What are your thoughts on Mastodon? 🐘🤔

Taneli

Veteran
Location
Sweden
Name
Daniel
I really didn't like them at first, saw them on a festival and they were cool and so. But no.... but last album got my eyes open a bit, starting to appriciate them now :) some songs are awesome.
 

wee-pics

Legend
Location
Germany
Name
Walter
Just for information:

Use by public authorities
In October 2020, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (BfDI) in Germany launched its own Mastodon instance, which is also available to all other public agencies at the federal level as a privacy-compliant alternative to Twitter, followed in January 2021 by the state commissioner in Baden-Württemberg, after previously opting out of Twitter. In the meantime, some public authorities such as the Federal Press Office, various ministries (for education, for interior, foreign office), subordinate authorities, BfR, customs), the Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse state parliaments and the state government of Baden-Württemberg are represented on Mastodon.

The European Data Protection Supervisor has also set up its own Mastodon server for EU authorities in a pilot project called "EU Voice." The European Commission and the European Court of Justice, among others, are represented on Mastodon.

Twitter takeover by Elon Musk
As a result of the announced Twitter acquisition by Elon Musk in April 2022, tens of thousands of users created accounts on Mastodon, including some celebrities. The number of hourly posts more than doubled in the process (from roughly 5,000 at the beginning of April 2021 to roughly 10,000 at the end of April 2022), causing temporary performance problems for some servers.
After the confirmed takeover at the end of October 2022, there was another increase in accounts and posts.

(translated from the German Wikipedia page)
 

gryphon1911

Hall of Famer
Location
Central Ohio, USA
Name
Andrew
Appears an instance is shutting down. Don't know if this is affecting all instances or just the one this person is admin for.


Sad thing is, I work in the tech space and i've never heard of them until now.
 

Kevin

Code Monkey 🐒
So if there is one thing we can all agree on it's that wooly mammoth's rock! 🤘🦣 :D


[NOTE: This may or may not end up being one of Kevin's really long rambling posts. It's too early to tell yet so go grab a drink first just in case.]

So in regards to my vague question the topic at hand is indeed Mastodon the "Twitter alternative" that has been making the news lately. Thanks to a billionaire making a few public comments while he was most likely toking, Twitter is now in the midst of an unbelievable meltdown. It is both unbelievably funny and sad at the same time; funny from a tech geek perspective in how badly it is going and sad because there are now a lot of folks unemployed and the full ramifications of it all have the potential of affecting SpaceX and Tesla a bit as well (just take a look at the recent $TSLA stock prices, in particular the closing price on 2022-11-09).

... I've had a Twitter account for years, and we use the @CameraderieOrg account to help promote the site, but I'm not a Twitter user as much as I am an occasional viewer. Once upon a time Twitter was a good way of getting a quick pulse on what people are talking about, whether it be stuff in the news, hobbies, or entertainment like TV shows & movies. Those days are over. These days Twitter is mostly a cesspool of crypto scams, advertisements, promotion of extreme ideologies, and trolling with just a smattering of actual content between. The past two weeks have also been the 'Twitter Crash-and-Burn' show with folks mocking the situation and, very, very weirdly, other folks more or less defending Twitter's new owner as though he just walked on water. It's all bizarre, more so when you realize that somebody paid $44 billion (BILLION!) for Twitter. ...​

Twitter's implosion is where Mastodon comes in. Mastodon is, at it's simplest, a free open-source (FOSS) application that is very similar to how Twitter looks & feels. [Link: Mastodon at Wikipedia] This allows anyone to download the software and, with some tech knowledge, be up & running their own mini version of a Twitter-like community. Besides the original "Mastodon" community at Mastodon.social, with as of the moment 180K user accounts, it is estimated that there are over 4,000 Mastodon web sites out there. Each is called an "instance" in Mastodon parlance so when somebody speaks of an "instance" it's really just the specific web site they are talking about.

A lot of the Mastodon instances are highly localized in regards to their subject matter. Think of a topic or subject that would be open to discussion and there is likely a Mastodon instance of it out there. Politics, news, artists, photographers, scientists, LGBTQ, programmers, and on & on, there is likely an instance that specializes in it. There are, of course, a lot of open topic instances where it's a free-for-all in regards to discussions and those are the ones newer users will likely come across first. There are some well known Mastodon instances that have made the news. An ex-US President made a big deal about creating their own social media site after getting banned from Twitter. After raising hundreds of millions of dollars and getting all types of investors with a lot of media hype along the way it turns out that their big reveal was just a rebranded instance of Mastodon. That also got them in trouble a bit since they violated the software agreement and did their best to strip out all of the Mastodon branding & identifiers while claiming all of it was proprietary. Whether it is a high-profile site that is in the news or just a small site with a dozen or so members, all of them are Mastodon instances with the same basic Twitter-like functionality.

Now this is where the interesting (to me) part comes into play. It is also the source of most of the confusion when it comes to people talking about "Mastodon" lately. The Mastodon code is based on the open ActivityPub protocol which is now a W3 standard which allows it to be part of the Fediverse collective. For the non-tech crowd, what that means is that the Mastodon software is able to communicate between instances. Somebody joining a Mastodon based site about digital art is able to talk to and follow members of a totally different instance that may be about woodworking and vice-versa. By searching the 'federation' of instances for specific member handles or hashtags somebody joining any individual instance is able to follow and talk with any members of the other four-thousand+ instances.

And that is where a lot of the confusion comes in. With all the recent talk of people leaving Twitter to "join Mastodon" they don't realize that there isn't a single "Mastodon" site or application, instead they are joining a specific individual community instance and from there they get a Twitter-like experience of being able view content within the entire Mastodon federation network of instances.

To clarify that, let's circle back to the Mastodon.social web site mentioned earlier. That is the first and original "Mastodon" instance that was up & running. By contrast Deepspace.social is a totally different web site for people interested in what goes on in space that, as of the moment, shows it has 12 members versus the 180K on Mastodon.social. [Note: Both web sites have ".social" as part of the domain name but it isn't necessary, any valid URL domain name can be used, its just that ".social" is very popular among the Mastodon network.] Then there is InfoSec.exchange, another web site aimed at IT security folks with about 21K members. All of them are running Mastodon, all of them are part of the Mastodon federation of instances that can talk to each other, and each of them have their own member bases with their own rules and norms.

When somebody "joins Mastodon" they do so by selecting an instance and becoming a member of that individual site. After joining they can search for people and hashtag topics and they can follow people and interact with people just like they did on Twitter. But... they didn't "join Mastodon", they joined Deepspace.social or they joined InfoSec.exchange or, most likely, they joined the Mastodon.social website. Because of this their Mastodon account isn't just @JohnDoe like it is at Twitter, instead it is qualified with which instance they are on like @JohnDoe@mastodon.social in order to specify which @JohnDoe is being referenced. And, yep, that means @JohnDoe can exist at different instances, that part of the account name is not unique across all of "Mastodon", it is just unique to the instance. When trying to explain it I've seen a lot of articles compare it to email accounts where JohnDoe is not a unique name across all of the various email systems, it is just unique to the email provider like JohnDoe@gmail.com versus JohnDoe@yahoo.com and so on.

The next layer of confusion for the people migrating from Twitter is that there are three timelines available to you. Viewing 'Home' is the timeline of just the accounts that you follow. The 'local' timeline is activity that is happening on your instance. By contrast the 'Federated' timeline shows activity from both the local instance members and from members who, one way or another, are associated to members of the local instance. Let's say that there are two local instance users, John Doe and Jane Doe. They both belong to an instance about dogs. John isn't interested in the misc. stuff that is going on with the 4K+ instances in the Mastodon federation, he is only interested in dogs so he doesn't follow anybody except for other members of the same local instance. Jane on the other hand likes dogs, and is why she joined this particular instance, but she makes a living in IT security so she follows a lot of people from the InfoSec.exchange instance. When John and Jane view their local timeline they only see each others activity but when they view the 'Federated' timeline they also see the activity of all of the people that Jane follows from the other instances. The net effect is that members can choose to only see what is going on in their specific 'local' instance or they can see what is going on with just anybody that they are following, or what any of their followed friends are following by viewing the 'federated' timeline. What that means, really, is that John will never see most of what is being posted on the 4K+ instances that make up "Mastodon" unless somebody else on his local instance about dogs is following somebody from one or more of those other 4K+ instances and John goes into the 'federated' timeline. Good luck going "viral" on "Mastodon" because, really, unless you're a high profile person that is followed by a lot of members across different instances then your post will never get the same visibility that it would on Twitter where members are likely to spread it around by 'retweets' and it ending up on Twitter's trending list and being suggested to others. So while it is bad news for anybody who wants to simply get people to see their posts for whatever purpose (promotion, ads, ego, trying to be an "influencer", whatever), it is very good news for people who want to post stuff and see stuff by other people who are most likely interested in the same stuff as you and will have their posts seen by people who are interested in the same stuff as you.

Anybody who is leaving Twitter and isn't really tech oriented to know the difference between wanting to "join Mastodon" versus signing up at a particular instance would be best to join Mastodon.social since there are a lot of people on that instance already talking about anything & everything. That would give new ex-Twitter members more of a Twitter-like content experience that they would be expecting to see instead of joining an instance with a low member count and not much activity showing up in the timelines unless they know to seek out which accounts to follow at other instances. To see that in action, view the public timelines of Mastodon.social vs. Mastodon.world vs DeepSpace.social. With the recent surge of ex-Twitter members sites like Mastodon.social are experiencing growth issues so patience is needed as well.

With this type of 'decentralized' network there is not a single owner of "Mastodon", there are thousands. Anybody can spin up a server and join in. Well, almost everybody. Instances don't have to be part of the federation, such as the forked version of Mastodon being used by the ex-President that does not talk with any other instances, and instance admins can block other instances. That way if somebody starts up a new instance and the content getting posted is reprehensible to the members of, for example, the instance dedicated to dogs, then the admin of the instance about dogs can configure their instance to block activity from/to the new instance that came online posting junk. There are lists out there being maintained of instances that are suggested to be blocked. Somebody can't buy "Mastodon", they can't buy ads on it, and they can't bring it down. If one particular instance goes down then, yes, the members of that instance are impacted but the federation network of instances still goes on. And it's possible for one instance to allow ads to be posted but unless members of other instances are following the account that is posting the ads then nobody will see them except for members of the local instance. The flip side is that with 4K+ instances there also potentially 4K+ different sets of "rules" being applied. Quite a few people leaving Twitter to join a Mastodon instance are finding themselves on the receiving end of people telling them that something they are doing, like posting certain content or not including 'content warning' tags, is not allowed even though there is nothing in the rules & terms that prohibit it on the site that they signed up on. Then there is the matter of the ex-Twitter users trying to find @JohnDoe to follow them only to find out there there are 20 different accounts with names like @JohnDoe@BananaFans.com and @JohnDoe@GuysWhoWearSuspenders.com and they have no way of knowing which one is the one they want.

... Some folks in our Cameraderie community know I'm an old tech geek and I've been online in one form or another for a long time. When I see, shall we say "younger folks", get so excited about stuff such as decentralized platforms like Mastodon I can't help but think "Dude, what are you talking about?! We were doing stuff like that back in the 80's with BBSes being FIDO nodes, being members of networks like RIME, and hooking into UseNet. Everything you're trying to deal with, like how to moderate content from other sites, has been dealt with many, many times over.". ...​

Whew, that's a lot to type out but it gets us to the what the intent of my original question was, to see what our community thinks of Mastodon and their reaction to it.

My interest in technology is usually more geared towards the mechanics of how it works versus the actual application usage of it. At face value, Mastodon being a FOSS version of Twitter doesn't really get my attention since I'm not an avid Twitter user but when dug into deeper it is the underlying ActivityPub protocol that intrigues me. And that's when I usually get in trouble. 😆

I'll be setting up a Mastodon instance if for no either reason then to play around with it. The server requirements are different than what is needed for Cameraderie so just to get the instance running it'll require playing around with some new stuff that I haven't delved into before. For that reason I won't be using the same server. For the Mastodon instance I'll be trying out a Digital Ocean 'droplet' so that the Mastodon experiment sandbox is far, far away from the Cameraderie sandbox (totally different host providers, totally different servers, absolutely no communications between them).

If our community members surprised me by giving a response that many were familiar with Mastodon, or were already members of an instance, then I would make my experiment a bit more stable with an eye towards creating a "Cameraderie" branded instance and keeping it around for our members to use. Based on how this thread went I'll do the experiment with a different site name and not worry about keeping it around longer than experimenting time to gain knowledge. 🤓
 
Location
Seattle
Name
Andrew
I mean, I find the "microblogging" concept very interesting, in the sense that a quick, snappy blog entry made up of text, image or primarily a link and description seems like a great thing. Twitter's basic concept seemed cool to me.

Where I lose interest is in making a platform. The idea that a lot of the time it's self-referential and the mechanics point back to followers within the same platform. Like every social media platform, it isolates users from the rest of the web, even while often pointing to content outside the platform. I have a hard time explaining why I don't like that, but I think part of it is that social media users (including myself, to an extent) have come over the years to view the web as a sort of ether wherein "content" is located in disembodied form, save when we get these links either given to us by people we're following, or, often, suggested by a faceless algorithm.

I really dislike platforms designed to keep people inside them. I guess my view of what the web should be is a very old-fashioned, Web-1.5 idea where you go to the sites with content you like, and your knowledge of where to go is only as good as your google-fu. This isn't the web experience the mass of users demand. But I like it. I suppose the snapshot of web technology which really encapsulates what I like is the RSS feed. It makes it easy to come back to the voices you really like and get value from.

So, where Mastadon is concerned, I like some of the concept, especially the open sourced freedom of it, but the idea of countless instances leave me a bit cold, if they become echo chambers where you can "live" which I think is what a lot of people's individual social media feeds have become, thanks to the algorithms always feeding them fodder that fits their ideology. Mastadon could run the risk of magnifying the echo chambers.
 
Like a million others, I joined an instance last week. Interested to see how it all shakes out. I like the distributed/non-corporate nature of it. At the end of the day, the value will be determined by the people there.
 
This isn't the web experience the mass of users demand. But I like it.
Hmm, I'm not sure the algorithmic feeds of Facebook-Instagram and Twitter are something users particularly want. As opposed to defaults the companies like to push because of the user experience control they provide—most people will just go with the default use model they're presented with. It's been some time since I've accessed Facebook regularly and I've only barely used Instagram. Much of the reason for that is algorithmic changes Facebook was making a while ago suppressed essentially all of the content I and my friends were interested in. The result was a network collapse where 97+% of the hundreds of connections I had quit posting. For the remainder, I found if I wanted to actually see their activity I had to circumvent the algorithmic feed by accessing their pages directly.

I haven't found it worthwhile to revisit the walled garden Meta's constructed in the past few years but I have found Nitter valuable for direct access to a set of high information Twitter accounts, which is again a configuration bypassing an algorithmic feed (it also happens to offer some readability improvements). In cases where people are tweet threading their published articles or Substacks I'll usually link through to read those off Nitter. Because I like actual paragraphs. So far my Mastodon use preferences are the same as I'm not impressed by its feed views at this point. Though a contributing factor there is only three of the Twitter accounts I direct access are using crossposting tools to clone their content to Mastodon (no one's actually moved).

I really dislike platforms designed to keep people inside them.
Pretty similar for me, but captive eyeballs maximize advertising revenue and some of that (albeit quite arguably not enough) does pay for moderation. If Mastodon traffic stays up I'm curious how sustainable its current volunteer based approach to modding will be. Even in relatively conflict free zones of low trolling interest, such as Duolingo's question pages, I've encountered a notable amount of moderator complaints about how poor their experience is on volunteer contributed courses. Disqus' management model has some major limitations as well.

Apropos of that, thanks @Kevin for keeping Cameraderie up!
 
Location
Seattle
Name
Andrew
Hmm, I'm not sure the algorithmic feeds of Facebook-Instagram and Twitter are something users particularly want. As opposed to defaults the companies like to push because of the user experience control they provide—most people will just go with the default use model they're presented with.
I think that's a good point. Most people don't take the time to make their web experiences actually worth their time.
but captive eyeballs maximize advertising revenue and some of that (albeit quite arguably not enough) does pay for moderation.
And that gets to the bottom of things all right. The costs of these platforms are so high because they draw in so many eyeballs. Again, I'm dumb and old, but the model of someone having a little website and paying for hosting and/or coding is just so much more appealing to me. Old capitalism, not this new, intentionally obfuscating, manipulative beast its been allowed to transform itself into.

I think if there's a saving grace to Mastadon, it has to be the non ad-supported concept of it, if it can maintain that. Although community moderating could allow for some very scary instances if you think about it only a little. So while this may remove a lot of the echo chamber algorithm stuff, it may just replace it with even more effective (because it's human directed) echo chamber... ism.
 
One point to note is that there is nothing stopping you from joining more than one instance. Apart from having multiple logins. I have joined the photog.social one as well as the aus.social instance and also follow people in other instances.
One other point to note is nothing is free. Some of the instances ask for donations to defray the costs of running the instance. also if an instance closes down it seems there is a process to "migrate" to another instance that you may find. I have not tried this but was told about it.
 

Kevin

Code Monkey 🐒
if an instance closes down it seems there is a process to "migrate" to another instance
Just make sure that you migrate before the first instance shuts down because it needs to be up & responding to requests for your account to transfer. I don't recall the exact timeframe at the moment but somewhere in the docs there is a recommendation that instance admins provide prior notice of at least three(?) months before shutting down.


One other point to note is nothing is free. Some of the instances ask for donations to defray the costs of running the instance
Using Patreon for recurring payments is the most popular choice I'm seeing with instance admins asking for donations.
 
somewhere in the docs there is a recommendation that instance admins provide prior notice of at least three(?) months before shutting down
Yep, the Mastodon Server Covenant specifies three months minimum.

the model of someone having a little website and paying for hosting and/or coding is just so much more appealing to me
I did that for the better part of two decades. Posting the same content on Facebook tended to get around three orders of magnitude more engagement. I also built a couple websites for small nonprofits and then maintained them for years. We found if we wanted to drive traffic the single most effective SEO type thingy was to give Facebook the equivalent of US$ 5 or €5ish for a boosted post (this was pre-Meta). I agree with the appeal of building things like Wordpress themes but, if you have individually generated content you want people to see, less exploitative corporate options like Bandcamp, Github, Patreon, Substack, and Webtoon can be useful tools if there's niche alignment.

I think if there's a saving grace to Mastodon, it has to be the non ad-supported concept of it, if it can maintain that.
Quite possibly. Other companies operating ad funded web media have avoided the choices made by Meta and Twitter, though, so I'm finding it a bit challenging to convince myself it's more the ads than it is the people making management decisions about advertising revenue streams. There's probably some interesting business analysis around that, though it's not an area I've looked into.

On the other hand, as @sawdustbear recently observed, it is demoralizing to know that you are a website's product but really energizing to know that you can be a really terrible product.
 
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