Thoughts on Mastodon

Five years ago, I was all-in on Mastodon. I deleted my Twitter account, set up a Mastodon instance, and encouraged my friends to join. A year later, I wrote my own Mastodon client in an attempt to make Mastodon faster and easier to use.

So with the recent Twitter exodus, and with seemingly every news outlet and tech blog talking about Mastodon, you’d think I’d be pretty pleased. And yet, I’m filled with a deep ambivalence.

Mastodon is great. It has a lot of advantages over Twitter. But in my own experience, I’ve found that the less time I spend on social media, the better I feel.

I like my RSS feed. The signal-to-noise ratio is high, the timeline is slow, and there are no notifications. That’s about the right speed of social media for me.

I still use Mastodon. But over time, Mastodon has become the place where I share interesting articles from my RSS feed, or my own blog posts, once a week or so. I read the comments, but rarely respond. It’s a largely write-only medium for me.

With so many people rediscovering Mastodon, though, I’ve done two things:

  1. I’ve beefed up my Mastodon instance and started a Patreon to help support the exploding usage.
  2. I’ve done some tinkering on my Mastodon client (Pinafore) and triaged the sudden onslaught of bug reports and feature requests.

I’ve done these things out of a sense of duty and obligation, but I know from experience that that’s not sustainable. My heart’s just not really in it, so maintaining these projects is probably not a great idea long-term. At some point, I will probably need to find a new maintainer for my Mastodon instance, and either “retire” Pinafore or pass it on to another maintainer.

For anyone who has just joined Mastodon from Twitter, and who is giddy about the possibilities of building a better, user-controlled social media: I applaud you! It is a worthy endeavor! But I would caution you to rein in your enthusiasm a bit, and read this thread from an ex-Twitter designer on what Twitter actually got right and Mastodon gets wrong, and this post from Alan Jacobs on how many Mastodon users have brought over their same bad habits – unmodified, unexamined – from the “hellsite.”

In my five years on Mastodon, I’ve found that there is a lot it does better than Twitter, but there is also a lot that is just endemic to social media. To the endless scroll. To the status games, the quest for adulation, the human urge to shame and shun and one-up and manipulate. I’m sure this goes back to Usenet – Jaron Lanier called it “chaotic human weather”.

There is a better way to foster kind, thoughtful, generous, joyful conversation on the internet. I’m not convinced that Mastodon has found the magic formula, but it is a step in the right direction. And as argued in this talk, I’m less interested in what the fediverse is now, than by what it could become. That depends on all of you, and what you choose to build with it.

2 responses to this post.

  1. With you on this one. I’ve been using Mastodon for a few years and the influx of users has been bittersweet. So many new, great accounts! But also, the types of posts I really do not like on any other platform.

    It is becoming more and more obvious that the problems with social media are not technical.


    • Posted by John Lusk on December 1, 2022 at 3:03 PM

      I do believe this (“not technical”) has been said more than once. (Each time adding more veracity, right?)


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