New social networks and new domains, the perfect match

Last week, we highlighted several ways that big brands and enterprises are using our new gTLDs in innovative ways. These companies have the infrastructure and resources to implement domain names in ways that can reach millions of users at once. But it’s not just enterprises that are innovating in the domain space. Smaller startup businesses and individuals have a lot of flexibility to take an idea and run with it quickly. That seemed to be the case a few months ago when a new concept in social networking captured the attention of the tech blogosphere and hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

Mastodon is a new social network that is distributed and decentralized, which means no one entity runs the service. Instead, any individual with a server, some technical know-how, and a domain name can start an “instance” of Mastodon, operating their own little version of what is essentially a Twitter-like microblogging site. User accounts and data are effectively spread throughout the world, but are still connected to one another by the Mastodon platform. The idea of a decentralized social network is clearly very appealing to many, especially those with privacy and data security concerns; this past April, the number of users and servers skyrocketed.

Eugen Rochko, the software developer that built Mastodon, launched the service late in 2016, using the highly appropriate domain, Mastodon.social. As many of our partners and users have attested, startup companies are great candidates for new gTLDs, but the .SOCIAL story doesn’t end with Eugen’s Mastodon domain. In fact, new domains of all kinds are thriving among Mastodon’s enthusiastic fan base.

Each Mastodon server has a public-facing web page directing users to a login or sign-up form. Remember, unlike Facebook or Twitter, each server runs an independent version of Mastodon, so each of these web pages needs its own domain name—which in turn, becomes its “name” among users. A list at Mastodon.xyz shows the many creative domains that operators are coming up with, including everything from BookWitty.social, to Cybre.space, to Toot.cafe.

What quickly becomes clear going down this list of Mastodon servers is that new gTLDs have a significant presence. In fact as of the end of June 2017, Mastodon server names were spread fairly evenly between legacy TLDs (532), ccTLDs (507), and new gTLDs (501). Among new gTLDs, .SOCIAL is this most prevalent, with 82 Mastodon servers (5% of the total) using the extension, making it the fifth most numerous among all TLDs. Thanks in large part to Mastodon.social itself, the .SOCIAL TLD accounts for over 98,000 Mastodon users, the third most of any TLD. Among our own TLDs, .NINJA.ROCKS.LIVE.SOFTWARE.STUDIO, and even .ARMY are being used as Mastodon domains.

What does the popularity of new gTLDs on Mastodon mean? It could simply be that providers of Mastodon servers are more aware of new gTLDs themselves, and are using them at a higher rate than the general public. But a the broader picture suggests that younger, tech-savvy users are also more comfortable exploring non-Legacy TLD solutions for the myriad of ways domain names are being used in the modern web. Whether Mastodon itself can continue to thrive following its sudden popularity has yet to be seen, but the concept of distributed social networks is likely here to stay. If Mastodon is any indication, this could be good very news for new domains in the near future.