Twitter rival Mastodon has turned down more than five investment offers from Silicon Valley venture capital firms in recent months as its founder vowed to protect the nonprofit status of the fast-growing social media platform.
Mastodon, an open-source microblogging site founded by German software developer Eugen Rochko in 2016, has seen a surge in users since Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in October amid concerns over the leadership of the social -Media platform passed by the billionaire.
Rochko told the Financial Times he has received offers from more than five US-based investors to invest “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to support the product following its rapid growth.
But he said the platform’s non-profit status was “untouchable,” adding that Mastodon’s independence and the range of moderation styles on its servers are part of its appeal.
“Mastodon isn’t going to turn into everything you hate about Twitter,” Rochko said. “The fact that it can be sold to a controversial billionaire, the fact that it can be closed, it can go bankrupt and so on. It’s the difference in paradigms [between the platforms].”
This month, Twitter temporarily suspended the accounts of Mastodon and several journalists after they shared content about the trajectory of Musk’s private jet. Twitter also proposed banning links to competing social media platforms, including Mastodon, but later changed course on that policy.
In a subsequent blog post, Rochko said this was a “strong reminder that centralized platforms can set arbitrary and unfair limits on what you can and can’t say,” adding that the number of monthly active users of Mastodon between October increased from 300,000 to 2.5 million and Nov.
Mastodon’s daily downloads rose from 6,000 on Oct. 27, the day Musk took over Twitter, to a peak of 243,000 on Nov. 18, according to Sensor Tower data. Utilization of other smaller competitor sites like Tumblr has also skyrocketed.
Mastodon has similar features to Twitter, but consists of many decentralized, independently moderated servers. Users join a server, but can connect to people on other servers throughout the so-called “connected” system.
Rochko is the sole shareholder of Mastodon and, according to the 2021 annual report, paid in 2,400 euros per month last year, a figure that has since increased by 500 euros.
Mastodon will continue to rely on donations to fund the platform. The site has more than 8,500 donors on the membership platform Patreon, through which it raises over £25,000 a month. This compares to total income of just over €55,000 in the six months from June to December 2021.
According to data from Sensor Tower, the initial wave of new users slowed to 6,000 new daily downloads on Dec. 9, but rebounded to 64,000 on Dec. 18 when Musk restricted links to other social media sites on Twitter.
New users have encountered issues as some servers are struggling to cope with the increased levels of activity and confusion over moderation policies on different servers.
Josh Cowls, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, said Mastodon could evolve into a ‘satellite’ platform for Twitter, ‘that would see greater use during times when Twitter is down and in response to other related scandals with Musk”.
Rochko said his long-term goal for Mastodon is to replace Twitter and other commercial social networks. “It’s a long road, but at the same time it’s bigger than ever.”
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