Toot-Toot, Motherfucker: Early Thoughts On Mastodon

I joined Mastodon at the behest of Greg Pak.

You can find me here.

I have thoughts, if you care to read them. (Note: these are thoughts from a NON-TECH PERSON, who is increasingly more interested in technology that does not challenge me with literally any difficulty at all. Because I am lazy and old-ish, shut up.)

1.) It’s like Twitter. Mostly?

2.) Clarification: it’s like Twitter at the surface level. It’s a bit off in that regard, in much the same way it’s different going from the United States to Australia, but it’s not that different. Ostensibly, things work the same, even if the names are different and some of the minor processes vary. “Oh, cookies here are called ‘biscuits.’ Toilets are called ‘salad bowls.’ Spiders are called ‘venomous terriers.’ Otherwise everything is the same!” In Mastodon, tweets are toots (heh), and your timelines are a little different, but otherwise, it’s kinda Twitter. There exists, however, a deeper level here, with instances serving as communities and chat rooms, but I suspect you never really need to engage with that level if you don’t want to. Arguably, it could serve as a reasonable Twitter clone without you ever leaving the circle of comfortable firelight you’ve long enjoyed.

3.) Upon joining, I was instantly talking to people with little to no effort.

4.) It reminds me of the early days of Twitter. In a good way!

5.) Instances are confusing. The prevalent metaphor seems to be, “Well, see, it’s like how if you have a GMAIL address, you can write me at my HOTMAIL address,” and here’s where I yell at you for still having a HOTMAIL address because, really? Who are you, my grandmother? But it’s really nothing like email except in that background way — it’s far, far more like old-school BBSes, which is too old for you to probably remember, but I ran one as a SysOp so it clicks for me. Or, imagine an MMO server on a major MMO that you create, moderate, administrate.

6.) Instances are essentially little fiefdoms — communities controlled by admins, but right now, if I want to join a different community, I need to create a new account, which means any followers I have accumulated elsewhere do not follow me. That can be a feature if you want your follower community to be similarly limited, but a bug if you use social media as an aggregate (which I do). I’m told that they may be working on creating universal logins or ways to port followers over, but I’m also told that they’re so strongly opposed to any kind of centralization that it won’t ever happen. No idea. Fingers crossed.

7.) The fiefdom thing is… well, okay, on the one hand, I do kinda miss the old days where you had things sliced up more finely, whether in terms of forums and LiveJournal and chatrooms or what-have-you? But as anyone who lived in those eras knows, you also open yourself up to drama. Like, it’s great to have more local, decentralized admins, but it’s also possible that those admins could subject their entire communities to drama and fickle application of rules. BBS drama was a real thing once upon a time and could easily replicate itself here. You could build a following somewhere, and a fickle admin could wipe that away in a moment. That’s fine if Mastodon remains small and not important — but as your community gets bigger, as your following means more to you (as it does now on Twitter and Facebook), it puts a lot of power over your online experience in the hands of a lot of smaller, more random admins. Some of this has reportedly already happened, with some admins up and deleting whole instances. Another point in favor of centralized logins, and treating instances like “rooms” rather than entirely separate island-nations that require entirely new visas to enter.

8.) Mastodon was sold to me as “Twitter, but without the Nazis!” Which is great! But I’m no longer so sure. They’re not there now, but I also don’t see exactly how enforcement will work better than the already-craptastic Twitter. Like, I get that individual admins can create strong enforcement against them! And that’s dandy. And I get that one instance can arguably ban another instance because they have Nazis in them. But leaving control to a bunch of little digital city-states is not promising. It leaves a lot of room for Nazis (“Nazis” being shorthand to include any number of turd-humans) to, say, mob a single instance and force the admins to do constant defense. It also leaves Nazis room to exploit their presence in one instance to get that instance banned — say, you join mastodon.sjw.wonderland, and you believe that Nazis will stay on nazi.shithead.island, but really, they’re going to 4chan their way into your SJW instance just to fucking tank it if they can. Mastodon as a small entity of social media will handle this problem well. If it gets bigger, too big, I don’t think it will. It’ll feel too much like the Wild West, which is a step backward for social media, not a step forward, in my mind.

9.) “Toots.” Like, I get it’s an elephant tooting, but, c’mon. I have a six-year-old. Toots. Toots. It’s funny, shut up, don’t @ me.

10.) Still, though, it’s worth mentioning that I had more fun on Mastodon yesterday than I had on Twitter yesterday. If you can curate a more boutique experience there for friends and community, I’m all for it. And they’re forward-facing with content warning tags and such, and it felt light and fun, if a little bewildering at first. (And, honestly, still a little bewildering. It feels like it’s catering more to people who grok tech well, not your average, easily bewildered user. I used to be a tech-grokker, but am no longer all that savvy in that regard.) I’m hopeful for it, and I do feel like we need an alternative to Twitter given that Twitter seems way, way behind the curve when it comes to creating a moderated, maintained environment — they’ve got rats in the walls, and seem comfortable giving the rats blue checkmarks and letting them run the joint.

More as I know it, assuming I don’t at some point just mentally check out of it (remember Ello? yeah me neither) and go back to Twitter because fuck it.