Every year or so, a new alternative social network gets a lot of over-night buzz. The attention usually revolves around being 'anti-Facebook' or 'anti-Twitter.' Bloggers, the media, and early adopters find these networks particularly interesting because they are potential challengers. Of course, these services also have differentiating angles that validate their "anti" status; things like being ad-free, privacy-friendly, or decentralized.
99% of the time, these 'anti' social networks fade away nearly as quickly as they rise. As exciting as they may be for a week or two, they always lack a solid business model. More importantly, they lack sustainable network effects. You may remember Ello, App.net, Peach, At the Pool and Diaspora - but even if you used them, it is unlikely that you were a monthly active user beyond month two. Even huge initiatives by tech giants (i.e. Google+ and Microsoft's So.cl) struggled and eventually failed to outlast their early momentum.
This week, a service called Mastodon has been getting its 15 minutes of fame. It is open-sourced and decentralized, with multiple 'instances.' This means I'm @socialnerdia on http://mastodon.cx but there are dozens of other urls where anyone can get the same user name. Beyond the technical stuff and identity mumbo jumbo that most social media users would not care much for --- Mastodon is basically a bad clone of early Twitter.
As with a plethora of predecessors before it, Mastodon messages (which may be strangely named 'toots') seem to focus on, well, Mastodon. The last thing you want in a social network is people talking mostly about the social network itself. This naturally leads to ghost town status.
Unlike social media forces of nature like Snapchat, Pinterest, and Instagram; 'anti' social networks have an expiration date. While they are impressive PR achievements, and in some cases, worthy of praise for their technical and functional creativity -- there's not much substance beyond the headlines. Growth through novelty buzz very rarely outlives that novelty status. Social media users don't want slightly different networks -- they want radically different or exponentially better alternatives. And those are rare to come by because the barriers to entry are so high. As such, Mastodon is doomed to become a ghost town, albeit one with multiple instances.