I just deleted my previous account on Mastodon.cloud, which completes the move to email@example.com, my personal Mastodon instance.
I think this is a false dilemma, Bernd.
I’d say that it would be great if those extremists would see using a distributed tool like Mastodon as the only remaining viable platform for them. It would not suppress their speech. But it woud deny them any amplification, which they now enjoy by being very visible on mainstream platforms, giving them the illusion they are indeed mainstream. It will be much easier to convince, if at all needed, instance moderators to not federate with instances of those guys, reducing them ever more to their own bubble. They can spew hate amongst themselves for eternity, but without amplification it won’t thrive. Jotted down some thoughts on this earlier in “What does Gab’s demise mean for federation?“
Who of you would want to try out Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter or Facebook? Would it help if I offer you a place to try it out? On my own instance, or rather a small group instance? Would you want to find a small group instance near you / around an interest you have? Do you have questions I can help with? See Sandro Hawke’s suggestion to do a once a month push for why I am asking, and this blogpost for why I think driving adoption from the edge matters.
From the recent posting on Mastodon and it currently lacking a long tail, I want to highlight a specific notion, and that’s why I am posting it here separately. This is the notion that tool usage having a long tail is a measure of distribution, and as such a proxy for networked agency. [A long tail is defined as the bottom 80% of certain things making up over 50% of a ‘market’. The 80% least sold books in the world make up more than 50% of total book sales. The 80% smallest Mastodon instances on the other hand account for less than 15% of all Mastodon users, so it’s not a long tail].
To me being able to deploy and control your own tools (both technology and methods), as a small group of connected individuals, is a source of agency, of empowerment. I call this Networked Agency, as opposed to individual agency. Networked also means that running your own tool is useful in itself, and even more useful when connected to other instances of the same tool. It is useful for me to have this blog even if I am its only reader, but my blog is even more useful to me because it creates conversations with other bloggers, it creates relationships. That ‘more useful when connected’ is why distributed technology is important. It allows you to do your own thing while being connected to the wider world, but you’re not dependent on that wider world to be able to do your own thing.
Whether a technology or method supports a distributed mode, in other words is an important feature to look for when deciding to use it or not. Another aspect is the threshold to adoption of such a tool. If it is too high, it is unlikely that people will use it, and the actual distribution will be very low, even if in theory the tools support it. Looking at the distribution of usage of a tool is then a good measure of success of a tool. Are more people using it individually or in small groups, or are more people using it in a centralised way? That is what a long tail describes: at least 50% of usage takes place in the 80% of smallest occurrences.
In June I spoke at State of the Net in Trieste, where I talked about Networked Agency. One of the issues raised there in response was about scale, as in “what you propose will never scale”. I interpreted that as a ‘centralist’ remark, and not a ‘distributed’ view, as it implied somebody specific would do the scaling. In response I wrote about the ‘invisible hand of networks‘:
“Every node in a network is a scaler, by doing something because it is of value to themselves in the moment, changes them, and by extension adding themselves to the growing number of nodes doing it. Some nodes may take a stronger interest in spreading something, convincing others to adopt something, but that’s about it. You might say the source of scaling is the invisible hand of networks.”
In part it is a pun on the ‘invisible hand of markets’, but it is also a bit of hand waving, as I don’t actually had precise notions of how that would need to work at the time of writing. Thinking about the long tail that is missing in Mastodon, and thus Mastodon not yet building the distributed social networking experience that Mastodon is intended for, allows me to make the ‘invisible hand of networks’ a bit more visible I think.
If we want to see distributed tools get more traction, that really should not come from a central entity doing the scaling. It will create counter-productive effects. Most of the Mastodon promotion comes from the first few moderators that as a consequence now run large de-facto centralised services, where 77% of all participants are housed on 0,7% (25 of over 3400) of servers. In networks smartness needs to be at the edges goes the adagium, and that means that promoting adoption needs to come from those edges, not the core, to extend the edges, to expand the frontier. In the case of Mastodon that means the outreach needs to come from the smallest instances towards their immediate environment.
Long tail forming as an adoption pattern is a good way then to see if broad distribution is being achieved.
Likely elements in promoting from the edge, that form the ‘invisible hand of networks’ doing the scaling are I suspect:
- Show and tell, how one instance of tool has value to you, how connected instances have more value
- Being able to explain core concepts (distribution, federation, agency) in contextually meaningful ways
- Being able to explain how you can discover others using the same tool, that you might want to connect to
- Lower thresholds of adoption (technically, financially, socially, intellectually)
- Reach out to groups and people close to you (geographically, socially, intellectually), that you think would derive value from adoption. Your contextual knowledge is key to adoption.
- Help those you reach out to set up their own tools, or if that is still too hard, ‘take them in’ and allow them the use of your own tools (so they at least can experience if it has value to them, building motivation to do it themselves)
- Document and share all you do. In Bruce Sterling’s words: it’s not experimenting if you’re not publishing about it.
An adoption-inducing setting: Frank Meeuwsen explaining his steps in leaving online silos like Facebook, Twitter, and doing more on the open web. In our living room, during my wife’s birthday party.
Discovery in networks is always a bit difficult. You can for instance traverse the follower list of the followers of your followers (ad infinitum), which I often do, or you make voluntary lists like webrings, or blogrolls (my blogroll is in the right side bar). Trunk has some interesting thematic lists with (real 😉 )people’s activity pub and Mastodon accounts on them for a wide variety of topics. From retro-gaming to sustainability, from cyberpunk to fountain pens, and from witchcraft to gardening.
Today the 2.6 version of Mastodon has been released. It now has built-in support for “rel=me”, which allows verification. Meaning that I can show on my Mastodon profile a link to my site and can proof that both are under my control.
Rel=me is something you add to a link on your own site, to indicate that the page or site you link to also belongs to you. The page you link to needs to link back to your site and make it reciprocal. This is machine readable, and allows others to establish that different pages are under control of the same person or entity.
On my own site I use ‘rel=me’ in the about section in the right hand column. First, if you check the html source of my page, you’ll see that I say that this site (zylstra.org/blog) is my primary site, by making it the only link that has a ‘u-uid’ class (uid is unique id). It also has rel=”me”, meaning the relationship I have with the linked site, is that it is me:
class="u-url url u-uid uid" rel="me" href='https://www.zylstra.org/blog'
Further down in that About segment you find other links, to my Mastodon and Twitter profiles. If you look at those links you will see it says:
saying my Mastodon profile is also me, and similarly to say that a specific Twitter profile is also me (I maintain other Twitter profiles as well but they’re not me, but my company etc.):
To close the loop that allows verification that that is true, both my Mastodon profile and my Twitter profile need to link back to my site in a way that machines can check. For Twitter that is easiest: it has a specific place in a user profile for a website address. Like in the image below.
In Mastodon I can add multiple URLs to my profile but there was no way for me to explicitly say in my Mastodon profile that a specific link is the one that represents my online identity. But now I can add a rel=me link in my Mastodon profile, so that both my website and my Mastodon profile link to each other in a verifiable way, proving both are under my control. As you can see in the image below it was available on a single instance already for testing purposes (the green mark signifies verification with the linked site), and now with today’s release it is available to all Mastodon instances.
So how is verification of control over different pages by the same person useful? It may be useful to show that another Twitter profile with my name is not me, because there’s no two-way link between that profile and my site. If you have multiple rel=me references it becomes harder for others to fake specific parts of your online identity. Further, it allows additional functionality like logging in on a different site using credentials from another site you control. It also makes it possible to map networks, and discovery. Site X links to profile X with rel=me on Twitter. There X follows Y, and Y’s profile says, site Y is under her control. Now I know that Site X and Site Y’s authors are somehow connected. If I’m following site X, I may find it interesting to also regularly read site Y.
As soon as my Mastodon instance has been updated to the latest version, which will likely be sometime today, I will add the rel=me in my Mastodon profile, making the link between this site and that profile verifiable.
[UPDATE] It now works on my Mastodon instance: