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.

29 comments

  • That sounds a lot like what Dreamwidth did after Livejournal had their breaking point. Considering that Dreamwidth offered everything LJ had, only a little different, a little better in some ways, we should all be talking on DW right now. We’re not. We shifted about equally to Twitter and Tumblr and it has nothing to do with how those platforms were like LJ, but how they were different.

    Hell, I remember all sorts of platforms and from what I can see right now twitter might be facing collapse, but it won’t be a clone that takes its place. It never is. It’s going to be something that gives us a thing we missed when we were on twitter and I’m not sure yet what that’s going to be.

    My biggest suspicion is that communities are going to move back into more private chat rooms, like Discord, because the spotlight hasn’t really worked out for many of us.

  • November 14, 2017 at 8:35 AM // Reply

    Thanks for this, Chuck. Was wondering about it; this is the most understandable anything I’ve seen about it so far.

  • >still a little bewildering. It feels like it’s catering more to people who grok tech well, not your average, easily bewildered user< – Yup. And I work in tech daily…but, that said, I'm old and cranky and want things to be easier, not needing as steep a learning curve.

    I commented this over there, but will reiterate. I am old enough to remember ye olde BBS days and old email discussion lists and admin drama, usually followed by flouncing, leaving all your users high & dry. One of my oldest email groups was created in '98 (yes, that was actually a decade, youngsters!) in response to such a flouncing. Mod got stupid over something silly, and with no warning, closed/deleted the group. Friend of mine started new group (this time private) and we've been going strong ever since – which is a good thing and frankly, probably achieved by strict membership requirements and remaining a private group.

    You are also right that if they think they can keep out the turd-weasels, it's naive to think so. They do tend to invade, just because they can, and all good intentions aside, it's *tiring* to keep fighting as an admin. Just ask anyone who's ever worked in the abuse group in any social media.

    All this said, I'm giving it a whirl, because why not?

  • I hear ya on lazy and old-ish. Somebody needs to invent a thing where you can centralise all your social media things and make things happen without having to open up multiple apps or websites or… things. A sort of Social Media Hub, if you will.

    If that’s already a thing, then I’m extremely out of the loop. I just like that I can automatically Tweet my crap (read: content) via my WordPress. Otherwise, I’d never use it.

  • One thing Mastodon could do better is surface the smaller communities more. Choosing maston.social as your first instance, in my experience made things more confusing. With so many toots hitting the local instance it’s hard to know what’s going on or get noticed if you’re asking for help.

    Smaller communities like wandering.shop, witches.town, etc. make the transition much smoother.

  • Here’s my concern, though: Your instance gets big. People like Chuck Wendig are on it (!!) and other people want to connect with them. You’re hosting your instance in your mom’s basement, because obviously. Or on an AWS t2.micro instance, because you’re savvy. Pretty soon, the box can’t keep up with the massive popularity of your instance, and your users are complaining that it’s sloooow and because Mastodon doesn’t support advertising, your only recourse is to beg your instance’s members for money through constant telethons or Patreon drives or whatever, until you get fed up with the fact that you now have a second job that doesn’t pay you anything at all or even cover your server costs, and quit. Am I missing something about the economics here?

  • This post is the STRANGEST coincidence. I hadn’t gotten to this email alert yet (you have your own “special” folder, Chuck), but I received yet another Ello naked woman follower this morning. Since that’s all the followers I ever get on Ello and because I never go on there anyway, I decided to delete my account. Then you happen to mention the platform in this post. Funny, huh?

    I’ll pass on Mastodon unless there’s a major shift to it by others. Won’t get fooled again.

  • Remember Tweetdeck? That’s what it reminds me of. Tweetdeck was good, better than Twitter in terms of a interface, and I’m not sure why it ever went away. The closest comparison I can make today is Hootsuite, if you only ever used Hootsuite for Twitter. I’ve signed up for the instance that has the most people in it (@andrewbutters@mastodon.social) but it’s basically supersized Tweetdeck.

    • Er… Tweetdeck still exists! It didn’t go anywhere. I use it to manage multiple Twitter accounts and schedule Tweets. It’s clunky but straightforward. I find Hootsuite to be a logistical nightmare.

    • Twitter bought tweetdeck and moved it to tweetdeck.twitter.com. There’s a big difference though, which is that while Tweetdeck allows you to simultaneously manage multiple Twitter accounts (and build column-bases lists for content), there’s still only one Twitter supplying the backend.

      • Well tickle my toes and call me a jelly doughnut. Mind. Blown. I have no idea what led me to believe it had gone away. Huh. Anyway, I still think Mastodon is just a fancied up Twitter with an interface that sucks less. Decidedly meh.

  • Andrew F. Butters – I still use my Tweetdeck. It didn’t go away? Also – I actually got my real name on mastadon – wow. That never happens. Looking forward to checking it out.

    • I only took the username I took because there’s a journalist by the same name and I don’t want him scooping it. He’s already got “my” domain name and I will NOT let that happen with anything else 🙂

  • I agree with pretty much every concern here. I brought up a couple of my concerns in my first few posts on Mastodon, and got a mild “talking to” by an admin, who was “concerned about my negative attitude”.

    My biggest concern about it is when you create a username on one Instance, that username is still available on every other instance. So it would be super easy for someone to spoof your username on another instance, start gathering followers, then start Tooting *AS* you, and the only way to stop it is individual moderation. In addition to that, Instances and the way usernames are handled is really confusing.

    This concern was met with “We haven’t seen that happen.” (to which I responded: YET), and “If it happens, moderators can shut it down”. Which is just a horribly naive attitude to have in the age of social media. Decentralized moderation with no standard set of guidelines, and expecting the moderators of individual instances to be able to handle whatever comes their way is just not scalable at real social media numbers. It means Mastadon becomes a mix of Twitter and Reddit, and eventually it’ll earn the same reputation as Reddit: Islands of tranquility in a massive cesspool where users and mods will have to advertise their individual instance as “not as bad as the rest of Mastodon”.

    • It really seems better-suited to small communities where people know each other (and want to admin a server together). I could see a “Cinci parents” group or something. I appreciated the Discord comparison someone made… myriad communities each with a strong thematic element.

    • >This concern was met with “We haven’t seen that happen.” (to which I responded: YET)< – Wow, I did not realize that your username wasn't reserved across mastodon in general. And yeah, that spoofing's gonna happen sooner than later, bc people. ABSOLUTELY naive. Frankly, starting a new social media outlet means being more aware of security practices and not ignoring things because they've not happened yet. Wow. I'm actually rather appalled. (Security compliance hat firmly on head)

  • One thing that might make Mastodon a little better than Twitter – spousal unit pointed out that not-for-profit helps. I mean, look, Twitter is big enough that they could freaking sit on the heads of the Nazis&c if they really wanted to. But there’s a profit motive that is probably keeping those efforts to the lowest level possible. IF they had a huge walk-out because well, Nazis&c, that would be one thing, but they haven’t. So it’s in their interests to keep that pot of hell simmering but not bubbling over into really bad publicity. A nfp might be quicker to sit on things that look like incitement (not just via local comm. admins, but overall)?I know that’s not policy now, but in future if they grow?

  • Hell, it’s more than I can handle to learn how to really use Twitter. I’m on Pinterest, and have no clue how to use it. I’m on Instagram, and can’t figure out the benefit of that. I’m on others, too, that I rarely if ever use, and one or two I just stay away from. Examples: I’m good on Facebook, but I still have a Google+ account for what reason, I don’t know. I’m on Quora. I don’t get that one. I’m on Linked-In,but rarely go there for any reason. I’m avoiding SnapChat because why?

    Now Mastadon? Another new thing for this old semi-luddite broad to learn and use? Sigh

  • As an Australian:
    Cookies are called bikkies, not biscuits; toilets are called ‘the library’ or similar (it’s about the time spent there, what you take with you, and the laughter, etc, that is emitted), and spiders, venomous or otherwise, are not referred to as terriers – they don’t make as much noise, for a start – but they do have pet names (I have a couple in my bathroom, big beautiful, hairy critters that keep the pests under control – Laura, Lolly, and Syd [who got et yesterday).
    So, whoever said this to you:
    “Oh, cookies here are called ‘biscuits.’ Toilets are called ‘salad bowls.’ Spiders are called ‘venomous terriers.’ Otherwise everything is the same!”
    was from somewhere else originally (probably across the ditch in New Zealand).

    • As a Kiwi, it sounds more like an instance of the grand old antipodean game of “pull the tourist’s leg” – and both sides of the ditch know how that one goes. And it’s probably why some people think that the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Auckland Harbour Bridge are actually the same bridge, crossing from one nation to the other (never mind that they’re 2000km/1300mi+ apart).

      • it truly does, doesn’t it? but Kiwi’s don’t have our spiders, and the one we sent across as a gift got short shrift (not that anyone could blame them).

  • Thank you for sharing this, Chuck.

    I hadn’t heard of Mastadon, and it’s always good to know what’s out there; keep your options open, you know? I especially appreciate the pros and cons of the site.

  • Damn, I thought we were talking about the band.

    I don’t like that other people can sign up using your username in instances, as some people pointed out above. I have time for more social media like I have time for another hole in my head… but I’ll think about it. Early Twitter was amazing, and I’ve all but stopped using it because of the ick.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds