This post is more than three years old so may contain incorrect information, or opinions I no longer hold.
Centralisation and Mastodon
The founder of Mastodon recently announced that he has started a second flagship instance. Is it a good thing to have flagship instances, or does the centralisation of Mastodon do more harm than good?
Many users of the Mastodon network have long said that the flagship instance, Mastodon.social, goes against the fundamental concept of a decentralised social network.
The problem with Mastodon centralisation
According to The Federation website, Mastodon currently has approximately 2.6 million users across all instances. The top 3 instances account for nearly 1.5 million of those users.
That's nearly 60% of the entire Mastodon network! That doesn't sound like much of a decentralised network to me.
I think Eugen did the right thing by not letting Mastodon.social grow even bigger. By creating another instance, there is still an “official” Mastodon instance that's accepting new users. It also means that people aren't putting all their eggs in Mastodon.social's basket.
Why is this a problem?
Having the majority of users being spread across a handful of instances is better than everyone being on 1 instance. Right? I think so. However, having such a small amount instances housing a disproportionally large amount of the network's total user base is a problem.
Let's say that Mastodon's biggest instance, Pawoo, decided to close down tomorrow. That's over 600 thousand users who need to find a new home. Luckily Mastodon allows its users to migrate to other instances, which is great. But many instances would not be able to scale quick enough to support those kinds of numbers. Potentially causing a DDoS of our own network and bringing the entire thing crashing down.
Not only would have over half a million users without a home on the Fediverse, but instances all over the network could potentially go down with the amount of traffic they're being hit with.
What can we do to help?
The short answer to this question is; use other instances to truly distribute this network of ours. This will help prevent the centralisation of mastodon.
It's great that we have these flagship instances, as it shows new users that Mastodon is a popular network and they won't be joining a ghost town. However, by joining other instances you're spreading the load, thus creating a truly distributed social network.
I don't think we have a distributed social network at the moment. Instead we have a handful of very popular instances that are surrounded by much smaller satellites.
All instances on the Mastodon network have the ability to communicate with one another, so by choosing a smaller instance, or even starting your own, you're not missing out.
I applaud Eugen's decision to create a new Mastodon instance - I think it's just what the Fediverse needs.
If you're thinking about joining Mastodon, don't just join the first instance you come across. Take a look at the sign up section of the Mastodon homepage. There is a list alternative instances that you can join, all arranged by topic.
In my opinion, Mastodon is a huge improvement over sites like Twitter and Facebook. But I think there are still things we can do to make Mastodon even better.
What do you think?
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