Social media do-over

Holiday home

A bunch of us have been looking at Mastodon Social over the past week as an alternative social media platform. Kate Bowles and Maha Bali amongst others have been having some good discussion about how we want social media to work for us now. Kate, rightly I think, argues that we’re not looking for a replacement to Twitter, but an alternative. Mastodon as an open source platform that seems to have its heart in the right place might be that. But even if it’s not, I think the activity there is an indication of our changing attitude to social media.

Being on Twitter since reasonably early days (2007) has been like watching a city develop rapidly from a small town. And like a city Twitter now has many amazing things and people. It also has a very dark side and its share of crime. The hardened city dweller begins to yearn for a more simple, friendly life. An alternative social media platform then is more like a holiday home in a nice rural community, everyone knows your name, it’s got a couple of nice coffee bars but not much else. You mainly go for the walks and the quiet pace of life.

Reflecting on the activity on Mastodon made me realise two things. Firstly, we’ve become acutely aware of the role of social media in recent politic events – it’s not an innocent anymore. Secondly, we’re all social media experts now, in that we’ve been using it intensely for year. When we joined Twitter it was with an exploratory attitude, “what will this space turn out to be?”. Now it is more instructive, directed – we know what we want from a social media space and how can we fashion this one to be like that?

Even if Mastodon fades, I think this new attitude to social media will be revisited with increased vigour over the next few years. If we accept it isn’t going away (although I admire those who consciously decide to opt out) then establishing the sort of online community you want to spend time in is worthwhile.


  1. Maha Bali says:

    Right on! It isn’t about Mastodon per se, for me, but the possibilities something like Mastodon allows us to imagine. What dissastisfies us w current social media and what would we like to have instead?

    1. admin says:

      Hi Maha! I wonder if it’s not as much about reinventing ourselves – we project certain facets of ourselves in different spaces. Do I want to use this to create a different (but equally valid) version of my online identity?

  2. actualham says:

    I’m also thinking about co-opting– about how so much of what I love about “open” and “public” tools gets coopted by for-profit companies…but then also how we can subversively co-opt what we like about tools that are developed under a profit motive to use in more public, user-centered ways… So not just about what we want to unbuild or rebuild, but also what we want to duplicate and recontextualize…

    1. admin says:

      Hi Robin, I fully expect it will fade away like many before, but this was the first time I thought I want to do something with a space rather than just a “new twitter” (eg Ello).

  3. Tony Hirst says:

    Is mastodon a Gnu Social ( ) platform?

    1. nessman says:

      Tony, yes, it’s an instance of Gnu social, cf (maybe you can help Martin get an OU instance going? We really need a second to start helping folks understand the affordance of federation)

      1. admin says:

        I don’t really understand the federated part of it, but talking about having it on Reclaim so you have your own host? Not sure I get how that would work

        1. nessman says:

          So let’s say you set up an instance for the OU. If it wasn’t federated, it might be useful for OU students and profs to chat and follow each other, but like so many standalone tools, it would be hard to get traction beyond “mandated” usage because, well, the majority of one’s life happens outside of one’s institution. However, in a federated model, if you had friends at other Uni’s who were on their institution’s mastodon, no worries – you can follow them on the OU instance (and they can do likewise.) Or really at any other mastodon instance – they could be instantiated around whatever type of organization, geography, club, interest. The only “public” you need to worry about are the ones on your own instance, and when this is smaller (and institutionally controlled) the risk of spam/trolls/harrassment should go WAY down.

          There will be challenges with discovery between instances – I’m not certain how that works yet. And obviously with a smaller central pool of users on any one instance, the serendipity factor goes down. These are the tradeoffs though – we can either federate many instances, each able to maintain their own policies and scale through network connections, or we can stick with a central one whose policies never seem to satisfy and yet which scales through massification. The latter (so far) always wins. There’s every likelihood this will fail. But if we want to get away from centrally controlled systems & build anti-fragility (no single point of failure) this is one of the better attempts I’ve seen so far.

          Really, it’s much closer to how blogs/RSS worked. Think of mastodon as a single “networked” wordpress install that also has RSS reader software. Indeed, it would work for an instance of 1 user.

  4. Tony Hirst says:

    Quitter keeps hitting my radar too –, etc – not sure which node is the best to join though?

    1. nessman says:

      Tony, I hadn’t seen quitter before. You are right that mastodon is just another gnu social clone (with some other UI pieces stuck on.) I’m wondering if that means federation will work between the two. I am off to try now; that would be cool.

  5. sheilmcn says:

    tried Mastodon last week but not sure how to find people, didn’t have much time , and I felt very isolated in a very random, abusive steam. Went back to the known comfort and discomfort of twitter

    1. admin says:

      That’s interesting Sheila. I’ve found it nicer, but I went over there when some others were tweeting and just followed everyone they were following. Which means there’s only 20 people in my stream or so, which is nice, but as Alan L pointed out, he does that through a twitter client anyway. So there needs to be more than that to it

  6. aarondavis1 says:

    I have been thinking a lot about Twitter in recent times and have been wondering what happens if or when it becomes a space that is no longer habitable. What interests me is what maybe lost in moving to another space? Are there any affordances that are unique to Twitter that are not addressed in Mastadon? This month I have consciously shared in G+ to help think of the differences ( I felt that the biggest element missing was the existence of a network and the serendipity that it allows. Be interested as to whether you have any thoughts?

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