Mastodon and federation

Pictured here: a federated instance stabbing itself in the brain.
The more I read about Mastodon promoters' opinions on how it should work, the more I think, "How could you possibly think that is how it is going to go?"

One group of people want a Federated Feed Reader:

  • They want to read the clever updates and memes from their friends and favorite celebrities.
  • They want to post a GIF and have their friends validate them by hitting "like" on it.
  • They want to see a feed of all the people they follow.
  • And, maybe, some recommendations or trends.
  • For these people, the best situation is: "It just doesn't matter what instance you are on, don't make me think about it".

Another group of people want Private Walled Gardens:

  • Each instance represents a "community", with shared hopes and dreams.
  • Each instance has their own bespoke, idiosyncratic code of conduct. (Some don't let you swear!)
  • Depending on the admin's policies and whims, vast swaths of the social net might become unreachable, with the ebb and flow of inter-instance policy disputes.
  • The feed of "random people who happen to share your instance" is believed to be as or more interesting than "people you follow on purpose".

  • But these private walled gardens still (mostly) federate, so you can still interact with anybody on any server. The walls just aren't very high. Unless they are very high indeed, and then you get the degenerate case of an instance that federates with nobody, like (I think)

I know a lot of people who want the Federated Feed Reader version. These are the people who were kinda-ok with Twitter but would prefer it to not be dismantled by a billionaire crybaby, and also fewer nazis if at all possible.

The people I know who want the Private Walled Garden version are already using Discord for that. ("Discord: non-federated IRC with emoji-first design.")

Taking something like Mastodon, whose core concept is federation, and then not federating, or limiting federation, is kind of like buying an iPhone and not putting a SIM card in it. Like, yeah, there are use cases where that will work I guess, but if that's what you need there are simpler and more economical ways to get that.

In the olden days, when someone picked as their email host instead of, it wasn't because they thought to themselves, "I have more friends who use Yahoo than Hotmail, so I definitely want it to be easier to communicate with them." It wasn't because, "The Hotmail brand really speaks to my identity." No, they picked one over the other because it seemed like one of them had a website that sucked less.

But Mastodon instances aren't even competing on that! They seem to all be running the same version of the same software, so aside from some banner images and icons, they are all exactly the same user interface. This is great if you are in the "Federated Feed Reader" camp, less so for the "we are all unique flowers" camp.

So what I think is going to happen is, the Twitter Diaspora is going to descend on Mastodon, and they're going to pick their instances essentially at random, for example through the time-tested technique of "the first one on the list that isn't currently closed for sign-ups". And then a few months later, the people actually running those instances are going to start flexing their muscle, and the users' response will be, "Wait, who even are you? This sucks. I just wanted my memes".

It's gonna go great!

Previously, previously, previously.

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