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Are You on Mastodon Yet? Social Network of Our Own

Mastodon homepage

Have you heard of Mastodon.social? Several of the edtech/digped people started appearing there over Thanksgiving weekend, thanks in part to this article, touting Mastodon as the open source alternative to Twitter. According to their “About” page:

“Mastodon is a free, open-source social network server. A decentralized alternative to commercial platforms, it avoids the risks of a single company monopolizing your communication. Anyone can run Mastodon and participate in the social network seamlessly.

mastodon.social is a Mastodon instance.”

Right now, it’s still a small space that feels intimate, and I wondered what writing about it here might do – but I figure it’s “trending” and Prof Hacker readers would be interested to hear about it. I almost feel like I am violating people’s privacy by writing about it, which makes no sense, really. I have used it mostly on mobile, but just now checked out the computer version.

For the most part,  many of us don’t have bandwidth to be checking one more space on social media; and from conversations happening on Mastodon among people I know so far, it doesn’t look like people are looking to migrate their networks from Twitter wholesale just yet. Kate Bowles called this a “with” rather than an instead of. For me, just using it for a couple of days showed me what rebuilding a network would look like if Twitter were to disappear. So far, basically, when you get there early, it’s easy for people to find you and vice versa. Then when someone follows me, I check their list or follows and follow anyone I would reasonably follow on Twitter (i.e. someone who is into education or who is doing good stuff on Mastodon ; I find a lots of gamers on there and I am more cautious, because I don’t know them, but I respond if people talk to me).

But here are some reasons why you may want to check it out:

  1. It’s open source. This means anyone (who can code and use github) can contribute to how it works

  2. It’s open source #2. This means anyone can install an instance of it (with whatever code changes they choose) on a different installation,  self-hosting your own network with your chosen norms, rather than those someone else’s algorithm forces on you (hello Twitter following Facebook’s example). Not only that,  but self-hosting means you don’t lose your network if the hosted version (Mastodon.social) ever disappears. A social network of our own. Which also has lots of potential for exclusion and echo chambers, but those exist anyway.

  3. It’s in its infancy and that feels like we are doing what Bonnie Stewart called “make the conversation by talking”. I was on Twitter in 2008 when it first started but never used it until 2013 (different account). This feels kinda like that, except you have expectations and aspirations. People who don’t naturally consider themselves early adopters are on there, and that has the added advantage (in my opinion) that some really reflective conversations are happening, rather than just joy at the shiny new thing, which is the attitude of some innovators and early adopters in general.

  4. Conversation is a little easier because of the 500 character limit and ability to therefore tag more people (and given how few people are on there now,  I can write a post and tag everyone I know! I suspect it won’t last long). Much as I loved Twitter forcing me to express myself clearly in 140 characters, I often end up writing those numbered Tweets and it gets unwieldy

  5. Conversation feels more intimate and deep. I am unsure if it’s the 500 chars, the smallness, the newness, or the potential of open sourceness..or our imagination of how much control we can finally have on our social media. I am unsure why this space is taking off in ways Known did not (because it had similar potential).

  6. You can mark content as “sensitive”. This isn’t fully mature yet, but I hear it’s getting there. Discussion on github here

  7. You can cross post Mastodon and Twitter but beware in tagging people as they may have different usernames across the two platforms and they may not want to connect to the same network in both places. I would use it with the same kind of caution I use with tools that allow cross-posting Twitter/Facebook where my audiences are different. There is also a tool for finding Twitter friends who are on Mastodon, but I haven’t needed to use it yet (it’s THAT small). I did try to see how it works, just for this article, and it doesn’t seem to be working too well.

  8. The computer (not mobile) interface shows columns (kind of like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite) which is cool). However, things don’t sync well across PC and mobile yet.

Some people may want to wait this one out. I have only used it on Android (Chrome better than Firefox) and the interface was clunky the first day, slightly better the third day but with bugs, and slightly less buggy today. It’s that fast-changing, and a little dizzying as the interface for following someone changed within hours. The notifications are still buggy (it only notifies inside the browser and sometimes doesn’t scroll down for old notifications – refresh usually helps) but the email notifications work ok (I turned them on to test them, the turned them off for sanity). The following process is a little buggy, as the notifications timeline makes it look like you haven’t followed someone even after you have. But I am sure this will get worked out soon as they approach the beta version. There is currently no mobile app, but someone is working on it. There is currently no DM, and I hear that’s probably not on the horizon, but I don’t know who’s an authority on this (the person who told me isn’t the originator).

So…yeah…if you want to come in and play… i am @mahabali and you will find lots of cool people there. You may want to check out this reflection on Mastodon’s potential for Higher Ed by Dan Lynds and Sundi Richard. Dan/Sundi started a hashtag #OurChatSpace and I started a hashtag #SNoOO (social network of our own) for discussing the potentials of the space.

Are you on Mastodon? Where do you see its potential? Tell us in the comments?

Image source: Screenshot of Mastodon.social from my computer

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