Mastodon pilot for research and education

SURF and Universities of the Netherlands are jointly exploring Mastodon as an open source platform for education and research in the Netherlands. In which public values are paramount. We launched a pilot in February 2023. Join us and discover how students, researchers, staff and institutions can experiment with Mastodon in a low-threshold way.

Twee handen met telefoon en laptop

About the Mastodon pilot

For the Mastodon pilot launched in February 2023, SURF is setting up a Mastodon server for education and research. And maintains it. Why participate in the pilot as an institution? What will it benefit us as a sector? And what are the preconditions?

Practical information for institutions

  • For whom: the following institutions can participate in SURF's Mastodon pilot: universities, universities of applied sciences, mbo institutes, research institutes and UMC's.
  • Start of pilot: February 2023
  • Duration: The pilot phase has been extended until the end of 2024. We are currently evaluating the 2023 pilot period and will soon start working with the members of SURF to investigate the opportunities to move from the pilot phase to a regular SURF service.
  • Commitment: Sometimes pilots are closed early. Should this be necessary, we notify users at least three months in advance. This gives them enough time to export their data and find another Mastodon server.
  • Costs: As an institution, you pay nothing for participating in the pilot.

As an institution, you make the pilot environment available to your users via the SURFconext Dashboard. Read more.

More information on practical aspects of the pilot can be found in the FAQ. You can also contact

Focus on using, not hosting

Anyone can set up and host their own Mastodon server. But if you want to do this in a reliable, scalable and secure way, you need a lot of expertise on IT infrastructure, software, databases, security and privacy. That is why SURF provides a pilot environment and institutions and individual users can focus on using it. They do not have to deal with the technology, availability and maintenance of the server.

What do we want to achieve and explore?

Approachable exploration in a familiar environment

The pilot environment allows education and research to explore what Mastodon is and what it does (and does not) offer them. Access is low-threshold by using an existing institution account. We offer a reliable and well-managed pilot environment in the Mastodon network of now thousands of linked Mastodon environments. The pilot makes the choice easier for interested parties for whom the decentralised concept is new or who find it difficult to judge via which Mastodon server or section criteria they should connect to the Mastodon network.

The Mastodon pilot environment can be used by students, researchers and staff of institutions but also offers opportunities for institutions to gain experience themselves. Think of marketing communication teams, social media teams or faculties and research groups with their own social media presence.

Developing governance together

Mastodon is growing strongly: people appreciate the manners, constructive attitude and quality of the posts on this platform. Within the Mastodon network, each server owner determines and oversees the user rules. During the pilot, a team from SURF will take on this role to maintain a constructive and safe atmosphere on our Mastodon environment.

We are also investigating how we as a sector can arrive at a supported governance and procedures for drawing up user rules and guidelines, and for their enforcement (moderation). How can we as a sector act jointly in this and what does this mean for the necessary resources and the (legal) responsibilities of institutions, users and SURF.

Investigating technological innovation

The Mastodon network is a so-called decentralised, federated network. This set-up is interesting for research and education. In the pilot, we investigate issues such as the fediverse, activity pub and other open protocols and standards that can add value to the digitisation of education and research.

Investigating longer-term needs

We are investigating and discussing the sector's needs in the longer term and in what form there are opportunities. Do we want one large (general) Mastodon environment, or do institutions want their own environment per institution? And: how intensively is this platform used, and how is it appreciated by users?

Even more reasons for having our own Mastodon server

  • Our server is connected to the global network of now thousands of Mastodon servers. This not only puts you in touch with research and education in the Netherlands, but also with people who are members of other Mastodon servers.
  • By letting users log in with their existing institution account (via SURFconext), users are traceable. This way, we minimise the chance of unwanted things like bots, troll armies, spam and disinformation on our server. Users retain the freedom to be active under a pseudonym by choosing their own username.
  • We support group accounts where several people are active, e.g. marketing communication teams of institutions, social media and webcare teams or event teams. Sharing the password for one account among several employees is thus a thing of the past.
  • By setting up a Mastodon server together as a sector, we can better express the public values we consider important within research and education. Think justice, autonomy and humanity.