While looking through the archive here I noticed that I’ve never really wrote about my use of Mastodon before. I guess, after a couple of months on there, it’s finally time.
With the rise of “alt-right”, Trump, and Twitter’s handling of both I’ve grown more and more tired of the network. Add the constant changing of the company’s C-level management and lack of visible strategy. It still offers quite a lot when it comes to news especially for certain communities (the Go community being one of them) but as with any free but commercial service there is the trade of your personal data for some benefit. I think I’m simply no longer willing to make that trade just for news where the profiteers are companies that not act even remotely in my interest and that have shown time and again that they would do pretty much anything but help you if you’re attacked (which I haven’t been yet).
If you look back a couple of years you perhaps remember App.net: Basically a Twitter clone that promised to stay neutral and just provide the data channel on which everyone could create whatever apps they liked. Users and their personal data were not the product but actually had to pay a fee to be on that network. Sadly, it turned out that people were not yet willing to pay for something like that so, after stopping development quite some time ago, App.net closed down last year. Don’t visit that domain now as it looks like someone else already picked it up.
Around the same time Mastodon appeared on the scene. A federated Twitter-like platform where you were free to create your own server with whatever topic you like and have it connect with other nodes in the network. What if you’re not technical enough to run your own server? There are hundreds of instances already running where you are free to create an account. Tons of content in the form of articles and podcasts explaining Mastodon has already hit the web, so I will just link to a couple of them here:
- An interview with Eugen Rothko on SoftwareEngineeringDaily
- An introduction video available on the project’s YouTube channel.
For me personally, Mastodon feels like a mix of Twitter and App.net. Depending on what server you’re on, the community is either small and intim, or huge and might overwhelm you. Coming from a central network it’s easy to fall into the trap of just picking the largest instance and treating it like a Twitter-clone.
I say “trap” because you’d probably miss out on a core feature of Mastodon that makes it special: While most instances talk to each other (so you can follow someone from instance B while you are on A), every instance has it’s own “local timeline” where you can follow all the messages written by users of that specific server right when they happen. This can make every single Mastodon instance a community of its own. For example, quite a few people from the German hacker-scene have accounts on Chaos.social. So the local timeline is very focused around security and DIY topics.
I, personally, have an account on Wandering.shop where tons of SciFi fans, authors, and book lovers are. Hence, whenever I stumble on something that involves Star Trek or a good book, I will post it there first. I also have an account on mastodon.social as this has a very broad range of users and therefore might give me insights into topics I didn’t even know existed.
Luckily, most client applications support having multiple accounts on various Mastodon instances, so switching between them is easy. Sure, nothing is perfect but the community is extremely active and so I’m pretty confident that there will eventually be a client that works just the way I like it.
Another core feature of Mastodon is its openness. First, the software used by pretty much every instance is open source and very actively maintained. Second, it uses open protocols so integrating other similar services with it is possible and even encouraged. Third, there are features in the works that might eventually allow you to either export your data completely or migrate your account from one instance to another (for instance if you are no longer satisfied with one host, or they decided to shut down).
On the other side of the equation, running a server, while rather cheap depending on the number of active users, is not free. For this reason lots of instances including Chaos.social and Mastodon.social have accounts on Patreon and/or Liberapay where donations are collected to pay for the servers et al. So, if you want to keep your instance going, donating some money is an option and (again) encouraged. Giving two Euros per month doesn’t sound like much but if enough people do it, it goes a long way when it comes to motivation 😉
I mentioned in the beginning that Twitter is awesome when it comes to news. That’s one area where Mastodon is lacking right now. Perhaps that’s because many folks coming here simply grew tired of the whole news-attention-addiction-fewer that infected the birdsite (aka Twitter) but it’s still worth mentioning. If you come to Mastodon expecting Twitter, you might be disappointed. For me personally, that’s not really an issue as I prefer to get my news through news-feeds or newsletters and so combining that with my various Mastodon accounts is just perfect.
The community around Mastodon is huge, though, so who knows what it will look like in a year or two. Perhaps there will be server dedicated to regional news, or we will have threaded discussions like on Google+/Facebook. Who knows?! What is already here, though, is extremely promising and it might finally convince me putting my Twitter account to rest.