I have been on Mastodon since mid-November 2022 and I have thoughts. BREAK OUT THE LISTS!
- All of the people praising it are right:
- Algorithm free: This means that you don’t have to try and post at a certain time of day boost at a certain type of day, pay money, or try to “hit” the right ratio of people responding to your post. You’ll just show up in their feed.
- Harder to Brigade: There is very deliberately no QRT (Quote Retweet) function. This means that the ability to take a tweet and frame it in a “look at this asshole!” context is no longer a single pushbutton. This means you have to screenshot or post a link and that means more time to think about whether you want to engage with whatever dickhead, or just ignore them if the post didn’t violate rules or report them to your/their admin if they did violate rules. This also means that it’s very hard for some ne’er do well with a billion followers to decide to highlight your sassy retort and get some of those billion followers to start sending you slurs and death threats.
- Harder to Spam: You can’t just show up in random’s feeds unless you start posting to hashtags… and if you post to hashtags with obvious spam, you get mocked, reported, and kicked.
- Decentralized: There is no One mastodon server. There are a bunch of little ones that talk to each other and some big ones that also talk to each other. The big ones tend to be behind cloudflare and use proper cloud redundancy and such… and the smaller ones are not worth targeting. Thus, it is very hard to DDoS the whole network… maybe just one server… and usually all that does is slow it down.
- Portable: If you find that a server you are on is stinky (either because someone bought it or the admin/mod team revealed they were suddenly *ist/*phobic or some other drama) which greatly increases the chances of it getting blocked by other servers (defederated) There are now easy buttons in the profile page of the old and new server to basically sign up to a new server and point all your old followers to the new spot.
- All of the people detracting it are also right:
- It is a bit wonky/overwhelming to get into: the closest service is Twitter… which is big and centralized and hides a lot of how twitter works by design in the hopes you’ll just sign up and start tweeting and start giving away what sorts of ads you’ll like. Thus, showing up looking to Mastodon and having to find a server that is open and seems to vibe with the type of people you’ll want to interact-with while you figure out hashtags and such is a pain in the ass. The best quote I saw was “Do you think someone is gonna sit down and explain this shit to Cher!?”
- Lots of different servers running an open-source spec means lots of different experiences between servers depending on when/how the admin/team has patched them and what extras they installed. This diffident friction is also present in the apps, lots of little features that might not work the same way they do on the server depending on the API specs the phone app supports… every app seems to have a “Open this post in the web browser” so that you can get the featureset that the server offers directly to browsers.
- There is no good search beyond hashtags/people: In twitter you can find all the people mentioning certain things relatively easily. In mastodon, I’ve found, if you don’t bookmark it the second you see it, you are going to have a hard time finding it again.
- There are going to be a lot less Truth-to-power moments: The nice thing about Twitter is that, well, everyone is/was there. So there were all these wonderful moments where people running their mouth trying to spread a lie got called out and the news of the David thwacking Goliath right in the dick with a rock got spread around the world. Because Mastodon tends to eschew searching and brigading by design… it’s not a good place for that type of activism.
- People running instances tend to treat it like a forum: Thus all the usual forum drama from 1998-2007 applies. Is there a schism between the person running the instance and some other instance? Well, now you can’t see anyone in the other instance and will have to move out. Are all the moderators basically friends of the owner and they operate like a little high-school clique, complete with punishing/shunning anyone making valid criticisms? It’s more likely than you think and will have to move out.
- It feels a lot like suburban sprawl/white flight. People leaving a dense concentration of different types of people to instead go to a smaller, more spread out collection of people just like them with an HOA they like/abide that is designed to keep out the people they don’t like… for better or worse.
For what it’s worth, I just really like Mastodon for now and one of the main reasons is the ability to follow a Hashtag. I follow #Knitting and see a lot of different knitting posts. And when I post my knitting pictures, I get a lot of interactions from different people who call it pretty and ask me about various bits… That’s better/more-fulfilling activity (especially the ‘interact with people I don’t know In Real Life(tm)’ kind) than I ever got from Twitter/Facebook. I am not going to completely eschew twitter/Meta… but their products (other than messengers) are off my phone.