Mike Becky

The Active User Narrative

Mastodon Project Website

Josh Nicholas, writing for the Guardian:

The number of active users on the Mastodon social network has dropped more than 30% since the peak and is continuing a slow decline, according to the latest data posted on its website. There were about 1.8 million active users in the first week of January, down from over 2.5 million in early December.

The article is titled “Elon Musk Drove More Than a Million People to Mastodon – but Many Aren’t Sticking Around” and the paragraph above is the lede. It paints a dire picture for Mastodon.

But then we get to this bit:

There were about 500,000 active Mastodon users before Elon Musk took control of Twitter at the end of October. By mid-November, that number climbed to almost 2 million active users.

Wait. Over the past three months, Mastodon went from 500,000 users to 1.8 million and they’re spinning this as a bad thing because it didn’t continue to climb or maintain its peak? That’s completely absurd.

There are going to be peaks and valleys. And you can’t expect any social network to maintain its peak number of active user when there’s a massive surge like this. Anyone could have told you that it wouldn’t last. But the important point isn’t that it didn’t maintain its peak. The important point is that the number of Mastodon users has grown 260% in three months.

That’s a tremendous accomplishment. And not just for Mastodon, but for ActivityPub, open source, and the health of the open web. That should be the lede.

Matt Hauger shared a couple of graphs charting Mastodon’s active user numbers. And it illustrates how the state of things looks drastically different depending on where the timeframe begins. And while I agree with him that I’d prefer to see the trend line curving upward, I think it’s dishonest to frame the situation with such a pessimistic bend like Josh Nicholas has.

When I first joined Twitter in 2007, there were less than 700,000 accounts on the platform. I have no idea how many of those were active — I could only find numbers that went back to 2010 — but given how early it was and the total user count, I would guess that the monthly active user number wasn’t too far off from the 500,000 that we had on Mastodon in October.

Compared to Twitter, Mastodon has a much higher barrier to entry. The competition is far more established than it was when Twitter launched and they don’t have the benefit of millions of dollars of venture capital to spur growth.

But here’s the thing, although I would love to see Mastodon and other ActivityPub-based services grow, I understand that what is already there is great. I had fun on Twitter in 2007 and I’m having a ton of fun on Mastodon now.

Mastodon doesn’t need to maintain the explosive growth it’s had in the wake of Elon acquiring Twitter. And for the long-term health of the network, it would be better for Mastodon to grow slowly, allowing developers to tackle the inevitable scaling issues with a steadier hand.

And it should go without saying, but it needs to be said — Twitter doesn’t have to fail in order for Mastodon to succeed.

Previous:
Next: