making your first post, and sharing your profile outside Mastodon,” he added.

Rochko also reported that these changes have resulted in “an increase in the average number of profiles a new user follows from 2.6 to 6.8.” “This number is one of primary indicators of a successful onboarding, as the home feed is the center point of Mastodon,” he said. It’s also an important number in the context of Metcalfe’s Law, which states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. More users, making more connections, gives Mastodon and other social networks momentum.

Why is Mastodon gaining popularity?

Mastodon’s growth comes at a time when many users are dissatisfied with X, the platform that was once known as Twitter before Elon Musk bought it in 2021. Musk has been accused of imposing his personal views and agenda on the platform, censoring dissenting voices, and introducing controversial features such as paid subscriptions and NFT integration. Some users have also reported technical issues and glitches with X, such as missing tweets, broken links, and delayed notifications.

In contrast, Mastodon offers users more control over their own data and experience, as well as more freedom of expression and diversity of opinions. Users can choose which instance they want to join based on their interests and preferences, or create their own instance if they want to. Users can also customize their interface and settings, such as choosing their own themes, fonts, and emojis. Users can also block or mute any instance or user they don’t want to see or interact with.

Mastodon also claims to have a stronger stance against harassment and abuse than X does. According to its website, Mastodon has “effective anti-abuse tools to protect yourself from online abuse” and “moderation tools that enable you to keep your community healthy.” Mastodon also has a code of conduct that outlines its values and expectations for its users and instances.

How can you join Mastodon?

If you are interested in joining Mastodon, you can start by visiting joinmastodon.org4, which is the official website for finding and joining Mastodon instances. You can browse through the list of featured instances, or use the filters to narrow down your options based on categories, languages, and topics. You can also use Movetodon5, a tool that helps you find a Mastodon instance based on your Twitter friends.

Once you have chosen an instance, you can sign up with your email address and create your profile. You can then start following other users, posting messages (called toots), and exploring the Fediverse. You can also use apps such as Tusky or Tootle to access Mastodon on your mobile devices.

Mastodon is a social network that offers an alternative to X, with more features, more freedom, and more diversity. If you are looking for a new way to connect with people online, you might want to give Mastodon a try.

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