I thought that if I left Twitter, I could find a new social network that would give it some competition (Twitter’s monopoly on the social space is a big reason it can ignore people who are abused and harassed, while punishing people for reporting their attackers), so I fired up this account I made at Mastodon a long time ago.
I thought I’d find something different. I thought I’d find a smaller community that was more like Twitter was way back in 2008 or 2009. Cat pictures! Jokes! Links to interesting things that we found in the backwaters of the internet! Interaction with friends we just haven’t met, yet! What I found was … not that.
I’m sure that Wheaton’s experience of Mastodon doesn’t describe all Mastodon interactions. The same could be said of Twitter. In both cases, the trollish elements spoil the experience for everyone else.
His experience doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Mastodon as a more civil alternative to Twitter. This isn’t because Mastodon is fundamentally bad, it’s just being used by people who are behaving much the same as other people on Twitter who I’d prefer to avoid having to deal with.
I’ve been trying to follow discussions about a return to blogs as a preferred, personal publishing tool, and how they could integrate with Mastodon. One technology that comes up as a possible way to connect blogs to Mastodon is WebSub (formerly PubSubHubbub).
I read a bit about using Bridgy Fed to do this a while ago.
I’m curious if there are easier ways to connect a blog to something like Mastodon, and have status updates flow between the two.
One of the people who I try to keep up with (albeit superficially), is Kevin Marks. It’s worth reading his thoughts about Mastodon and Twitter that he published last year: “Mastodon, Twitter and publics 2017-04-24“.
One of the challenges is that the “fediverse” model is somewhat more complex and nuanced than the model we see in Twitter and, to a large degree, in Facebook. On Facebook and Twitter, we tend to have a binary choice: follow or don’t follow.
In a fediverse model, there are more layers, potentially:
The structure of Mastodon and GnuSocial instances provides multiple visible publics by default, and Mastodon’s columnar layout (on wider screens) emphasises this. You have your own public of those you follow, and the notifications sent back in response, as with Twitter. But you also have two more timeline choices – the Local and the Federated. These make the substructure manifest. Local is everyone else posting on your instance. The people who share a server with you are now a default peer group. The Federated public is even more confusing to those with a silo viewpoint. It shows all the posts that this instance has seen – GnuSocial calls it “the whole known network” – all those followed by you and others on your instance. This is not the whole fediverse, it’s still a window on part of it.
This sort of model may be a little more effort than most people would be comfortable with.
Like many people, I’m not exactly in love with Twitter lately (except when I am). I’ve been on the lookout for something better for years (remember Jaiku?). I really like the idea of a federated update/micro-blogging service, and Mastodon has all the features you’d want.
What about the network effect?
The one feature that’s missing is the one factor that either boosts or kills any social service (again, remember Jaiku?) is the all important network effect. As Richard MacManus put it in his post titled “How social media fits into the Open Web” in AltPlatform.org (I can’t seem to load the site and provide a link):
I dip into Mastodon from time to time, but it just hasn’t managed to become part of my daily Web routine. Perhaps it will in future, but the old ‘network effects’ rule applies here: the value of a tool is ultimately in the strength of the community it builds.
This probably isn’t the platform I’d expect to see my friends on (and I don’t expect to). Still, if Mastodon is to be a viable alternative to Twitter for me, I’d want to be able to join communities that feature the people who I follow on Twitter. At the moment, I’m not sure most of them are even aware of Mastodon.
More importantly, what about my blog?
As interested as I am in a federated alternative to Twitter, what I really want is to be able to use my blog as my starting point for everything. Why can’t my personal site be the focal point of my presence on the web (at least one of my primary expressions of my self online)?
This takes me back to the work the IndieWeb community is doing to link all these sites together into a federated identity, and content network. How about extending that work to the point where I can use this blog as my identity that reaches into these federated networks?
This may be wishful thinking but I’d really like to see a future version of WordPress introduce this social connectivity that allows me to extend a unified personal presence to non-blog platforms.
On Mastodon, my identity is linked to the instance I am a part of. There, I am @email@example.com. I can use that identity to participate in other Mastodon instances (I think), so I have the beginnings of a distributed, social identity here. The challenge is that my nascent social identity is distinct from this site.