“Elon Musk passes for a badger”: interview with the creator of Mastodon, the other Twitter

Vanity Fair

Eugen Rochko has drawn features. The 29-year-old programmer is the founder of Mastodon, a decentralized alternative to Twitter whose popularity has exploded in recent weeks, following Elon Musk’s acquisition of the bluebird platform – and the chaos that ensued. tracking for users.

It was shortly after leaving university in 2016 that Rochko began developing Mastodon. Fan of Twitter, he nevertheless wants to create a platform that is not controlled by a company or a person, believing that online communication is too important to be dependent on mere commercial interests or the whims of a CEO. He says the absence of profit motives and smart design could discourage harassment and abuse, while giving users greater control.

800,000 new accounts in a few weeks

Instead of creating a unified platform, the Mastodon protocol therefore allows anyone to use free software to start a server hosting a Twitter-like community with its own rules. All of these servers form a collective of interconnected communities dubbed the “Fediverse”. People can join a server that matches their interests and the community standards they want to adhere to, but also connect with users from other servers, or completely block all content from a particular server.

After the first code was released in 2017, Mastodon is slowly but surely growing, appealing primarily to free software enthusiasts. But here todayElon Musk, for 44 billion dollars, seizes Twitter. The promises of the American billionaire to reduce moderation and staff, as well as the unexpected changes made to the platform, will very quickly lead to a real flight of Twitter followers. According to Rochko, some 800,000 new Mastodon accounts have been created in recent weeks, overwhelming the most popular servers and flooding user timelines with questions and complaints from newcomers. Last year, donations to the non-profit association that manages Mastodon, of which Rochko is the president, amounted to 55,000 euros; she only spent 23,000.

Ever since Musk took over Twitter, Rochko has been working hard to keep his own server, Mastodon.Social, running while preparing for a major Mastodon update. He still took the time to chat with us from Germany, where he lives.

How have the last two weeks been?
Eugen Rochko: People probably want to hear that it’s great, all this growth, this success, but right now I’m having a hard time taking that perspective. Above all, it means more work, more fires to put out. It’s incredibly stressful. I work 14 hour days, barely sleep and eat very little.
This whole story coincides with the process of releasing a new version of Mastodon software. Which is already very demanding in itself. And suddenly, you also have to respond to interview requests while managing social networks to seize the opportunity.