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) cohost.org.

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 yahoo.com as their email host instead of hotmail.com, 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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Current Music: Kid Moxie -- Shine ♬

114 Responses:

  1. Hanan Cohen says:
    2

    This is true if you write English and don't belong to a defined community.

    I am on the first Hebrew/Israeli instance, my friends are there and those that leave twitter mostly join this instance.

    The admins are longtime friends and we encouraged them to open a Patreon in order for us to support their hard work.

    • jwz says:
      12

      "I'm friends with the admin so we don't need no federation" is exactly what I was talking about in the second use case. If that works for you, great. You could be using Discord and it would probably work exactly the same, but you do you.

      I do not think that this is what the teeming Twitter hordes who are about to descend like locusts want.

      • Hanan Cohen says:
        3

        I am not going to counterpoint you because it's useless so I will try to push this discussion further.

        One of the scenarios that were mentioned was that Google will open Mastodon instances for everyone and put ads on them. What do you think about that?

        • Nik says:
          7

          To be facetious about it - there's no point thinking about it. Google turning up to someone else's party invariably results in them canning their version a short while later, presumably once the tax benefits outweigh the salaries paid.

          I think they've already done this at least twice with Twitter-but-google, but I might be too old and fuddy-duddery to tell the difference by now.

          • Nik says:
            6

            (if any sort of disclaimer were necessary I'm one of those people who got in on "Google apps for your domain" early and almost gets around to moving email somewhere else whenever they're definitely getting rid of the free version this time, but then they don't and procrastination has emerged victorious once again!)

        • Ars's incredible and horrible history of Google's chat strategy[1] is instructive here. Mastodon is XMPP. It will never be remotely successful (mastodon.social appears to have suspended signups at 180k; none of the other TLDs sound like they'll be around by renewal time) until one of the big boys launches a server, and if they do they will either kill it off within five years or de-federate it.

          [1] https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2021/08/a-decade-and-a-half-of-instability-the-history-of-google-messaging-apps/

  2. Matthew says:
    3

    It's gonna be messy, no doubt.

    Of course there's gonna be schisms.  But the software has a whole button for "my admin is a dick I'm outta here".  Flouncing off in a tantrum is a core mechanism as much as "like" is.  That's new and very welcome.  The idea is that there will now commence a Great Sorting as the network partitions itself into socially compatible subnetworks.  The walls are low and communities will bleed into each other, but the further away you are from Gab the fewer Nazis you will see.  And since that process will take time, both admins and users should go gently for a while.  It might work?  Or putting a billionaire in charge of the public sphere might work.  Place your bets I guess.

    Thing is, this is nothing, right?  Twitter.  It's a hundred million people, minus however many are bots.  It's peanuts.  When WordPress adds ActivityPub support, that's your Eternal September.  At that point it doesn't much matter what Mastodon was trying to achieve.

    • asan102 says:
      4

      the software has a whole button for "my admin is a dick I'm outta here".  

      This seems like a reasonable status quo, except that I've heard your whole post and DM history is nuked if you change servers?

      • Matthew says:
        4

        Yep, that's right.  That's a big caveat, and the reason why "just pick a server" is not great advice - you'd prefer to avoid moving if possible.  But it's a much lower barrier than for any other social network.  Your friends come with you, and that's the big factor trapping people where they are.  If you're worried about your posts disappearing down the memory hole, you can always download an archive.  But of course you should be doing that anyway, since any of these servers might turn into fairy dust tomorrow.

        In case it's not clear, the reason your history doesn't come along is the code of conduct.  Moderators are busy enough without re-approving 16 years of your shitposting.

        • asan102 says:
          1

          In case it's not clear, the reason your history doesn't come along is the code of conduct.  Moderators are busy enough without re-approving 16 years of your shitposting.

          I mean, they very obviously could just not do that. they are *historical* posts, surely the Code of Conduct does not apply to past events. Hell just keep them on the original server if that makes everyone happy, but there's no reason to maintain the fiction that this "new user" is not the same person who was posting elsewhere before and inconvenience all their followers.

          • Alan Bell says:

            They do stay on the original server. Not sure what the complaint is really. You can boost them from your new account if you want your new followers and local timeline to see them. The posts don't in any way vanish if you just decide to move (maybe if you get booted off for posting something particularly horrific they might be removed, but we are talking about a user initiated move here). If there was a way to import old posts then that would mean implementing an API that can post things into the past, which means it would be abused for posting things into the past. If there is a better way to do it that doesn't have abuse potential then you can absolutely contribute the code to do it.

        • Rob Landley says:
          1

          The process is export archive, import archive, forward old account. They did a blog post about it. https://blog.joinmastodon.org/2019/06/how-to-migrate-from-one-server-to-another/

          • Rob Landley says:
            1

            If the new server won't import an archive, you can set up your own. Some feeds on mastodon are already generated by a plug-in to blogging software...

      • BP says:

        I think this is a lot like when you change your email service provider. You don't get to take your whole email history with you. And people don't expect to. But you do get to keep your contacts. The one advantage I see with Mastodon is that there is no need to contact all your friends and tell them you have changed your location.

        • sleep says:

          you can leave your UX expectations in the early ‘90s if you want, but i suspect they’ll be quite lonely there

        • Colby says:

          when you change your email service provider. You don't get to take your whole email history with you

          This awful analogy with a not-even-true premise is awful.

  3. cmt says:
    1

    Let's see what happens when the spambots follow the users (they always do, it's only a matter of time). I generally like the idea of a federated network that can't just be bought up/shut down/screwed up by some random company or billionaire, but then I realize that it involves even more people, so meh.

    • tfb says:
      7

      Once upon a time there was a federated network which 'could not just be bought up/shut down/screwed up by some random company or billionaire': it was called 'the internet'.  That worked out well.

      • 5

        95% of current Internet traffic is between about six TLDs. There are exactly two ways to get a platform on it these days: the first is to get an account at Blogspot, which is a service Google uses to train AIs to spam its own search results into total ruin, while the other is to get an account at Substack, where the Peter Thiel Foundation will pay you to write about the restorative properties of orphan blood.

        The other federated network is email. This is more restrictive.

      • Dave says:
        1

        Can't tell if you are being sarcastic about the outcome, but you are correct.   A Mastodon strikes me as website hosting albeit with a micro-blogging framework.  It's basically Tumblr then.  

        The original WWW is "decentralized" and there is no reason people can't rediscover developing their own http soap boxes and interlinking.  

        • tfb says:
          1

          All I meant was that when someone starts talking about 'a federated network that can't just be bought up/shut down/screwed up by some random company or billionaire' ... well, there have been multiple iterations of such things (usenet, email, the pre-www internet, the post-www internet, ...) and each iteration had at least one generation of people making noise about how, this time, the thing couldn't be either destroyed or turned into a machine for pouring money and fragments of souls into the pockets of soul-eating kleptocrats.

          And, each time, that's exactly what happened.  And that is what will happen this time.

  4. Kazriko says:

    This is pretty much why I made my own instance. I want a feed reader, and I want to be able to reach out and follow anyone I want without anyone else deciding for me. If I wanted to hang out with like-minded friends, I can do that on another service. Of course, Newsblur is even better as a feed reader, so it serves mostly as a location that my friends in other places know I am, so that they can reach me in the rare event that other services like Discord or Twitter go nuts and start booting people.

    • asan102 says:
      2

      It seems to me you generally can "follow anyone I want without anyone else deciding for me," with the one caveat of servers everyone blocks because they're full of nazis. most of the servers i've checked out seem to just pull down a common list of them. is not being able to follow the nazis the part you object to?

      • Kazriko says:
        7

        There's a certain subset of people on the internet who like to tar everyone they disagree with using the brush of Nazi. In doing so, they end up falsely labeling a lot of ordinary people as nazis. This is what I try to avoid by running my own instance. It's not just so-called Nazis, but a ton of Japanese instances that get banned on these sites as well though, as well as any instance that says that they're for free speech. That last thing was something that has been integral to the internet since it went public, and was a common feature of much of the computer culture of the pre-public-internet days of dialup BBSes and Usenet. It's only recently that it's somehow become "nazi" to think that free speech is a positive.

        • Yildo says:

          I am under the impression that those Japanese instances tend to be defederated for not blocking CSAM/lolicon effectively. Is that an unfair summary?

          • Kazriko says:
            1

            Just because some people misbehave on an instance doesn't mean that all of them do. I can instead just follow those people the instances that aren't misbehaving by having an instance that doesn't have the blanket ban. That is the point of having your own instance, you can avoid throwing out many babies with the bathwater. The large instances must do that to protect themselves against one of their members following the wrong thing though.

            • Fighting says:
              5

              lmao about the nazi thing. "wrongthink" jesus christ read another book.

              we all know about Godwin's law, yes, but I feel like "they call everyone who disagreed with them nazis!" is also played out. A lot of actual fascists and far right figures have used that line to deflect in recent years.

              Free Speech is also a dogwhistle. Yes, there are some actually committed and principled free speech advocates out there, I know they exist. There are free speech advocates who will truly champion the voices of all. The old webmaster of 8chan (Hotwheels) was a modern example, and he was used and thrown away by the far right for his principals. But consider how influential people like Elon Musk use the phrase, to see why it raises hackles. Elon calls for free speech, but not for the marginalised. He will fire and harass his workers who exercise their free speech to disagree with him. He is not a principled free speech advocate, he is hijacking that rhetoric as a dogwhistle. So when people who talk about "free speech", and they share many of Elon's other political leanings, is it any wonder they're treated with suspicion?

              You're right that not everyone on each JP instances shares CSAM. But also considering the controversial and illegal nature of that content, is it any wonder it gets handled with caution? Besides, lolicon is also a controversial topic within Japan. I can guarantee its banned on some JP instances as well. I'm sure many admins don't want to throw "babies out with the bathwater", they just don't want anyone throwing illegal baby penis into the public TL, and need to restrict  aggressively to that end because of the illegal nature of it.

              • Kazriko says:
                2

                I don't see how anything you've said is relevant to my point. I never said that other instances should be required to allow you to federate with all other instances, just that it is valid to want to create your own instance so that you can follow other people on instances that other instances block. If you want to argue about Elon Musk or the far right, do it on some other thread.

              • Kazriko says:

                (Also, you seem to have missed it, but if you look at the post that you replied to, I already addressed your entire point about "the public TL" with the last sentence.)

      • George Dorn says:
        2

        In the early years, a group of anti-nazi crusaders did a great job building block lists and convincing properly moderated instances to follow them.  But people being people, they got drunk on their own power and there was some collateral damage.  Specifically, the group decided anybody who didn't follow the block list deserved to be on the block list, and that carried on for a few rounds further than it should have.

        I left my first long-term instance because it followed that mob far enough to silence (not block) and entire swath of non-Mastodon instances, making it really hard to interact with developers of competing-yet-interoperable fediverse projects.  This may have been the point of the overzealous inclusions...

        So no, not everybody who leaves a well-moderated instance to handle their own moderation is doing so because they want to hang with the nazis.  If they did, there's way easier ways to do so.

  5. jsw says:
    1

    Scalability, resilience and moderation are all expensive. If 5-10% of twitter lands on Mastodon, I'm not sure who is going to pay for all that.

    • sleep says:
      1

      yet another in-built death knell for this platform

    • Rob Landley says:
      5

      Tim Berners-Lee's Great invention was the 404 error. How do you solve the hypertext cross server consistency problem? You don't. And suddenly everything half-assedly sort of worked. Saying this new thing scales like the web and is thus doomed seems a bit ignorant of history.

  6. larry hosken says:
    2

    "degenerate case of an instance that federates with nobody, like (I think) cohost.org." I thought cohost.org is its own, not-mastodon thing. When you say "instance that federates with nobody", I think of counter.social.

    • jwz says:
      3

      Yeah maybe that's the one I was thinking of.

      • andrew says:

        I tried counter.social before the Great Exodus began and it looked fun, but I didn't know many people on it and it was less reliable than its very outspoken host promised.  On a small mastodon instance I follow people I care about and can mute everyone else, so that's where I am now.

    • Dusk says:

      I thought cohost.org is its own, not-mastodon thing.

      Correct. It's much more like Tumblr than anything.

      • xbat says:
        1

        I'd say it's closer to LiveJournal, since it has comments attached to posts instead having to reblog-with-additions.

  7. extra88 says:
    1

    For most people, I think it's a spectrum, not a binary. For those who want emphasis on the Private, Discord is a better fit. But I bet many coming from Twitter want more limits on what they have to see and who can participate but they still want to be seen beyond their in-group; they don't want a VIP room, they want a slightly elevated VIP area with a velvet rope.

    "Random people who happen to share your instance" aka "Local" probably isn't something to spend much time on unless A) the instance a really small group that you already know B) posting rules require posts to be on-topic, something that I think really works against the ethos of Mastodon. Again, yes, Discord would be a better fit for people looking for those things. If an instance has an affinity group, sampling Local might be a good way to find more people to follow (after boosts by those you already follow).

    I think the ability to choose between Public (not just discoverable within Mastodon but web indexable) and Followers-only (not those things) on a per-post basis could be very appealing for many people but that's unrelated to how instances are run.

    • marijane says:
      1

      As a member of an affinity group instance, glammr.us, which is geared toward people who work in galleries, libraries, archives, museums, etc, I can confirm that the Local feed is much more compelling than the Local feed on the flagship server, where I set up a personal account years ago. It's almost like a new networking opportunity.

  8. NB says:
    2

    And nevermind resources. One now popular instance with 19K fresh users apparently needs six servers with AMD EPYC CPUs and a combined total 1T of RAM to run this Ruby webapp: https://infosec.exchange/@jerry/109328622684304930

    • Doctor Memory says:
      2

      This is the part that worries me.  The mastodon tech stack right now is fine if you want to run a server for, like, yourself and your roommates or family or whatever.  But this thing isn't even ready to serve an entire college campus, never mind any substantial fraction of twitter's userbase.

      • bizzy_ says:
        3

        the set of people who know how to run a stable, scalable Mastodon instance overlaps exactly with the people with enough good sense not to do it.

  9. 5

    Mastodon seems like an attempt at making a distributed version of Reddit where each subreddit is a separate instance/server.  Based on how Reddit worked out, it probably won't be long until Mastodon is just a bunch of polarized racist echo-chambers filled with bots, trolls, and bad-faith foreign actors.

    • ailepet says:
      2

      Technically, the distributed version of Reddit is Lemmy. It also uses ActivityPub, but I don't know how it actually interacts with Mastodon accounts (whereas you can open a Pixelfed account on your Mastodon client and follow it from your Mastodon account, where it would appear alongside the other posts of your Masto timeline)

  10. Polychrome says:
    5

    Just wanted to chip in and note on the part where all servers look and work alike - it's true if you stick with servers that run Mastodon specifically.

    The fediverse network has other server types available with multiple types of frontends. Just a few examples would be Pleroma and Akkoma (a fork) which aim to be a lighter server with a more blogger-like default interface and has changeable frontends, Pixelfed which is basically "what if instagram was on fedi" and then there's Misskey which is.... well, it's hard to describe and incredibly Japanese. Best to see it to understand it - there are  groups and cat ears involved.

    All of them run on the same protocol and federate with each other, Mastodon included.

    Still, you're right when it comes to most people - the media only advertised Mastodon and this is what people will look for. It'll take them awhile to notice the alternatives, if ever.

    • George Dorn says:
      2

      And then there's the old guard that now federate with the same network, too, like friendica and diaspora.  And a couple forks of Mastodon that add interesting features (Hometown) and attempt UI improvements (Glitch).  And third-party front-ends for Mastodon (or any other server supporting the Mastodon API) like Brutaldon and Pinafore.

      There's no shortage of projects competing on the UI and features front; there's just a shortage of attention span on the part of people who are suffering from twitter brain to deal with the complexity of options they have.

    • marijane says:

      I have accounts on both the original flagship server and a much smaller affinity group server, and even though they're both Mastodon, there are some curious differences in the user interface, like the visibility of the bookmarking button and how verified ownership links work. It's not yet clear to me what accounts for these differences.

      • jwz says:

        So does having accounts on two servers mean that you read the two feeds separately? Your Mastodon-A and Mastodon-B reading-and-replying interactions are as disjoint from each other as say, Facebook and TikTok would be?

        • marijane says:
          1

          It does mean I read them separately. One is for my personal online presence, and the other is for my professional online presence, which are things I've kept separate for as long as I've been an employed person on the internet. It's not quite as disjoint as Facebook and TikTok, it's more like having two Twitter accounts (which I also have).

          • jwz says:
            3

            I totally understand wanting that personal/professional separation, but that seems like an orthogonal issue. The whole pitch of "join an instance that matches your interests" sounds a lot to me like the developers don't know anyone who has more than a couple of interests.

            • marijane says:

              Oh! I mentioned it in another comment and I guess I forgot to mention it in this branch of the thread: the server I'm using for my professional presence is glammr.us, which is targeted at people who work in galleries, libraries, archives, museums, etc. (often referred to as GLAM, hence the server name), so perhaps not so orthogonal? There are others like this: scholar.social for academics, journa.host for journalists, and I know of two or three others for various sub-areas within libraries like digipres.club and code4lib.social. There are probably other professionally-oriented servers like this out there.

              I agree the pitch is not great and maybe sounds more like a pitch for Discord. It certainly doesn't describe the flagship mastodon.social and mastodon.online servers. And yet, one of my friends who is a parking reform activist set his up on urbanists.social. Some people setting up servers appear to be interpreting "interests" broadly, for example I know two people whose accounts are at sfba.social, for example. Others are interpreting it extremely narrowly, setting up servers for themselves alone to use.

            • Falkon says:
              1

              More like joining different forums for different topics.  I have different accounts on different forums for tech/career stuff, for different hobbies, another for socializing and political discussion, and so on.

              Prior to Eternal September, we all did that.  People would never think to message your boss to ask for a raise from your Pornhub account, or communicate with your parents through your Livejournal account.  Nor would most people want to see posts about worldbuilding in fiction writing mixed in with posts about woodcrafting and posts about local political activism.  Why mix everything under one account on one service?

              Where we see people doing everything from one account (real names and a photo, please upload a scan of your ID for verification), everything tends to go to shit.

  11. Tim Bray says:
    6

    Yeah, the people who've been mastodon-ing for years and are all worried about the effects of the Twitter exodus are entirely correct to worry, and I don't think the community is very well prepared to battle the standard social-Internet pathologies that will inevitably come crashing in from all directions.

    I retain some shreds of optimism because the underlying protocol and the existing tooling for using it are, based on recent acquaintance, not terrible. You may in fact be able to tune instances to provide lots of different kinds of experiences that meet different kinds of needs.

    Also, the tooling includes the ability to move instances with only moderate friction. Maybe I'm a starry-eyed idealist but that feels pretty important? See https://blog.joinmastodon.org/2019/06/how-to-migrate-from-one-server-to-another/

    • 2

      I am quite interested in the fediverse  mechanisms to handle abuse. Spam, but also harassment, misinformation etc. Getting that right seems even more important than data portability.

  12. Joe says:
    11

    My hassle with Mastodon is that it is reliving the nightmare of MUDs in the late 80s and early 90s. You find a site with a decent crowd, nice people, not too busy. You play around a bit. If it is a MUCK/MUSH, you start using the coding to build a 'home' and try to make your site a little interesting for others to come to. You emotionally start to feel that as 'home'.

    And the db crashes. Or the admins found another use for the box. Or the REAL admins figured out the students had started this thing on the school's hardware and shut it down.

    Regardless, your 'home' is gone.

    That happened to me already on my first Mastodon account. A few months ago, I finally got the nerve, picked a server that seemed stable with a large enough base and open enough policies. I went through all the crap to get on there, to figure out how to start following friends and bloggers I knew from their other servers.

    And, because twitter wasn't corrupted yet, forgot about it.

    This week, I found out my server was dead. And I'm reading that there are probably more dead servers than live ones, as admins got bored, busy, or overwhelmed, as did the hardware.

    So I can't do it. I can't try that again. I can't go through all the crap it took to make a 'home' and find my friends and connect them to that, only to see it all disappear. Again.

    Yeah, I could just stand up my own, and keep it small by only making it a home for family and really close friends who need a space...but I got better things to do with my time right now. And given that it requires a stable SMTP connection and you already have expressed how much of a pain in the arse THAT is to configure and maintain...Not worth it.

  13. MaxM says:
    1

    Some of the  things about mastodon that I see already see happening are

    1. The worst people in  Twitter  don't seem to like Mastodon. A huge plus. 

    2. Dogpiling is hard or without "retweets" or generic text search. Some endless Self-promoters and snark/irony online commenters have not yet realized how little they get exposure, but soon they will when they don't receive enough. 

    3. Small specialized communities (especially academia, art, hobbyists, journos) are already forming and thriving. econtwitter.net   there are machine learning, statistics ..  communities and science.  
    Some actual discussion  without interruption.

    4. In large instances like mastodon.social only timeline that works is home. Local and federated timelines are just constant stream of randomness. What this means is that    only people and groups you follow and things they promote are are useful. Rest is random junk.

    summa summarum:

    I think content specialized instances are the future.

    If  Mastodon is a success, it will leave 90% of Twitter behind because it will not provide as much instant
    engagement, rage and drama.

    • jwz says:
      4

      I think content specialized instances are the future.

      What does that actually mean, though? If I have two completely unrelated interests, I have two logins on two servers that don't federate?

      • MaxM says:
        2

        What  I was referring was usefulness of  local and federated feeds you follow in different mastodon instances (aka servers).

        Federation does not mean that everything is broadcasted to every instance automatically.
        Home, local and federated timeline explained: https://user-images.githubusercontent.com/6607512/37560561-be5d9350-2a32-11e8-9754-0fa9a9af3f54.png

        Federated timeline is like a local cache. You can only see what is fetched into the cache.
        If you are in a  instance that shares your interests, people in your instance help to find interesting stuff for you. It's useful only if the people in your instance are useful for you.

        I think this issue will have relative easy solution. Maybe it's  trough groups or trough mastodon api.

      • George Dorn says:
        2

        I have four active fediverse accounts currently; a general one on a server I run and three content-specific instances.  They all federate.

        The reasons to be on those topical instances:
        - the local timeline
        - people can follow one of my accounts if they're only interested in that subject.

        The second one is way more useful on a day-to-day basis and yet it is nearly invisible to me.  I can have non-gaming friends, for example, who I don't annoy with endless gaming stories.  A bit like Livejournal circles, except I don't need to curate the lists, my followers can do it for me.

        This all works great for me and I get that ex-Twitter users are going to balk at the whole thing, and honestly that's fine.  The fediverse doesn't need to absorb the population of Twitter to be successful.  It's an alternative, not a replacement.

      • Kazriko says:

        One of the people that I know has their own instance, but has something like 5-6 accounts on that instance, each one for following people related to that particular area of interest, like one account for computer related things, one account for anime, etc.

  14. longtimelistener says:
    6

    There's basically two Mastodon 'galaxies', and neither is exactly what Twitter movers want. The majority, making up the face of the service and the bulk of discussion, is to Twitter what Austin is to Texas. It's often more leftist, it has more empathy, it's more frequently queer, it has no time for Fox News viewers, and it probably wants to 'keep it weird'. The other is basically the netfash, who set up on the thing across a dozen or so servers that are almost universally blocked by the former.

    The paradoxical thing is that just as the former arguably has Discord, the latter already has 4chan. But the 'freeze peach' world also have more incentive to federate simply to get under the thin remainder of rules that still are enforced over there, and especially since a few "like 4ch but with even more hate speech" sites have been shut down by providers upstream in recent years, that just gives them even more demand to decentralize. That way the colony doesn't entirely disassemble if a single tentpole is dismantled by hosting or DDOS protection.

    There's also the occasional crossover into the mainstream culture, which you see when even the occasional journalist whimsically asks "where are the shitposts?" Masto's most devoted community are often people who don't associate that word with anything positive, whereas a Twitter leftist is probably just remarking that they miss dril or something inoffensive. Authenticity seems to be encouraged to a degree that sarcasm isn't banned but nonetheless on the watch list. Memes, shitposts, and to a degree casual snark all lack authenticity.

    I can't see Twitter going anywhere unless Musk bans NSFW in a last-ditch appeal to marketers, and if he does it's probably as good as dead.

    • ailepet says:
      1

      Authenticity seems to be encouraged to a degree that sarcasm isn't banned but nonetheless on the watch list. Memes, shitposts, and to a degree casual snark all lack authenticity.

      Interesting, I didn't have the same experience as you. At some point after the Ukraine war began, I had to unfollow a lot of otherwise funny shitposting accounts, because I could not tell anymore if they were just trolling or actually pro-Putin apologists. When Gorbachev died some months later, I saw them popping again and I had my confirmation that they were definitively not lacking in authenticity. Is monads.online to be considered "on the watch list"?

      • longtimelistener says:
        1

        Is monads.online to be considered "on the watch list"?

        It's blocked entirely by 84 different servers, and limited (you can follow them, but they're not on the public timeline) by dozens more. Most reasons given lean heavily on harassment, racism, 'tankies', "supporting Russian imperialism", etc. Searching their domain and adding "fediblock" reveals an anarchist server complaining that one of the mods implied death threats at their own leadership.

        I guess I should note how I come across this data: There's a tool (I won't link it, but it's called fedi-block-api) that lets you enter a server's address and see how many servers blocked it and why, but that tool was developed by a well known racist/transphobic troll site, and isn't particularly liked because the more lefty/anarchist/lgbt audience running most of the servers sometimes view it as rude/nosy to database the banlists of various servers you don't participate in without asking. It was useful for me though in trying to triangulate a server to establish a read-only account that follows accounts across many instances which block each other.

        • ailepet says:

          Thanks for the info! My own Google searches weren't as useful and I was too afraid to ask anyone on Mastodon at this point. I haven't grasped this situation from the snippets of meta discourse I've stumbled upon those last years.

  15. Pre says:
    1

    The walled gardens are public gardens, but yeah. It is exactly *moderation* which is decentralized and why you choose a server/community.

    You when you chose an instance, you are choosing your moderator/censor.

    Some will want a meme machine, and some an academic discourse, and some will want 4-chan.

    No reason they can't all talk with the same protocol.

    Mastodon is not a website.

    Activitypub is a website.

    I think there will be a DNA-Lounge activitypub server one day. Maybe even soon.

    JWZ on someone else's activitypub server is just all wrong.

  16. Matt R says:
    8

    Mastodon smells like that intermediate step that you see when people are leaving but haven't actually found the next thing (see also: the 3 month job on a resume between two 5 year jobs, rebound relationships, and sony minidisc).

    • sleep says:
      3

      this is exactly it. it’s just a dead end – mastodon will never become anything, not even the very specific niche thing that its few genuine proponents imagine it to be

  17. mdhughes says:
    3

    There's a lot more kinds of fediverse servers than just Mastodon, even if that's the most overloaded ones promoted by shallow news reports and long-term shitbird users suddenly running for the hills. Glitch, Pleroma, Akkoma (Pleroma that doesn't suck), GotoSocial, and others are also Twitter-like. Misskey, Diaspora, Lemmy, PeerTube all use ActivityPub, your account federates with them, but they make radically different systems. You can also choose new front ends, both native apps and webapps like [Brutaldon](http://brutaldon.org)

    Local admin matters a lot. I'm in a smaller social group recreating an older social group; we're careful about who we let in our little suburb, and aggressively stop bad guys. But we federate with most of the possible fediverse.

    And people who choose stupidly will win stupid prizes. Maybe get to archive their old posts and then move somewhere less broken.

    • jwz says:
      7

      And people who choose stupidly will win stupid prizes.

      Yeah, you seem really friendly. Must be a nice suburb.

      • mdhughes says:
        3

        Nice people facing a horde of zombies coming at their little town don't seem super friendly to the zeds.

        • Rob Landley says:
          9

          Some people see waves of refugees as a resource, and look forward to the St Patrick's Day celebrations when the potato famine victims have settled in.

          Others are preppers who have been waiting for an excuse to shoot other humans in bulk their entire lives, and preemptively dehumanize people they haven't met.

          The "we are nice because we're us, they are bad because they're them" crowd don't care if it's new arrivals they'll be gunning down, or if they themselves go west into injun territory and claim it in the name of Spain. Doesn't change the logic.

    • MattyJ says:
      2

      99.9999 (repeating, of course) Twitter users are of average and below-average computer savvy, and the moment they are presented with two random collections of letters that none of their friends know about, they'll just stick with Twitter.

      But at least we now know where all the nerds will be.

      • Frandroid says:

        What's happening here is that the chance that Twitter will either collapse or have multiple long outages is non-zero, and the more outages there are, the more people will look for a new public square, and land on Mastodon.  There are 200M active Twitter users, eventually the migration will number in the millions a day and many of the instances won't be able to handle it.

    • longtimelistener says:
      9

      "It's not Mastodon, it's Fediverse" feels so much like "It's not Linux, it's GNU."

  18. sleep says:
    2

    i think you're generally right, and it's a spot-on observation that the Private Walled Garden folks already have robust alternatives that are a more elegant solution for their needs. i wouldn't say i'm 100% one of the Federated Feed Reader people, because i'm open to the idea of there being an answer to Twitter that does some things differently (even a bit less conveniently, if there's a genuine upside in exchange for that inconvenience). it just sucks that Mastodon will ultimately fail either set of expectations, and doesn't present any coherent third purpose for itself either.

    this is the one place you lose me: "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."

    are there truly any simpler and more economical ways to get that? i mean, there's Twitter, sure – which is rapidly going down the tubes, and currently entails doing free labor (or perhaps eventually, poorly paid labor) to bail out an insufferable plutocrat from the worst business decision of his life. but aside from Mastodon – which you are correct in pointing out is absolutely not the Federated Feed Reader that 99.9999% of its potential userbase wants it to be – what else out there comes even close to being that? (let alone "simply" or "economically" so)

    and as i've said before, i think Mastodon's biggest stumbling blocks are the ones that tend to get less play in these somewhat more technical discussions. even after you suffer your way through all the pitfalls of registration on a suddenly quite popular federated network, discovery on Mastodon is simply atrocious...yes, you have to know the precise double-@ handle of the person you're trying to find (longer, clunkier and uglier than an email address), and then very often you have to manually enter your own double-@ handle to confirm you really do want to follow an account that's not on the same server you are (as if any non-theoretical person actually gives a shit; if you've gone through the trouble of finding out a person's secret double-@ handle, for whom would it be a dealbreaker to discover they're not on your server?). it's easier to find someone by name on a oujia board than on Mastodon.

    these are issues they like to blame on the federated network system, but surely there's a better way? because if not, then network federation just isn't viable scaffolding for a public-facing social network and this whole experiment's eventual failure was obvious from the start. millions of Twitter evacuees are rushing to Mastodon and bouncing right off it, because you're just not going to get the average politician, rapper, or k-pop fan to wade through all the cumbersome nonsense that comes both before and after registration...even ancient tech like IRC, FTP, and Usenet were easier to use. nowadays there are kids in high school who don't remember a time before iPads and Youtube; this just isn't gonna fly, and pretty soon the few halfway active nodes of Mastodon are going to wither and die on the vine (particularly when costs, upkeep, and moderation are all saddled on fiefdom overlords who ultimately get nothing in return for it...there's a reason why even the salaries Twitter and Facebook pay their moderators are nowhere close to being worth the trouble).

    it's a huge bummer, because there is a massive and vital need for some kind of Twitter alternative right now, and there just isn't anything that fits the bill. Mastodon is as close as it gets and it might as well be on the moon.

    [adapted some of this comment from one i posted in the other Mastodon thread days after the discussion there died, and it's more relevant to this one anyway]

    • mepton says:

      I remember a while back looking through the distributed social network platforms and deciding Mastodon was pretty middling, and thinking others were better projects. I seem to recall diaspora as being a favorite?

      Everything I've seen about Mastodon looks fairly uninspired, and I think many of the problems you identify above come down to UI level issues that could be solved, could have been solved, by a better designed and planned project.

      The tragedy is that here is the moment when a critical mass of users might be up for grabs, and the project lucky enough to land in the spotlight wasn't ready or wasn't the right project.

      This moment is fleeting, and it was so avoidable, but Mastodon as a project isn't what it needs to be to have solved these problems that will flummox users.

    • Falkon says:

      >it's easier to find someone by name on a oujia board than on Mastodon

      That's an issue of how people handle their web presence in general.  It's a really simple idea to have some kind of 'internet rolodex' or white pages, where people can list all their addresses/handles/aliases/etc. and make it easy to find them.

      But currently most people just use the big F-word for that.  Because it works and everyone's there.  However, it gives no way to segment people.  Unless they use separate accounts, in which case you have to know which one to look for.

      And that's an actual interesting topic.  How do you make it really easy for people to find the account where you post X without the people that you don't want to know about it finding it?  Or how do you keep people in their lane?

      There's probably a relatively easy way to solve that, but I don't know of anyone that's attempted it.  The ancient "if you are welcome to know about it, you'll be invited" method still works well enough.

  19. Greymeister says:
    5

    "They said I was daft to build a mastodon instance in a swamp but I built it all the same just to show them..."

  20. halcy says:
    5

    Full disclosure: I am one of the two people running like, the third oldest (though tiny, maybe 150 active users, because we don't open registrations very often) Mastodon instance, and beta tested it before I opened my own so as to have more than two that exist, so obviously that will colour my opinion here significantly.

    I think for a lot of "old" users, it's a bit of column A, a bit of column B. They do want a nice place with 200 of their closest friends, but then on top, they absolutely don't mind if there's also a ton of other people to keep things interesting that may in time become friends, artists to follow, the lot. Interestingly, a lot of the Mastodon development internal conflict is kind of between those two camps: The lead dev is firmly in camp 1, but a lot of other people are much more in camp 2, so you get internal fights about, for example, "allowlist federation" - i.e. federating with no on by default, but being able to turn it on for specific friendly servers (that currently is available but very heavily discouraged by the official docs, and painful enough to set up to possibly make you reconsider), and about how much effort should be put into the UX and oboarding and trying to be For Everybody, vs. improving internal tooling.

    For the currently incoming users, well, who knows. Right now, there is no denying that you still need to put in some effort to understand what the hell is going on. I do believe what is required is effort rather than intelligence or technical knowledge, at this point. If a TV funny man and various government agencies and politicians from Germany can figure out how to make an account and post, then, frankly, it seems like most people ought to be able to, if they really want to. Keeping out people who aren't really all that interested and who would be better served by, I don't know, Discord, Reddit, Linkedin, tumblr, cohost, any number of platforms, is in my opinion, just fine. People should use what works for them, assuming what works for them is anything but use Facebook software. It's not a commercial network. It doesn't need a 24/7 exponential growth explosion to make shareholders happy. And I'm clearly more Camp 2 than 1.

    I think one thing you're missing (because it is not really obvious at all, which is Bad Imo) that smaller instances are competing on is local values. This is at the same time a weakness, because it can be confusing and annoying as all hell, and a strength. There are some servers, like mine, that are rather heavily moderated. We see a place where most users are into yelling at others, cryptocurrency, anything we would generally consider stirring shit, we silence or suspend them. This means that you'll have a rather relaxed experience, though some people you may want to follow may not be available. That's not for everyone, of course, but: People can move, and we encourage them to find a place that works for them, doesn't need to be ours. Some instances are 100% Free Speech Anime Avatar Nazi And/Or Tankie places. Some try to block as little as possible, just overt harassment. Some are super radical, and will block places that do not block nazis by association. Some allow porn, some don't want to ever see porn and silence the aforementioned. Some are actually commercially run, and some others hate the idea of anything being commercially run and block those. Et cetera. It's a mess, but it also means that you can find a place where the experience is exactly how you want it to to be, while still being able to talk to a wide variety of people in the larger world instead of being completely bubbled in with the same 6 people like you'd be in a private discord. It also means that from my point of view, the Nazis can and do exist, on the same network, but they're over there and we for the most part don't have to deal with their bullshit. Funnily enough, they also mostly do not use Mastodon, because the lead dev is jewish and also he hurt their feelings once by telling them to pound sand.

    As for how the Twitter Exodus is going: It seems to have slowed somewhat. My load graph ("number of background jobs") was a vertical line for a few days, now it is back to the usual relatively flat appearance, though at 3.5 times the jobs it was at before. People seem to be settling in okay. The platform-meta-posting has also reduced somewhat again. I think that we'll be just fine - a lot of people will come, some will stay, doubt it'll grow to twitterfacebookwhatever size. But who knows, maybe Elon will have bankrupted Twitter by Christmas.

    • sleep says:
      1

      that was really interesting; thanks for sharing. i disagree that people who want more from mastodon would be better served by “Discord, Reddit, Linkedin, tumblr, cohost” – there are very clear reasons why mastodon is the first and only service that’s widely understood to be a potential twitter replacement – but it’s interesting to hear from one of the micro-communities that at least temporarily sees some value in mastodon’s structural flaws

      • sleep says:

        oh, and yeah, “bankrupt by christmas” is exactly what i’ve been saying to people about twitter. seems like the wheels are falling off much faster than anybody predicted just a few weeks ago

        • halcy says:
          4

          I actually think people are vastly underestimating his desire to Not Be Wrong Online and keep going even if he needs to toss massive amounts of cash into the money fire pit, and the usefulness of extreme wealth in making up for almost any level of incompetence by giving you the ability to try over and over again until you eventually accidentally stumble into success. It's worked for him so far, I'm not as convinced as many people seem to be that it will stop working for him now.

          As for the "temporarily", my server has existed for over 5 years at this point. And Mastodon started as an ostatus implementation, speaking the same protocol as GNU Social, before transitioning to ActivityPub, and Gnu Social languished for years before that! This is another thing about this kind of network: There is no need to win. Commercial social networks need to win. They need to massively explode in users right after launch, and then keep growing rapidly, because otherwise your VC funders are unhappy and then your website dies. My website, and the entire network, does not need to win in this sense. It can grow as slowly as it likes, or even stop growing, and have massive spikes in users whenever someone else does something stupid, and it can continue to do this basically forever, and that's neat. Especially since it is at this point large enough to not have just a Cares Very Much About Free Software type crowd like Gnu Social did, but instead a bit more of a diverse set of people.

          • sleep says:
            1

            thanks for humoring me. about elon, yeah, i agree he'll do whatever he can to avoid getting terminally owned in public, especially courtesy a 100% self-inflicted wound...but i don't know. he's sunk billions of his own money into this thing so far; his credibility with venture capitalists and retail investors is on the line; and already we're seeing the reputational damage bleed over into tesla. i think the question isn't so much would he continue to post through it – it's whether he'll have the resources to do so.

            re: mastodon, i understand and appreciate that you feel content with what you've built there over the past several years. we generally hear precious little from seasoned mastodons (perhaps because they're relatively scarce?), so it's really cool to get your perspective. and while you're right that deliberately anti-commercial projects to some extent sit outside of market forces,* i'm not sure a social network can sit outside of network forces – ultimately you're there because some non-trivial number of other people are too, and while you may be perfectly happy with the scale and tenor of things now i think it's likely that a critical mass of current users on some level expect/want the community to grow, and will eventually move on if it doesn't. if mastodon is genuinely going to remain indie web, in every sense of the term, there's no getting around the fact that no indie scene lasts forever. (a pretty apt metaphor come to think of it, as i sense a kind of symmetry between mastodon's fundamentalist + gatekeeping tendencies and the kind of hipper-than-thou purity tests that tend to gradually asphyxiate IRL subcultural scenes as well.)

            that said, i'd really appreciate to hear some specifics from you about what it is you get out of mastodon, because perhaps i am (and many others are) simply not grasping the value proposition. from what i can tell, mastodon is so similar to twitter that the appeal necessarily has to be much the same: you're there because you want to hear witty quips, mull expert insights, pursue niche interests, and see sides of your friends (and/or favorite celebrities) that would never come out in other contexts. but maybe i have it all wrong. what are some recent 'toots' (really hate that term lol) that underscore what it is you get out of mastodon as a platform? and how do you feel it's distinct from what you would be getting from a twitter feed, if you followed the same people there? because from what i understand i share the mind that those things would be better served by either twitter's or discord's architectures, and mastodon ultimately has to lean more one way or the other in order to survive as a nexus for communities.

            (*i say "to some extent" because mastodon passes the tab for those monetary and emotional costs to the user – particularly the ones who host instances – and those people are by no means immune to market forces. for a hobby to be so costly you have to be getting quite a lot out of it, and i don't see much to justify that on mastodon as it stands...which is something that can only get worse over time, unless the userbase scales up dramatically and finds ways to sustain themselves. these cracks are already beginning to show: i perfectly understand the financial and social reasons why most instances on mastodon would look at the flood of humanity coming from twitter and decide to lift the drawbridge – but that spurns and alienates the potential users who would bring new life and value to the mastodon network as a whole. the self-defeating tusks on the mastodon pictured in jwz's OP apply here as well.)

  21. Derpatron9000 says:
    3

    Some don't let you swear!

    Those fuckers!

  22. sleep says:
    4

    i will say, on the 'eve' of so-called web3, it's kind of funny how much more developed mastodon is when compared to just about any nft/coin project that promises future utility...and it's still clearly not going to work XD

  23. Doctor Memory says:
    11

    "Those who do not remember Usenet are doomed to re-implement it, poorly."

  24. Merc says:

    Isn't it more like "choose your first line of defence moderator / censor"?

    Like, you could find a mastodon community that refused to federate with any of the ".eth" communities.  That would cut down on the work you needed to do to block them manually.

    • jwz says:
      24

      What you want: Push button receive lulz.
      What you get: First, it's important to choose a reputable Title Company for your mortgage. What's a Title Company? Strap in, this is fun! See, in 1868, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard Watson v. Muirhead, and...

  25. mykd says:
    1

    Really interesting read.

    I know I'm a bit late here, but you have reminded me of my thoughts on how to pick a server:

    1) Choose mastodon.social
    2) [Advanced users only] - Don't choose mastodon.social

    Once you think of it like that, it's clear what's going to happen. That's why I went with option 1.

    Your Federated Feed Reader versus Private Walled Gardens terminology is very helpful.

    • Fighting says:
      1

      Modern, corporate web didn't settle the interpersonal arguments and flame wars between people. People still built cliques on modern social media. "New" practices like block lists and DNI banners are just a new codification of older arguments in online spaces. And as we see people move away from corperate-owned spaces, we will naturally see these tensions re-emerge. Because they never left. Corporate web was the illusion of harmony, at best.

      And I say, let the flame wars commence!! Fight fight fight figh

    • sleep says:

      lol mastodon.social has been closed to new users for a while now

      • mykd says:

        Heh, well that just forces everyone down the advanced user path then. Let’s hope they choose wisely!

        • sleep says:

          doesn’t matter, the UX only gets worse after you register. to “choose wisely” is to choose to bail

  26. I found this article about how hachyderm is running a mastodon instance with actual moderation to be pretty interesting: https://medium.com/@kris-nova/operating-mastodon-privacy-and-content-399eef251e65

    Data portability and reliability are table stakes, but the whole point of sticking around requires generally tedious remediation and prevention of abuse.

  27. radarskiy says:
    1

    Eugene Wei has written something I found interesting about the differences between an interest graph and a social graph ( https://www.eugenewei.com/blog/2021/9/29/and-you-will-know-us-by-the-company-we-keep ), which are kind of like your two groups except everyone has some things in each type of graph. In the former the edges are strongly directional and in the latter they are more symmetric or at least bidirectional. The author noted that in China the tension between the two is resolved by having completely different apps, e.g. TikTok vs. WeChat.

  28. wolfkin says:

    yeah that seems about accurate.

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