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This day’s portion

Some thoughts on the fediverse and Mastodon

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I’ve been fairly active in the fediverse today. On the whole, I’ve enjoyed it, and it feels like something is brewing. I reckon around 10% of my Twitter world has some form of Mastodon presence, and people are definitely posting there.

As everyone is posting something on Mastodon, here’s my twopenneth…

  • The initial choice of an instance seems very important. Most instances cater for a specific interest, political perspective etc. This could be both limiting and liberating: on one hand, what if I make the wrong choice; for example, if it turns out I’m more interested in web development than politics. On the other, my identity is set at this point and I get to be part of a world I’m interested in – off I go.
  • What if my instance gets blocked through no fault of my own?
  • There’s something ironic about being free to join any server and finding “likeminded” folk, and then being pigeonholed by your server choice. A [handle]@twitter.com name expresses nothing beyond whatever handle you choose, but leonp@communists.lol says a lot more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  • What’s to stop some Mr big/a bunch of venture capitalists setting up a huge, well-resourced, “neutral” Mastodon instance that becomes the new, de facto Twitter? Include cross-federated search. Seems worth speculating a few million on…
  • Is federation a panacea for Twitter’s ills? In some ways I think it is: without a single, shared space, it’s a lot harder to spread disinformation without being cut off from the social sphere. Small is good in this respect.
  • But… Mastodon is essentially a Twitter clone: there are follower counts, retweets, likes etc. I can already see the same web development hierarchies forming across instances on Mastodon, through what’s being boosted, #followfriday lists etc. This has made me appreciate micro.blog’s approach to the psychology of social media: it’s a far more democratic space because I have no idea how many followers anyone has. And I predict for that reason it won’t benefit as much from Twitter and Facebook’s demise.
  • Also, you’ll still be performing the check-my-phone-every-two-minutes-for-boosts-and-replies dance that you did on Twitter. This is still insane.
  • The Guardian should set up an instance.
  • I’ve read a couple of articles that say it’s somehow “lazy” to moan about the difficulties of joining the fediverse. I think there’s some truth in this: it’s really not that difficult to set up an account and find people to follow. However, I think this also downplays the strengths of a single platform. How do talented journalists and academics find their audience or even establish a career without Twitter? How do I find them if I need to know which Mastodon instance they’re signed up to? (Cross-federated search again…) Convenience is not a sin in and of itself.
  • I still think it’s better for me (and philosophically) to post to your site and then syndicate to social media, whether that’s Twitter, micro.blog or Mastodon. However, I feel less grubby replying on micro.blog or Mastodon (nothing to do with who’s responding, just the platform owners).

Are you using Mastodon? What do you reckon? It does feel like something new is happening out there. And how long before it all collapses in on itself?

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Techies might have migrated but I think they make up a very tiny portion of Twitter’s user base. People are also leaving Twitter as a knee-jerk reaction to Musk and joining Mastodon on the rebound, which doesn’t bode well in the long term. I think that many will lose interest due to a lot of the problems that you mentioned and also because federated social media is incongruent with the expectations that people have, namely being able to easily find friends, family, and unfortunately celebrities. Administrators will probably start finding that it’s not worth the time, effort, and cost of maintaining a large instance and users will be burnt. I also found the fediverse a mess not because people get impersonated but because it’s so easy to make multiple accounts across different servers. I’m not worried about someone trying to besmirch me—I’m just trying to figure out which of one person’s multiple accounts I should be following.

I’m not a fan of social media in general but it is good to see a federated protocol getting more attention. However, I think that it will be short-lived and in the interim, you will still have people congregating in echo chambers to reinforce their existing beliefs while aggressively banning any instance that might challenge their world view.

Yes, my Twitter timeline is skewed towards the techie, vaguely “indieweb”, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a fair few heading to Mastodon.

I also think it highly unlikely it’ll take off due to the discovery/scaling problems, but maybe someone/org will try and tackle this by providing a cross-federated search (and a funded instance that can handle millions of users). But then you are just making Twitter.

Guilty as charged on messy identities: @paternoster and @leonp

I reckon your prognosis is probably right. I weened myself off social media back in lockdown and published everything here instead; in that respect, Mastodon is just another thing to (try to) syndicate to.

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Comments and replies to this post from other sites and services, such as micro.blog and Mastodon.

jayeless

@leonp All good thoughts there, I reckon! I've definitely also had the thought in recent weeks (as I've got so many new followers, and seen so many introduction/"please follow me" Mastodon posts) that Micro.blog's lack of visible followers/followings is so much more relaxing. I also think newspapers and other...

leonp

@jayeless Ta! Yes, identity is a bit of a mess; I’ve already come across some popular Twitter handles turning up on Mastodon instances which were obviously not set up by the org/person in question. rel="me" is handy, but not everyone has their own site/can add the relevant HTML.

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