Who owns Mastodon?

Mastodon is a social network platform that operates on a decentralized system without a central server controlling user data. Instead, users can create their own servers and communities with specific rules.

Mastodon offers privacy and free speech since users can create and join niche communities without being subject to the algorithms and censorship of traditional social media platforms. 

Mastodon’s unique structure also allows users to follow and interact with others across instances (servers), promoting a more connected and diverse online community. First announced on Hacker News in 2016 and created by Eugen Rochko, Mastodon’s adoption rate increased substantially after Elon Musk acquired Twitter.

Mastodon Social’s ownership structure

Since the platform is an open-source and decentralized social networking service, it is not owned by any individual or company.

The software is available for anyone to use and modify under the terms of the GNU Affero General Public License. The Mastodon project is supported by a community of developers and users who contribute to its development and maintenance.

Mastodon is collectively owned by server administrators who are free to dictate their own terms of service. This lack of centralization means it would be near impossible for an entity to acquire the platform. Even if it did obtain access to the software, it would not have control over the content on each server and, in any case, each server is owned by a different person.

Mastodon gGmbH

Rochko established the German non-profit Mastodon gGmbH in 2021 to “provide clear separation between me as a natural person and Mastodon as a legal and fiscal entity.” According to the inaugural annual report, Mastodon GmbH is 100% owned by Rochko

Mastodon’s incorporation was beneficial on three fronts:

  1. Transfer of assets – assets owned by Rochko such as the mastodon.social and mastodon.online instances would be transferred to Mastodon GmbH.
  2. Potential for future relationships – the non-profit legal structure enables new entities to be added to the partnership clearly and transparently. This arrangement is well suited to the platform’s open-source nature because incorporation creates a governance structure to manage key contributors.
  3. Risk reduction – Rochko also acknowledged that Mastodon had reached a size where it was vulnerable to legal confrontations of some nature. As a non-profit, Mastodon can entertain risks more comfortably and protect the private capital of contributors. 

The annual report also noted that between June and December 2021, the platform earned €55.3k via Patreon and Stripe. It also received an €8.9k grant financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. 

At the end of the year, NLnet also agreed to fund Mastodon’s research and development for 2022 with an additional €45k contribution. This capital would later prove very useful as Mastodon’s servers were overwhelmed with new users after Musk acquired Twitter.

Key takeaways:

  • Mastodon is a social network platform that operates on a decentralized system without a central server controlling user data. It was created by Eugen Rochko in 2016 and first announced by Hacker News.
  • Since Mastodon Social is an open-source and decentralized social networking service, it is not owned by any individual or company. This lack of centralization means it would be almost impossible for an entity to acquire the platform in its entirety.
  • Rochko established the German non-profit Mastodon gGmbH in 2021 to provide separation between himself and Mastodon as a fiscal and legal entity.

Key Highlights of Mastodon’s Ownership and Structure:

  • Decentralized Platform:
    • Mastodon is a decentralized social network platform that operates without a central server controlling user data.
    • Users can create their own servers and communities, enjoying privacy, free speech, and the ability to avoid algorithms and censorship common on traditional social media platforms.
  • Connected and Diverse Community:
    • Users can interact across instances (servers), fostering a more interconnected and diverse online community.
    • Niche communities can be created and joined, providing an alternative to mainstream social media platforms.
  • Ownership Structure:
    • Mastodon is open-source and collectively owned by server administrators who set their own terms of service.
    • The decentralized nature of the platform makes it challenging for any individual or entity to acquire full control, as each server is owned by a different person.
  • Mastodon gGmbH:
    • Eugen Rochko established the German non-profit Mastodon gGmbH in 2021 to establish a legal and fiscal entity for Mastodon.
    • This incorporation helped transfer assets, facilitate potential future relationships, and reduce legal risks.
    • Rochko owns 100% of Mastodon gGmbH, which enhances governance and risk management for the platform.
  • Funding and Support:
    • Mastodon’s development is supported by a community of developers and users.
    • The platform earned funds through sources like Patreon and Stripe, as well as grants from organizations like the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and NLnet.

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