On Twitter and Mastodon

, in Computing, Politics, Rant

Twitter logoI have been known to say that Twitter is simply the worst social media network apart from all the others. Somehow, despite a lack-luster interface, barely disguised contempt for third-party developers, and a healthy population of ludicrous fascists of all stripes, Twitter remains the most engaging site that I regularly visit.

This is no thanks to Twitter itself which has a terrible habit of trying to force terrible political content at you. But so long as you never engage with that, the site has so much other content that my experience has been positive.

I even reached a milestone - 100 followers! A lot of bots but they still count, right?Suck it, Elon

I guess that brings me to the first and least hairy of the two elephants in this room. Twitter has, with a few missteps, managed to thread the tightrope and walk the needle between including everyone and not letting the crazies totally overrun the place. In my opinion it has managed this mainly by accident but it is still quite an achievement.

I follow journalists, scientists, a few politicians, and some friends and my timeline is filled with interesting, positive contentFull disclosure, there is also a lot of Doctor Who related bollocks as well.

I have no confidence that this will continue under Elon Musk's leadership. The best thing Musk could do would be to leave Twitter (a mildly profitable business) alone. The technology behind Twiter is nothing special, what Musk paid 44 billion for is the user base. A user base that can up and leave at any time.

It only takes a minor change to the terms and conditions, or the moderation policies, or even just the advertising to turn a pleasent site into a hellhole of dull content as interesting people are forced out. Is this going to happen to Twitter? Yes, sooner or later.

There are plenty of social networks waiting in the wings to become the next Twitter. None of them will succeed because Twitter was born out of a particular place and time. But the one that comes closest is Mastodon.

Mastodon, the other elephant in the room
Mastodon, the other elephant in the room

Mastodon is a Twitter clone but one with a ethos - decentralization. I think that decentralization is usually just a way for developers to dodge responsibilitySee the idiotic cryptocurrency schemes for numerous examples but Mastodon at least pays lip service to preventing abuse by giving users tools to make Twitter-style pile-ons pointless.

One thing Mastodon hasn't had to deal with yet is real scale. Most of the public servers have hundreds to a few tens of thousands of users. This is tiny compared to Twitter. It will be interesting to see how all this scales if Mastodon really takes off.

I don't think Mastodon accounts will become as ubiquitous as Twitter handles. But I could see a company creating a commercial Mastodon server to bring it to the masses. In some ways this has already happened, the far-right social network Gab runs on a modified Mastodon system but nobody likes to talk about it. I guess it is a testament to Mastodon's approach that other servers were not immediately overrun with Nazi content.

Does decentralization work? Are there enough interesting people on Mastodon to make switching from Twitter worthwhile? I don't know but I am giving it a try.

I am at @sheephorse@mastodon.online if you want to follow me.