Post from HN: How Does Mastodon Work?
Answer from me so far: it doesn’t.
Sadly i’m not sure it ever will. Leaving Twitter means leaving behind all the network effect that made the Twitter experience work.
One day an inflection point is going to come and people will migrate to a new platform. However, my guess is that will not happen for technical or organisational reasons, but just because. As much as it would be good to sell people on a messaging platform that is, among other things, virtuous, privacy respecting, user supported, censorship resistant (as Mastodon may well be…) if it doesn’t have the magic combination of simplicity and cool which periodically captures the zeitgeist… it doesn’t work.
I’ve managed to move the majority of my IM traffic to Signal… there are a few stragglers, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that it’s role in the communication of others is limited to catering to my diva-like demands! Why has that worked for personal communications, but failed for the broader, more scattershot social networking case?
The use case is different – on a platform like Twitter you curate followers / friends and accept that whatever to say will be broadcast to them all. This obviously means that you adapt your communication style to be less personal. In most cases a Twitter / Facebook / Instagram account becomes a simple means of promotion. Followers, if not the direct audience, act as a means of propagating or amplifying your message. If that network doesn’t not exist to fan out reaching a much wider “market” it’s not really fit for purpose.
It seems that more private (in many cases not in the cryptographic sense) interactions between natural groups (family, close friends, small teams) are migrating to closed chat rooms, most likely on platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. And Twitter / Facebook / Instagram feeds are slowly dissolving into a market place for both goods, ideas and attention, with the whole thing swirling around a sink hole of advertising intelligence / surveillance.
Sadly, i suspect that the implementation of Circles in Google+ came very close to synthesising something that captured a good balance. Fortunately people read the sociopathic writing on the wall – as bad a custodian of a social graph as Facebook has turned out to be, the only people that i can see giving them a run for their money in the ‘Totalitarian Information Megacorp’ / ‘Grim Meathook Future’ stakes are big G… and Amazon.
[A lot of this musing was brought to mind by seeing a Facebook ad on German TV that, and i kid you not, starts out with “F steht für unsere Fehler” (F stands for our failure), and then gets weirder.]
Mastadon is a failure because it just doesn’t work. The decentralized idea is good, but in practice it doesn’t work. At all. First it took me to understand that my account is not transferable from one server to another. So I then had two accounts. Plus being on one server and someone else on another doesn’t mean you can actually easily communicate with them.
It’s a cluster fuck that I look into from time to time, but give up quickly. As shit as twitter has become (pretty much 150% shit), it still is more usable than Mastadon. Which is sad. Never in my life I used block lists, on twitter I have to, or else I get swamped with the same shit over and over and over again.
If G+ wouldn’t have been from G it would be my first choice. Currently I only read it because some Linux devs write quite interesting things there. Everything else is useless noise and crap. But then if you have a billion monkeys, they still will never create literature.
The struggle with federated services seems over done to me. People manage to use mail, and can conceptually deal with recipients being hosted by different servers. If Mastodon had communicated their model more clearly it would have been fine.
As it is, the moment where they could gain momentum has passed, and Twitter lives to fight another day… but the day will come, etc.
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