I don't know if you're aware of this, but Twitter hasn't been a very good company in the last few years. Between the aiding and abetting of white supremacists, the continued hosting of our obnoxious orange tweeter-in-chief, and the ongoing user-hostile platform changes, it's just not as fun of a place as it was when I joined on November 14, 2007. So, uh, I'm not there any more.
No, I didn't delete my Twitter account. However, I have started trying to use a new
microblogging system in its stead: Mastodon. Mastodon is an
interesting idea: it's a federated social network1, which means it's made of a bunch of
different copies run by different people but set up so that you can follow people and
toots2 no matter which instance they happen to be on. I'm on
mastodon.technology, which is generally themed around
mainstream tech stuff, but I follow people at fosstodon and
cybre.space and mastodon.social3.
There are a couple of outstanding things about mastodon that I'd like to point out:
- The local timeline is a timeline that shows every toot marked as "public" from people on your instance If you are on an instance that is relevant to your interests and which isn't too big, this can be a great way to get exposed to new people and new ideas. Mine has a few too many bitcoin enthusiasts on it, but is generally fun!4
- Instances have rules and a code of conduct. Mastodon.technology (like many other instances) actively blocks hate speech and white supremacists. How novel!
- You aren't the product! Most instances are either run by volunteers or funded by donations (mastodon.technology is funded by a Patreon), there are no ads, there's no garbage algorithmic timeline. It's just a chronological list of short mixed-media posts from people you choose to follow. Again... novel...
Of course, mastodon isn't the first technology product to try to move into Twitter's space. I also used the bizarrely- named App.net during its brief existence between mid-2013 and mid-2014; it was okay. There was also identi.ca in 2008 and the ever-popular Google Buzz, which I think I used when I was a Google employee 🤷♂️. The real advantage to Mastodon's design is that since it's open-source software and is federated, it's moderately harder for a single company to tank the platform. Of course, social networks are only useful as long as people you want to interact with use them, so it remains to be seen how well-populated Mastodon will be. If you're reading this, maybe you're someone who would be fun to interact with on Mastodon and you should make an account and follow me? Hm? If you still want more information, this Motherboard article is pretty good.5
The biggest weakness (for me) for Mastodon so far is a dearth of good native clients. I'm currently using Amaroq on my iPhone, which is feature complete but doesn't feel like a very good native iOS app, and beta testing Tusk, which feels like a native iOS app but is missing lots of features. There's nothing worth using yet on iPads or Macs. However! There is light at the end of the tunnel — Sean Huber of The Iconfactory (makers of Twitterrific, the best iOS/macOS Twitter client) appears to be working on a top-secret Mastodon client named Fantastodon. I'm excited.
So, yeah. If you @-me on Twitter, I probably won't respond6, but you should totally join me on Mastodon and follow me as @firstname.lastname@example.org. Awoo!
Mastodon folks call each Mastodon server an instance and the collective of all of them the fediverse. Technically, since the protocol is open, the fediverse also contains some other servers running totally unrelated packages such as GNU Social and Diaspora. ↩
There's also something called the federated timeline which is basically the set-union of the timelines of everybody followed by anybody on your instance. Unless you are in a tiny and extremely focused instance, it's far too noisy to follow. ↩
I didn't realize until I was writing this post that the Motherboard article was by Sarah Jeong, whose reporting in general is excellent and whose courtroom reporting for the ridiculous Oracle v Google Java trial was amazing. Another point for that article! ↩
at least in part because I no longer receive notifications for Twitter because of their boneheaded API changes ↩