Now that the deal is done and Musk captured the bird, i.e. Twitter, let’s see what happens. Will there be a wave(let) of people migrating to decentralised places in the fediverse? There were mulitple connection requests in my inbox this morning.

It might be a strange experience for most newly migratory birds, as finding the others on Mastodon isn’t as easy. Especially not finding your current others that you interact with already on Twitter. The path that one needs for this is like it used to be: once you connect to someone you check-out the people they follow and are followed by. We did that for blog rolls, and for every YASN (yet another social network) we joined, and we asked people in person for their e-mail addresses before that. Now I am doing the same for people using Hypothes.is. The difference is probably that many never encountered that tactic before, because it wasn’t needed and you can follow the recommendations of the platforms who do the ‘finding the others’ for you (for their definition of finding, not yours).

Anyway. I am on Mastodon since 2017, find me there. I run my own instance since 2018, hosted by Masto.host run by Hugo Gameiro, who provides a great service. But you’re more likely to start at a existing bigger instance: here’s a useful tool to help you decide.
Zoek je een Nederlandse Mastodon server? Kijk naar mastodon.nl, beheerd door Maarten den Braber.

Come find me. That’s how you find the others.


An AI generated image (using Dall-E) with the prompt ‘A blue bird has an encounter with a grey mammoth’

INDIEWEB.SOCIAL is a #Mastodon-based Fediverse instance that is a home for those who build, study, promote – or are just fascinated by – a wide variety of #openweb, #indieweb, #federated and #humanetech practices and technologies.

We seek to promote innovation and shared evolution and promotion of such technologies as well as to offer this instance itself as a platform to experiment with integration and early implementations of these.

Originally registered by Jeannie McGeehan, now co-administrated by Tim Chambers

To me it’s more logical to run ActivityPub individually, either directly from your own domain, or by having a separate single-person instance (such as in my case). Yet, I can see how having a group instance like this can be useful.

I’ve added a plugin, Mastodon Autopost, to crosspost from this blog to my Mastodon instance.
This won’t bring back any reactions to this blog, unlike Twitter reactions which do get back to this blog through Webmention. For that I would need to use Bridgy Fed. However that has as a disadvantage that it would turn my blog into a separate ActivityPub account, an activitypub user in its own right.

For now I’d rather have a separate Mastodon account (on my personal instance). Not everything I post on my blog I want to post to Mastodon, and not everything I post on Mastodon I want to have in my blog (e.g. responses to or reposts of others). I can definitely see me using this blog as the one and only hub for my online communications, but for that to work, I want to be able to keep ephemeral postings outside my regular site and my rss feeds, and more importantly be able to determine intended audiences per posting. Another requirement is that I can post tweets about a blogpost without that tweet being a separate blogpost (now I use the post excerpt for that and send it to twitter)

Currently I have my Mastodon (and my first Twitter account) set to me needing to approve every follower. My audience for a message is somewhat known to me that way, and I can shape a message accordingly. We all talk differently to different people and have conversations in different settings and contexts. This is true for online conversations just as much as for offline conversations. My microblog account does post everything from my blog but I also interact there independently from my blog.

With this plugin, for each posting I can determine if it is cross posted to Mastodon. I already had a similar setting for Twitter (and Flickr, which I don’t use). See the images.

[UPDATE]
It works as intended. I set the excerpt of this posting to “If all works as intended, this blogpost should show up in my Mastodon instance #wordpress #activitypub”, and set the plugin to post title, excerpt and URL.


[/UPDATE]

A metaphor and a an addition related to my earlier wonderings about Mastodon and upload filtering:

It’s as if because of a law requiring hammers to be registered, you’re wondering if you’re going to register your screwdriver. Just because some people use the handle of their screwdriver to hit a nail occasionally, and ignore its primary functionality.

Yes there are very large Mastodon instances, the top 3 hold over 50% of all users. These instances might well fall within scope of the EU Copyright Directive. But ‘fixing’ the underlying ActivityPub protocol or federation isn’t the issue here. Fixing big instances is. In fact most Mastodon users, as they are on the biggest instances, don’t use federation at all because most of their interaction is within the same instance. Mastodon.social, pawoo.net and mstdn.jp, the 3 biggest instances, I’d argue are hardly part of the fediverse, despite e.g. mastodon.social being its poster child and point of entry for most.

Don’t make someone’s bloated instance’s issue to be a huge issue for the fediverse as a whole

Jerome Velociter has an interesting riff on how Diaspora, Mastodon and similar decentralised and federated tools are failing their true potential (ht Frank Meeuwsen).

He says that these decentralised federated applications are trying to mimic the existing platforms too much.

They are attempts at rebuilding decentralized Facebook and Twitter

This tendency has multiple faces
I very much recognise this tendency, for this specific example, as well as in general for digital disruption / transformation.

It is recognisable in discussions around ‘fake news’ and media literacy where the underlying assumption often is to build your own ‘perfect’ news or media platform for real this time.

It is visible within Mastodon in the missing long tail, and the persisting dominance of a few large instances. The absence of a long tail means Mastodon isn’t very decentralised, let alone distributed. In short, most Mastodon users are as much in silos as they were on Facebook or Twitter, just with a less generic group of people around them. It’s just that these new silos aren’t run by corporations, but by some individual. Which is actually worse from a responsibility and liability view point.

It is also visible in how there’s a discussion in the Mastodon community on whether the EU Copyright Directive means there’s a need for upload filters for Mastodon. This worry really only makes sense if you think of Mastodon as similar to Facebook or Twitter. But in terms of full distribution and federation, it makes no sense at all, and I feel Mastodon’s lay-out tricks people into thinking it is a platform.

This type of effect I recognise from other types of technology as well. E.g. what regularly happens in local exchange trading systems (LETS), i.e. alternative currency schemes. There too I’ve witnessed them faltering because the users kept making their alternative currency the same as national fiat currencies. Precisely the thing they said they were trying to get away from, but ending up throwing away all the different possibilities of agency and control they had for the taking.

Dump mimicry as design pattern
So I fully agree with Jerome when he says distributed and federated apps will need to come into their own by using other design patterns. Not by using the design patterns of current big platforms (who will all go the way of ecademy, orkut, ryze, jaiku, myspace, hyves and a plethora of other YASNs. If you don’t know what those were: that’s precisely the point).

In the case of Mastodon one such copied design pattern that can be done away with is the public facing pages and timelines. There are other patterns that can be used for discoverability for instance. Another likely pattern to throw out is the Tweetdeck style interface itself. Both will serve to make it look less like a platform and more like conversations.

Tools need to provide agency and reach
Tools are tools because they provide agency, they let us do things that would otherwise be harder or impossible. Tools are tools because they provide reach, as extensions of our physical presence, not just across space but also across time. For a very long time I have been convinced that tools need to be smaller than us, otherwise they’re not tools of real value. Smaller (see item 7 in my agency manifesto) than us means that the tool is under the full control of the group of users using it. In that sense e.g. Facebook groups are failed tools, because someone outside those groups controls the off-switch. The original promise of social software, when they were mostly blogs and wiki’s, and before they morphed into social media, was that it made publishing, interaction between writers and readers, and iterating on each other’s work ‘smaller’ than writers. Distributed conversations as well as emergent networks and communities were the empowering result of that novel agency.

Jerome also points to something else I think is important

In my opinion the first step is to build products that have value for the individual, and let the social aspects, the network effects, sublime this value. Value at the individual level can be many things. Let me organise my thoughts, let me curate “my” web, etc.

Although I don’t fully agree with the individual versus the network distinction. To me instead of just the individual you can put small coherent groups within a single context as well: the unit of agency in networked agency. So I’d rather talk about tools that are useful as a single instance (regardless of who is using it), and even more useful across instances.

Like blogs mentioned above and mentioned by Jerome too. This blog has value for me on its own, without any readers but me. It becomes more valuable as others react, but even more so when others write in their own space as response and distributed conversations emerge, with technology making it discoverable when others write about something posted here. Like the thermometer in my garden that tells me the temperature, but has additional value in a network of thermometers mapping my city’s microclimates. Or like 3D printers which can be put to use on their own, but can be used even better when designs are shared among printer owners, and used even better when multiple printer owners work together to create more complex artefacts (such as the network of people that print bespoke hand prostheses).

It is indeed needed to spend more energy designing tools that really take distribution and federation as a starting point. That are ‘smaller’ than us, so that user groups control their own tools and have freedom to tinker. This applies to not just online social tools, but to any software tool, and to connected products and the entire maker scene just as much.