Because of Twitter’s impending buyout a lot of people are talking about alternatives to Twitter, including Mastodon. I could write a bunch of long rambles about this, but I already have:
Basically, my problem with Twitter isn’t that it’s centralized, but that it’s Twitter.
Mastodon has some good stuff going for it; communities can be small and it can be an easy way for folks to share things without needing An Blog™. But it’s still an environment where much of the motivation is around hot takes and cold takedowns. I see so much toxicity take place all the time from people criticizing each other and turning a simple misunderstanding into a Fediverse-wide dogpile. Perhaps not to the same extent as what happens on Twitter daily, but it happens, and it’s getting worse.
There are also many, many technological issues with Mastodon which need addressing. The biggest one is the privacy model. At best you can sorta-limit a post’s reach, but the permissions are precisely inverted (since it’s based on sending it to people who follow you, rather than people you follow, or better yet a fullly-controled access model), but also what few privacy options do exist are mostly a veneer around an insecure protocol. Your DMs are visible to the admin of your instance, as well as the admins on the instance that you’re messaging, for example.
Mastodon, being ActivityPub, also aspires to interoperate with other ActivityPub things, but this leads to even more of a mismatch. Not all ActivityPub things are built with a Mastodon experience in mind, and even things that are Mastodon-like (such as Pleroma) don’t abide by the same security model.
As I understand it, “unboostable” Mastodon toots are still quite boostable from Pleroma. Including DMs. Update: I am informed that Pleroma does honor the Mastodon no-boost attributes. However, that’s still just an agreement at the UI/UX level and nothing that can be enforced at the protocol level. (Of course, there’s nothing that can really prevent any malicious, intentional spread of private information, but it shouldn’t be made trivial for accidents to happen either!)
The entire privacy model is also predicated on ActivityPub being push-based; the way a post is “private” is simply by it not being available in an outbox/feed. This means that there’s no way for followers to backfill when granted access.
ActivityPub being purely push-based also exacerbates some reliability and scaling issues. If an instance goes down, then other instances trying to send a message to it get stuck in a retry loop. A much better approach is for failed pushes to just fall on the floor and for the instance to backfill them through a pull when it comes back online. Which is exactly how RSS/Atom + WebSub works, just saying.
I appreciate the interactions I have on Mastodon and it’s definitely an environment which is… less bad than Twitter. But it still leaves a lot to be desired, and if Mastodon were to get as popular as Twitter, it’ll have many of the same problems, and probably plenty of new ones too.
I know I sound like a broken record on this, but my preferred way of publishing and sharing my thoughts remains posting to this site and having the interactions take place here. The unfortunate reality is that most people only follow me on Twitter and Mastodon so I will continue to POSSE my posts there, and it’ll be a long time before I can stop posting the “privacy stub” posts for my authenticated posts, but that’s the balance I’m comfortable with.
The blog does present a barrier to being able to quickly share my thoughts with the world, but it turns out I don’t really need to do that anyway; I’m not an Influencer™ and I don’t really desire to be one, either.
My big hope is that Tumblr realizes that they’re in a really good position to become an IndieWeb provider, and does so. It wouldn’t take much for them, either:
- Allow subscribing to external RSS/Atom feeds on the Tumblr dash
- Accept external webmentions as notes
- Send webmentions for reblogs of external items (which would require removing the
href.lilink wrappers, but it’s incredibly unclear what purpose those serve anyway)
Tumblr has found that they Get It and know how to build a social networking site that’s not completely awful, and their current renaissance (with their experiments in monetization, ad-free and “blaze” in particular) has them on a really good path forward. Tumblr also still has many of the toxicity problems inherent in a wide-scale timeline-based quick-interaction social network, but I’d be much more comfortable with the idea of social media turning more Tumblr-like than it turning more Twitter-like.
As much as I dislike Facebook, it does have some stuff going for it:
- A good privacy model
- Moderated user groups
The user-facing privacy model isn’t too far-removed from how I implemented privacy in Publ (which was modeled after Google+’s “circles” concept, incidentally), and user groups just feel like a special case of syndication (as implemented on e.g. IndieWeb News). Distributed privacy is a work in progress but great strides have taken place. There’s still a long ways to go, though, especially around use cases like webmention. But lack of post privacy clearly hasn’t been a detriment to folks using Twitter or Mastodon so far.
(Twitter does provide “locked accounts” but those are a pretty gnarly hack and break a lot of things, even on Twitter. Needing multiple identities to curate an audience is not a scalable solution either way.)
I feel like in general, humans just weren’t built to be so interconnected. We operate best when we have small, localized communities of shared interest. Expanding out from that based on referrals works well. Being forced to operate at large scale thanks to algorithmic discovery just leads to problems all around.
When I write a blog entry, it’s mostly to keep my friends in the loop on what’s going on with me, or to share some sort of unstructured musing (such as this). I also have control over the presentation based on the sort of content it is; this website isn’t one-size-fits-all, and I can post all sorts of other things to it, each with a presentation that’s better for the content in question (and allows for easier perusal). I also still don’t really care about instant engagement. I want people to come across it organically, while perusing the Internet or doing a search. I love seeing conversations pop up on other sites (yes, even Hacker News and Reddit) without it necessarily being put on my doorstep. I also keep my comments mostly open (but moderated) because that’s an interaction model that I’m comfortable with.
I like that I can keep control over my own domain, and that I’m not subject to the rules of the platform, or needing Maximum Engagement to generate ad revenue and so on. And I can choose not to allow abusive responses or spam to be a part of what I present along with my own subject matter.
And most of all, I like that a single unhinged billionaire can’t decide to take over my personal website as part of a categorical power grab.