Peter has experimented for a while with Mastodon (and the ActivityPub protocol behind it) and decided that it’s not for him.

Well, this has been fun, but it turns out that the effort-vs-reward for the fediverse doesn’t balance for me; I need fewer reasons to be tethered, not more. @mastohost, recommended by @ton, was an excellent playground. In 24 hours this account will self-destruct. But, now and forever, https://ruk.ca is where you’ll find me.

I very much recognise his point. The disbalance he mentions I felt strongly in the past month, where it was absent in the five and a half years before it. The enormous influx of people, positive in itself, and the resulting growth in the number of people I followed made my timeline too busy. In response I started following topics more and am evaluating rss feeds from ActivityPub servers. The disbalance expresses itself in spending too much time in the home timeline, without that resulting in notable things. (I mean literally notable, as in taking notes) Unlike my feedreader. It does result in some interesting conversations. However such interactions usually start from a blogpost that I share. Because of the newness of AP and Mastodon to the large wave of people joining, many posts including mine are of the ‘Using Mastodon to talk about Mastodon’ type. This is of course common for newly adopted tools, and I still have a category on this blog for metablogging, as blogging about blogging has been a 20 year long pattern here. Yet it is also tiring because it is mostly noise, including the whole kindergarten level discussions between petty admins defederating each other. There’s a very serious discussion to be had about moderation, blocks and defederation, to turn it into a tool that provides agency to individual users and the groups they are part of. These tools are important, and I’m glad I have them at my disposal. Ironically such serious discussion about Mastodon isn’t easy to conduct in a Tweetdeck and Twitter style interface, such as Mastodon provides. I moved the home timeline over to the right in my Mastodon web interface, so I don’t see it as the first thing when I open it up. I’ve concluded I need to step away from timeline overwhelm. Much as I did on Twitter years ago.


A tired purple mastodont lies on the ground sleeping while groups of people are talking in the background, sketchbook style. Dall-E generated image.

There are however two distinct aspects about AP and the recent incoming wave of people that I am more interested to be engaged with than I was before this started.

First, to experiment personally with AP itself, and if possible with the less known Activities that AP could support, e.g. travel and check-ins. This as an extension of my personal site in areas that WordPress, OPML and RSS currently can’t provide to me. This increases my own agency, by adding affordances to my site. This in time may mean I won’t be hosting or self-hosting my personal Mastodon instance. (See my current fediverse activities)

Second, to volunteer for governance related topics in the wider Dutch user group of Mastodon. Regardless of my own use of Mastodon, it is an environment in which many more people than before have new choices to make w.r.t. taking their online presence and tools in their own hands. A step from a global silo such as Twitter to e.g. a larger Dutch instance, while not the same as running one’s own, can be a significant step to more personal agency and networked agency. I’m involved in a group discussing how to establish governance structures that can provide continuity to the Dutch instance Mastodon.nl, lets people on the instance have an active voice and role in its internal governance, and raises awareness of the variety of tools and possibilites out there while purposefully avoiding becoming a new silo (through e.g. providing pathways away from the instance). Such governance is not part of the Mastodon instance, but structured around it. Such involvement is an expression of my experience and role in using tech for the past 33 years online as being inherently political.


A purple mastodont is conversing with a crowd of people, sketchbook style. Dall-E generated image.

In the noisy chaotic phase that Twitter Inc. is going through, I downloaded my data from them 2 weeks ago. Meanwhile in the Fediverse newcomers mention they appreciate how nice, pleasant and conversational things are.

It’s good to note that that is how Twitter started out too. In my network I felt I was late joining Twitter, this because I was using Jaiku (a similar, better I might add, service based in Europe). Sixteen years on that can be seen as early user. My user ID is number 59923, registered on Tuesday December 12th, 2006. Judging by the time, 10:36am, I registered during my regular 10:30 coffee break.

One minute later I posted my first message. It had ID 994313, so my Tweet was just within the first million messages on Twitter (the current rate seems to be over 800 million Tweets per day!). That first message mentioned the tool I was going to benchmark Twitter against: Jaiku.

What followed that first message was like how it was the past 4 years using Mastodon. A bunch of gentle conversations.

Back then everyone was nice, as you tend to be in public e.g. walking through a small village. Over time Twitter conversations tended towards “I need to win this exchange, even if I agree with my counterpart”. Argumentative. Performance above conversation. Performing in front of your own followers by enacting a conversation with someone else. The general tone of voice on Twitter (apart from the actual toxicity) is somewhat like the difference of posture you take in a metropolis versus a village. In a village you greet passersby, project an aura of approachability etc. In an urban environment you tend to pretend to not see others, are pro-active in claiming your physical space, alert that others don’t push you aside or further down the queue etc. Urban behaviour easily looks aggressive, and at the very least unnecessarily rude, in a village.

The past few weeks saw a massive influx of people from Twitter. Which is good. I also noticed that it felt a bit like city folk descending on some backwater. The general tone of voice, directness or terseness in phrasing, reflecting the character limit on Twitter, in contrast with the wider limits in Mastodon-village which allows both for more nuance and for, yes, politeness.
The contrast was felt both ways, as newcomers commented on how nice the conversations were, a breath of fresh air etc.

Quantitative changes, like a rising number of people using a specific communication channel, leads to qualitative changes. It did on Twitter. It will on Mastodon, despite the differences. In the fediverse some of that effect will be buffered by the tools individual users have on hand (blocking, blocking instances, moving instance or run your own, participate from your own website, e.g.). Meaning one can choose to ‘live’ in the middle of the metropolis, or on its outskirts where not many much frequent. But the effect will be there, also because there will be more tools built from other starting principles than the current tree of fediverse applications on top of the underlying ActivityPub protocol. Some will be counter those that underpin e.g. Mastodon, others will be aligned. But change it will.

It’s nice out here, but do regularly check the back of the package for the best-by date.

Via Frank Meeuwsen I came across a.gup.pe which says it creates instant groups for Fediverse.

  • You can join groups by following a group account like @grouptopic@a.gup.pe
  • Mentioning a group’s name will get it distributed to all followers of that group
  • Any mention of @sometopic@a.gup.pe that isn’t a group yet, will automatically create that group (much like my 33mail set-up does for email addresses.)

It seems to me it basically works as a repeater. Mentioning a group’s name will get your message boosted to all those who follow the group’s profile. Basically it boosts all posts on a topic you follow into your home timeline. Different than #tags because to follow those I need to set-up an additional column in my Mastodon interface.

When groups are small then this is potentially useful. But big topics will attract spammy behaviour soon I suspect. Suddenly you have the type of asymmetric amplification that otherwise doesn’t exist on Mastodon. Moderation is not done on the side of gup.pe I think. Anyone can send to the group, not just followers so there’s no route to moderation even. You’d need to mute or block unwanted boosts yourself. The flipside is that it may speed up discovery of new interesting accounts, and allows the type of group interaction that would otherwise require being e.g. in the same instance to be able to find/cluster together. I fear that noise easily will overcome such groups, but for now worth an experiment. I’ve created and joined a few groups from both my personal and work accounts, to see how it plays out over time.

I hadn’t really looked, but it turns out that Mastodon has incorporated microformats. It has h-feed and h-card, h-entry (a status), and h-cite (a boost). Plaint text properties (p-), e-content, and link properties (u-) are implemented. Indeed, they all surface when looking at a profile’s HTML source. This is what makes it possible to e.g. follow Mastodon feeds as h-feed, next to the existing RSS output and ActivityPub, and that e.g. Brid.gy can do its work to carry over any interaction on a Mastodon post to a blogpost here.

What I haven’t found was what I was looking for.
The ActivityPub protocol in its specs has several so-called Activity Types that drew my attention:

In short ActivityPub supports FourSquare and Dopplr like check-ins and travel plans. I’ve recently added that to my site in terms of microformats and was still wondering how to create a useful stream for it. I’ve been thinking about an OPML outline with schema.org attributes, or a dedicated RSS feed or h-feed. An ActivityPub stream might be of interest too, or even more. There’s a PHP implementation of ActivityPub that includes these Activity Types as well, meaning there’s potential to experiment for me.

I wonder, are there any actual implementations of these ActivityPub types currently?

As the Internet is alive with the sounds of #twittermigration these past days, I returned to some earlier thoughts and ideas, w.r.t to both self-hosting fediverse instances, and mapping those on to the business network of my company.

The resulting question is, would a set-up like this work?

If our company would set-up their own fediverse instance (m.tgl.eu here, with accounts for our team). This gives all of our team a ‘verified’, because of the company url, presence as part of their current work. That doesn’t mean we can’t have other accounts (see @ton in the image). And others in our network would do the same (names of organisations for illustration purposes).
If we would run one instance together (samenhankelijk.nl here), that is a relay for all the instances of the organisations involved, and the instance for any individuals in our network (@w… here).
Then we would have a fediverse network of our company’s actual network, where it becomes easier to interact more frequently across the entire network, where discovery is possible because of the shared public timelines through the relay. It’s bounded by being a representation of an actual network, but open within that and based on the permissive boundaries the various organisations themselves have.

I’m not sure if this is how ActivityPub relays are meant to work or are useful, but that’s what I want to explore.
A few of those building blocks are easy to set-up, a company instance and the instance to function as relay. Others are harder, getting our own instance used (we have internal asynchronous interaction through our own rocket.chat instance), getting others in our network to take the same steps.

Notions that play a role in this

My company is part of a network of similar groups and initiatives. Internally we call them friends of our company. These are the people and organisations we invite to events and parties, that we like to hang out with, jam about ideas with, and when possible work together with. That can be because we worked together in the past and thought that was fun and worth repeating, or because we share or shared office space, have similar perspectives or visions, and having overlapping or complementing activities. It’s a network of individuals in larger organisations that we interact with individually, and companies, non-profits and NGO’s that are Zebra’s, like us.

I think that technology should be smaller than us, in order to provide agency to us. With smaller I mean that the deployment and daily use of a tool must fall within the control and capabilities of the user or user group. Specifically the off-switch should be in control of the user group itself. That way a user group can use a tool under their control to address issues that group has by themselves in their own context. This is what I call networked agency. Different groups can strengthen their tools and work, by networking with other groups, yet tools stay useful on their own and get more useful when connected.

I also think that human networks of connections are similar to the structure of peer-to-peer internet structures. A network of many smaller nodes and areas where those connections are denser, individual nodes that are more intensively connected to others and form a local center. I’m convinced our digital tools work better if they deliberately mimic that human network structure, so that the digital affordances those tools provide flow naturally into the human network connections we all have. That’s what I call human digital networks, and distributed digital transformation.
Openness is a necessity in the networked age. But it also needs a limit. That limit is tied to our personal limits, the way we need to feel ‘at home’ in the context in which we exchange ideas. With the new influx of many new people on Mastodon I noticed how my timeline is feeling more alienating than before when it was more like hanging out in my favourite watering hole in town. That will settle, I’m sure, yet in social platforms that treat the entire globe as the same public square you are continuously exposed to the algorithmically amplified onslaught of all of it all the time. Which does not reflect human network reality anymore. Bounded openness matches that reality better.

All this maps on to the fediverse I think: if each company or group in our network has their own instance, that allows internal interaction and public interaction in parallel, and if that public interaction is always visible locally in all other instance in the network, then more direct and deeper ties between the people in the network may grow. Such interaction would create more ideas, more initiatives and help spot more opportunities to do things together I think (or equally quickly expose we’re not as nicely aligned or matched as we thought).

It seems some 50.000 people created a Mastodon account since Musk captured the blue bird. Twitter has about 400 million users, and some 200 million daily active ones, so that’s about an 1/80th percent versus 2/80th percent of the total. For Mastodon 50k users represent about 7/8th of a percent, considerably more, and significant change for a single day, but still a small number. It feels more massive in my Mastodon timeline though. This can be a sign that the networks I’m part of are heavily skewed (most likely true), or that it’s more active Twitter users making the switch (not an unreasonable assumption). Some 10% of Twitter users make up about 90% of messages. If the 50k migrants come from that 10%, than as those 10% come by definition from the active users so that they represent 20% of those active users (40 million), they add up to 1/8th of a percent of those.

At those rates, and seeing the peak migration is behind us, it means what passes for #twittermigration is indeed just a wavelet. Especially as those new account holders have not deleted their Twitter accounts. I’ve been an active user of Mastodon for 5 years, and haven’t deleted my handful of Twitter accounts either. I still use them, almost only for broadcasting though, while most of my conversation is indeed on Mastodon.

So if anything this is at the moment less a #twittermigration than a sort of self-induced netsplit (common in the days of peak IRC), which may turn out to be as temporary as the netsplits of old were. Unless the momentum keeps up, for instance because the bird trapper‘s public statements and actions drive more people away. After all bird traps aren’t mostly non-lethal.

And we have of course seen these wavelets of account creation in the Fediverse before, with little in terms of active retention. This renewed wavelet has led me to re-assess whether my own website can serve usefully as a ActivityPub (the protocol behind Mastodon/Fediverse in general) actor. WordPress, through plugins, can ‘speak’ ActivityPub, just not in the way yet I want it to (two issues: current plugins expose my username on my site, and don’t allow for selective sharing of posts on my site through ActivityPub). ActivityPub is just a protocol, and my site should be able to speak it in the way I want, meaning that my presence on Mastodon is likely temporary, even if me communicating through ActivityPub isn’t.