My initial impressions: Mastodon is slow as molasses and way too confusing to get started for most potential users. (Having to pick an initial server probably stops 90% of the curious from going any further.) But if the service — sorry, fediverse — can get past these teething issues and attract a critical mass of interesting people, I think there’s good potential for it to become a saner global public square.
For those Gen X and older, Mastodon’s speed and clunky onboarding will bring back memories of the early web and maybe even prehistoric dial-up CompuServe. But once you’re in, it feels close enough to Twitter (sans ads, algorithms, and quote Tweets) that there’s not much else to learn if you want to keep it simple — and plenty of useful features if you want to go deeper. I find that the web interface is much more responsive than the Mastodon app, which frequently loses connection on the server I’m using.
Given these barriers to entry, it’s not surprising that Mastodon’s community also feels like the early web/Usenet: nerds and early adopters chatting about niche topics, largely politely and thoughtfully. A little dull compared to the 24/7 outrage engine that is Twitter, but maybe that’s not a bad thing!