Over the past couple weeks there’s been a lot of talk on Twitter about discontent and alternative social networking platforms. Personally, I don’t have anything against Elon, and I don’t assume he’s going to destroy this company, but I was still curious what other users’ perspectives were. As it happened, a lot of folks started talking about Mastodon, so of course I checked it out.
Mastodon is a platform for “radically different social media,” one that is open source, decentralized (they say “federated“), customizable, and surprisingly different from Twitter despite the fact that it looks quite similar. I won’t get into all the details about it (other people have written plenty), but, to the point, I was intrigued. Unlike any other social media platform I’ve seen, Mastodon seems like an idea I could actually get behind.
Before I get to the big announcement, I want to share something I learned along the way. I’ve come to use the terms “social media” and “social networking” interchangeably, but they actually mean different things. At least they used to. Many sites we now think of as social media sites, Facebook and LinkedIn most notably, used to be social networking sites. That is, their claimed purpose was to connect people together. This was a great idea, it seemed, and became very popular. However, somewhere along the way, connecting with people became an excuse to push content to an audience. Hence, social media. Services like Instagram and Twitter turned the social network into a broadcasting channel, and users became publishers. (Maybe legally they always were, but publishing, rather than connecting, became the primary use case.)
These days, “social media” leaves a bad taste in many mouths. As it should. The pressures to publish, the presumption that more followers = a bigger audience, the commodification of “friends,” the endlessly scrolling feed, the algorithm finely tuned to maximize engagement at any cost—these are not healthy human interactions. However, before you dismiss all of the potential of the Internet as “social media,” I encourage you to imagine back to the beginning (I say imagine because it happened before many of you were born). What about social networking? Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to have tech that connects you with people you might like to know.
OK, enough background. After I tried it out, I decided I liked Mastodon. I also saw that a lot of other people like it as well. So I decided to help out a little by starting a Mastodon server right here. It’s open to everyone, so if you’re curious about what microblogging can be without the ads, the algorithm, or the toxicity you might be used to, try it out.
This project is just getting started, so I’d love to have some help with moderation, design, policy, etc. So if anyone is interested, let me know.