Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
Mastodon, the Fediverse, and A Warning About Mastodon.social
As of this week I'm not posting much to Twitter anymore. I used to post the same stuff on Twitter and on another microblogging platform called Mastodon, and now I'm really just posting on my Mastodon account.
If you're a Twitter user and want to switch to a different blogging/microblogging/social media platform, you have a bunch of choices! A popular one is the Fediverse -- a collection of sites and applications that can talk to each other over open protocols. It's like how you and I can call each other on the phone whether we're using landlines, mobile phones, or one of each, no matter who manufactured the phones.
I hang out in the Fediverse using Mastodon, which is probably the most popular Fediverse application. Just like a zillion people have phones that run the Android operating system, there are a lot of different servers ("instances") that run Mastodon. You can find and follow me at https://social.coop/@brainwane no matter where your Fediverse or Mastodon account is.
Social.coop is my third Fediverse home. I joined Identi.ca in 2009, the same year I joined Twitter. Then, in 2017, I switched to Mastodon, moving to the flagship instance at Mastodon.social. It was easy to discover mastodon.social and to register an account, and for years I was fine with staying where I'd landed. I also found that my conversations in the Fediverse tend to be better than ones on Twitter -- people disagree more productively, for instance. And, even though I only had hundreds of Fediverse followers compared to a few thousand Twitter followers, I seemed to get more useful feedback and publicity from the Fediverse than from Twitter -- probably partly because Twitter's recommendations algorithm dislikes my hyperlink-heavy posting style and suppresses my tweets in people's timelines, relative to linkless tweets.
But Mastodon.social sometimes had performance problems, taking a long time to load, or timing out while publishing posts or uploading images. And I was worried about sustainability; if I really care about the maintenance and uptime of a service I depend on, I'd prefer to be a paying customer or member and for most of my fellow users to also be paying for the service, so that the resources available for the service scale pretty much in step with its users and usage. Right now, it's optional for Mastodon.social users to donate to support the service, and I'd bet most users do not donate.
So, six months ago, I asked for recommendations, then signed up at SocialCoop and used Mastodon's built-in migration tools to move. I'm happy so far. I pay for a membership, which reassures me regarding sustainability. Social.coop has governance I can understand, talk to, and participate in. I've experienced solid technical performance up until a few blips literally a few days ago (and I think most Mastodon instances are struggling a bit to adjust to new usage loads). The onboarding process was excellent; I got a very helpful and clear and effective email that told me everything I needed to do and how and why, and without any excess verbiage. And, as you can tell by browsing its public posts, my instance neighbors are a good match for my temperament and have varied interests.
I do wish that Mastodon's migration tools also included a built-in way to migrate all my posts to the new account; they don't, so my old posts remain on Mastodon.social, and I exported them to have a local backup. Also, I could not download an archive of my favorites (posts by others that I had fave-starred), but I could download an archive of my bookmarks, so I worked around that by looking at my favorites and bookmarking them all, then downloading that archive.
In the past few weeks, Twitter's shown signs of business and technical instability. And will probably develop more. So a lot of people are joining the Fediverse, and the easiest Mastodon instance to find has been the famous one, Mastodon.social -- it doesn't charge you money to be a user, and it's a general-interest place for all geographies, so it's immediately appealing as a starting place.
But. Since so many people joined Mastodon.social recently, you may have to cope with some performance problems. One blogger points out some technical reasons why a single big instance is a single point of failure when popular people engage in a lot of conversation. As the instance suffers slowdowns and timeouts and glitches, one way to remediate is to throw money at more cloud computing resources. But will the money be available? Quite a lot of the people coming to Mastodon.social are used to cost-free platforms like Twitter, and it seems unlikely to me that voluntary donations from a small fraction of them will cover increased costs, so maintenance and performance will suffer.
And, since the big wave of new Mastodon.social users includes some really unpleasant-to-deal-with people, and since Mastodon.social doesn't have a lot of hands-on moderation to dissuade the unpleasant folks, some other instances are talking about "defederating" from Mastodon.social, at least temporarily. That would mean that, if your account is on Mastodon.social, folks on other servers would be less likely to get/read your posts, and you'd have a harder time reading/getting theirs too.
If you just made your first Mastodon account and it's on Mastodon.social, and you want to avoid getting caught in the ripple effects of the dynamics I just described, I suggest you move to a different instance (server). I of course like social.coop, but you can use https://instances.social/ to browse instances and choose one that suits you. I like Fosstodon.org's clear explanation of their sustainability plans.
Treat mastodon.social like the general "lobby" that America On-Line chat threw users into when they first joined. A place to start.
And, wherever you are in the Fediverse, come visit my thread about fanciful feelings about square numbers, where we're having silly fun.
11 Nov 2022, 2:37 a.m.
11 Nov 2022, 17:43 p.m.
11 Nov 2022, 18:00 p.m.
12 Nov 2022, 14:47 p.m.
22 Nov 2022, 17:09 p.m.