The number of people registering for the tiny social network Mastodon has increased dramatically in the week since Elon Musk took control of Twitter. Mastodon, which has been around since 2016, might not be a name you are familiar with, but it is now expanding quickly.

As the much more well-known social network deals with layoffs, contentious product changes, an anticipated change in its approach to content moderation, and an increase in hateful rhetoric, some are leaving Twitter for it or at least looking for a second place to post their thoughts online. There may be no clear substitute for Twitter, a singularly influential platform that is fast-paced, text-heavy, conversational, and news-focused.

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Mastodon, on the other hand, satisfies a specific itch. The service resembles Twitter in appearance, with a timeline of short updates sorted chronologically rather than algorithmically. It allows users to connect to a variety of servers run by various groups and individuals, rather than a single central platform controlled by a single company like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Mastodon, unlike larger social networks, is both free to use and ad-free. It is run by a nonprofit founded by Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko and is funded through crowdfunding.

Who is Eugen Rochko?

German software developer Eugen Rochko, who was born in 1993, is best known for being the creator of the distributed microblogging platform Mastodon. At the age of eleven, Rochko moved to Germany from a Jewish family of Russian descent and enrolled in Jena’s grammar school. In Jena, he was active on MySpace, schulerVZ, Facebook, Twitter, and ICQ. At Friedrich-Schiller University, a public university in Jena, Rochko pursued a degree in computer science.

Early in 2016, Rochko began working on the Mastodon software while still pursuing his degree. In an interview in 2018 by Esquire, Rochko stated that he wished to avoid commercialization on social media. Further, he told an interviewer from German media organization Tagespiegel in 2022 that he was motivated by rumours that a billionaire might buy Twitter, as well as his dissatisfaction with some of the social media platform’s functions.

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According to Rochko, a platform like Twitter is crucial to democracy and shouldn’t be under the control of a US company. Through Patreon, OpenCollective, and a Samsung open-source development grant, he funded the creation of Mastodon. After completing his computer science studies at the University of Jena, he released Mastodon in early October 2016. Later, he gave Mastodon the ActivityPub protocol. 

Rochko had a project manager for Mastodon as of July 2017, and volunteers handled the rest of the work. Some have criticized him for acting as a Benevolent Dictator For Life (BDFL), a moniker used to describe open source software developers who retain the right of final decision. He declared in August 2021 that he had founded and been the only shareholder of Mastodon, a non-profit organization.