From Witches to Dolphins, These Are the Communities That Make Mastodon Great

The top five Mastodon instances as judged by meaningless criteria that we refuse to disclose.

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Apr 14 2017, 7:36pm

Mastodon is a decentralized, free and open source version of Twitter. Unlike its many alternative social network predecessors, it's very usable—no wonder then that its userbase is accelerating quickly.

The "decentralized" bit means that Mastodon is fractured into multiple federated instances. In 2017, perhaps the best way to understand it is that it's a little like Slack. You know how you have a separate account for each Slack group you're in? Now imagine that all your Slacks can also talk to each other.

Another way to think about it is like email addresses—someone with a Yahoo mail address can talk to a person with a Gmail address, even though they're hosted in different places. Except those are two giant corporations and no one controls their own email server anymore, so I'm not sure how helpful that analogy is.

The flagship Mastodon instance, mastodon.social, is controlled by one admin and icosahedron.website is controlled by another. Each instance is responsible for its own hosting, so some instances have a lot more downtime than others. Mastodon.social, for instance, has been struggling with server load ever since the network started garnering more and more media attention a couple of weeks ago.

Each instance can set its own rules and choose which other instances to federate with. Users in two different instances that are federated with each other can communicate with each other and see each other's posts. Theoretically, this means that a culturally toxic instance can be shunned by the others. This is both complicated and useful and no one really knows how this is going to play out in the future when Mastodon stops being mostly composed of very nice nerds.

It also means that admins can set arbitrary, capricious, and hilarious rules that contribute to the overall ~vibe~ of a place. Here are the top five instances of Mastodon, according to me, as judged by completely meaningless criteria that I refuse to disclose.

1. mstdn.jp and kirakiratter.com (tied for first place)

Ever since the Japanese-speaking internet has discovered Mastodon, the federations have exploded in size in just the last day or two. The top Japanese Mastodon instances are mstdn.jp and kirakiratter.com, which collectively boast over 40,000 users. As a reference, the flagship instance, mastodon.social was at about 35,000 users when I last wrote about it.

Mstdn.jp alone—registered as a domain only two days ago—is about to overtake mastodon.social in size.

I wouldn't know, but apparently Japanese Mastodon is extremely lit. Supposedly users sometimes refer to it as 鱒丼 (translating to "trout sashimi rice bowl") because it's a homophone for "mastodon." Also, on Kirakiratter, a toot is a katsu.

Total Users: 42464 (mstdn.jp) and 1057 (kirakiratter.com)

Registrations open?: mstdn.jp (which is currently down) has closed registrations, but Kirakiratter is still open.

Overall Vibe: lol I don't speak Japanese

Overall Rating: 5 out of 五

2. witches.town

Witches.town is an instance full of witches, which I think means it feels like LiveJournal in 2003. It only opens registrations at the witching hour (in France time), during which (heh) all the witches log on and greet the new witches.

Total Users: 1142

Registrations open?: What time is it in France?

Overall Vibe: When shall we eleven hundred and forty-two meet again?

Overall Rating: 13 out of 13

3. botsin.space

Twitter bots are fun, though not everyone loves them! But I love them, and I love that there's a separate Mastodon instance just for bot creators and their creations.

Total Users: 151

Registrations open?: [Y]es

Overall Vibe: 01100011 01101000 01101001 01101100 01101100 00100000 01100001 01100110

Overall Rating: BEEP out of BOOP

4. Oulipo.social

Have you ever logged onto Twitter only to think, "There's too many e's here"? I know I haven't.

Oulipo will not allow you to post anything using that 2nd non-consonant. This is v. difficult, it turns out! According to Mastodonist Larry-bob, "It's fun writing with constraints." Thanks to this limit, additional thought will go into a typical post. That is probably a good thing for a social platform! Ugh I want to finish this paragraph so I can submit this articl alrdy.

Total Usrs: 457

Rgistrations opn?: Yah

Ovrall Vib: High-ffort posting

Ovrall Rating: Xtrmly Xcllnt

5. Dolphin.town

With all the e's missing on Oulipo, the e's have to go somewhere, you know. That somewhere is dolphin.town, where you are only allowed to post e's.

Total Users: 59

Registrations open?: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Overall Vibe: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Overall Rating: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Correction: This article originally stated that the number of Oulipo users was 2195. The number of Oulipo users is actually 457. Motherboard regrets the error.