So with all the recent goings on regarding Twitter more folks are thinking of quitting or moving to alternatives. @ismh and the Connected fellas had a very thoughtful conversation on the most recent episode. A couple years back I set-up an account at Mastodon out of curiosity. I’ve used it a bit, checked in every so often. But never really invested in it. That said, I’ve also only ever been a fairly passive user of Twitter. I don’t use Twitter to promote anything and have not really had the deeper, more expansive experience that Stephen and others describe. I mostly get my important information via RSS and podcasts so, given a lack of personal connections, it’s not been that important.
With all that said, I’ve felt a lack in that there was a time when I spent more time, quite a bit pre-2010, on blogs reading and commenting. Then a bit on FB for a couple years. And various Apple forums like Mac Central, MPU, etc. Which is to say, I kind of wish I’d spent more time at Twitter, I just never did. It never clicked for me.
So, the point of this post, Mastodon and the Fediverse. I jumped back in a few days ago. I didn’t really expect to settle in for an extended visit. But something seems to have clicked this time. To be honest, I’m actually feeling something that might be actual excitement.
Several things have clicked this time…
The overall tone is different. This could change over time but there seems to be a solid foundation of respect and tolerance in the Mastodon culture. It’s less adversarial.
In terms of interests, lots of science, art and counter culture. Of course, plenty of tech. Within a 20 minute span of time, as I browsed through introductions, I came across 2 people who are working on the JWST, both at NASA. There seem to be gobs of active science folks.
The vibe reminds me of the geeky older web that I fondly remember from the late 90s early 2000’s. Blogs, Live Journal, etc. Not surprisingly, there’s an uptick in activity. New accounts and refreshed activity on older accounts.
I’m not sure how it will evolve over time but the model/structure is completely different from Twitter though it has a similar feel. It has greatly improved over the past 2 to 3 years. In fact, using the web interface and the native iPad client have both been a pleasure and far better than my experience with Twitter. For those that may not be familiar Mastodon is really just one portion of the larger “Fediverse”… again, reminding me of an earlier time on the internet. There are different servers, usually called instances, that have their own unique address and sub-community. But, like email, it all works together. When I set my account up I was unaware of the nuances and just set-up firstname.lastname@example.org which was one of the larger, primary instances at the time. But were I to set-up today I might look for a server run by a group with interests I share. It’s not a necessity as I can communicate fine with anyone on any other instance. But a benefit of setting up on a smaller instance defined by a shared interest is that when viewing the “local” timeline more content will be relevant as it’s coming just from that instance.
On that, there are three feeds/timelines: local, a federated and home. The local feed are all posts on your instance whether you follow or not. The Federated timeline is everyone with an account on any instance. Then there’s home, that’s the feed of folks you follow. The federated feed is useful for casting a wide net looking for a topic via hashtag.
A note on using the website, it’s vastly improved over what I remember. Or maybe I’m just getting used to it. But multiple columns/panes, all easy to customize. Currenty I’ve got my account on the left pane. From here I can send a “toot”, or search. Next my Home feed, then two hashtag searches I’m reading through. One for introductions for new folks, a good way to find people with shared interests. The next for solarpunk. The last, 5th pane, is the pane populated when I click on a user or individual toot. Sort of the detail view of whatever I might select in the other panels. I can open up as many panes as I want though I have to side scroll to view them! My 27" monitor shows 4 panes and a portion of the 5th. A cool thing about the panes is that I can view a search based on a single hashtag or multiple hashtags with any, all or none as modifiers. Very cool!
Obviously, the Fediverse user base is much smaller than Twitter. But I’m finding that the user experience clicks better for me. Add to that the fact that this is much more the old school web, a more decentralized model I’d much rather support over the corporate monolith that is Twitter. Time will tell how the Fediverse handles growth in terms of behavior, ethics, etc.
The last bit I’d throw into the mix concerns adoption by Twitter users. One of the common responses that I’ve seen is along the lines of “I’m not going to bother because there aren’t enough users there.” Somewhat implied is that not only is it not worth it but that it won’t last. To this I would point to the conversation the Connected fellas had that I mentioned at the beginning of the post. There is a sense that while Twitter might figure things out, it may right itself and be a place that many currently there will remain and feel comfortable. It may not. For those that value this kind of network and who are concerned with the present/future of Twitter, why not take a look and dip in a bit? It would seem to me that the Fediverse represents the best possible hope for a the next step, one that is not corporate, that harkens back to the origins of the internet but does so looking to the future. I see real hope here for a different kind of social media that allows for the development of local sub-group culture even as it it allows for larger connectivity.