Mastodon: an update

I just haven’t used it.

Mastodon seems to have gone the way of Twitter with me. I used it quite a bit for the first couple of weeks. I got into conversations. I followed people. But over the past week or two, I’ve found that I never think of it. I am not well-enough known that I get mentions that would generate notifications on my phone, and I guess I haven’t found people I like to follow. Just like Twitter it seems to have come down to a matter of how well integrated I became - and in both cases it seems like it would take much more effort than I’m willing to put forth.

I’m faced with the question of whether to take down my instance. I have five users, but none of them are active (a couple have logged in within the past week, but this could easily be sesions generated automatically by phone apps). Ignoring the question of whether or not they’ll be interested in my keeping the instance running, here are the reasons I’d be interested in leaving Mastodon / taking my instance down.

  • The conversation that goes by in the timeline is relatively uninteresting at best, and moderately irritating at worst. I also had this problem on Twitter; the issue is probably that I just haven’t found people I want to follow. With Mastodon in particular, though, I found myself reluctant to unfollow people since they’re already pretty hard to find. I generated my initial list of accounts to follow based on a HackerNews thread and expanded it with people I found via boosts. The resulting feed was alright; there’s not much negative to say here, but it’s not really enough to keep me coming back. This complaint is definitely applied more to social media in general than Mastodon specifically - the takeaway is that Mastodon is still a social platform.

  • There are some strong negatives to the federation model. There is no central arbiter of what is and is not allowed, which is good in theory - but in practice it seems that you end up ruled by the court of public opinion more than anything else. Disclaimer here - I don’t know what Wil Wheaton said or did, and I don’t have an opinion on it as a result; I intend only to comment on how the Fediverse responded to him and what that process can look like. The short story is that Wil said something that was regarded as anti-trans. The Mastodon instance administrator on Wil’s instance received many reports about him (according to Wil, from the day he created his account), and as a result ended up suspending his account so they didn’t have to deal with them any more. Wil states:

    This lie that I am anti-trans, or anti-LGBQ, is deeply hurtful to me (I know it’s nothing like the pain LGBTQ people deal with every day, as they simply try to exist in a world that treats them so badly, but it is still hurtful in its own way to me). I just want to make it extremely clear: that is a lie, and the people spreading it are misinformed. So I’m leaving the Fediverse, which has treated me with more cruelty, vitriol, hatred, and contempt than than anyone on [Twitter] ever did.

    I recognize here that I am only speaking to Wil’s side of the story; I think that’s enough to support the point I intend to make here: I want to illustrate that there is an individual who was judged as guilty by the court of public opinion and punished, though he still regards the accusation incorrect. It’s important to understand also what the punishment here entails: he’s been censored. One of the main draws for me to the Fediverse model is the apparent systemic endorsement of free speech - no one can shut down your instance, and you’re free to federate with anyone you want, and not federate with anyone you don’t want to (digression: a celebrity should probably be running their own single-user instance for full control over their persona). The Fediverse does seem to retain in practice the ability to censor people (either via the suspension of an individual account, or via coordinated non-federation). Another side note: perhaps the correct solution is to have a principled central arbiter, chartered to defend the rights of individuals on the platform and prevented from overstepping via checks on their power - again though, I digress.

  • Upgrading an instance is not especially clean due to the way Mastodon is packaged. Updates are done manually: you fetch the newest release tarball, copy your data over, & restart services with the new codebase. It’s easy enough, but I think it could use some better packaging. GitLab is another complex Ruby application, and their “omnibus package” distribution makes it really easy to install & keep up to date. With that style of packaging, I’d expect to see many more instances popping up.

That’s what is pushing me towards shutting down my instance. The main draw for me isn’t that powerful in practice, and I didn’t find much pull in terms of conversation I’m interested in following / being involved in, just like with other social media.

Thoughts? Have you tried Mastodon? Am I dead wrong about my read on how it’s governed in practice? Let me know in the comments.