Tooting Mastodon


There’s a lot to despise about Twitter, but at the same time, it’s become one of those social necessities, like those calling cards you had to have handy when visiting Victorian homes. But at the same time, Twitter totally sucks. It’s a haven for Nazis and shit-posters and harassers, and Twitter management has zero interest in making it better for users. Another problem is that they don’t seem to have any competition.

So let’s see some! Sarah Jeong explains a promising alternative called Mastodon. It’s similar in function to Twitter, but has a different underlying philosophy, relying on distributed clusters of users called instances, which then share conversations with users you follow more widely. I haven’t figured out all the mechanics yet, it’ll take time. The big difference is that the instances have zero tolerance for fascists, racists, and harassers, and they say so — and they’ll cut you off if pull any of the crap that is routine on Twitter. That sounds good to me!

If you’re interested in trying it out, go to the list of instances and pick one out — they’re rated for their reliability and number of current users. Jeong signed on to mastodon.social, but that one is closed right now, so pick a different one — they should all allow exchanges between one another, so it shouldn’t make a difference, I don’t think. I chose octodon.social, just because something about the name appealed. Don’t know why. I also kind of liked the manager’s rules:

It should be similar to mastodon.social’s.
NSFW/any legal porn is allowed, but tag it as NSFW or make it unlisted or something.
Trolls are only allowed if they’re quiet; you can shitpost but not harass someone, and my threshold is pretty low.
I’m not Twitter, I’ll fuck up nazis and bullies for fun, and get an AI to do it if I get bored.
I’m your nice cyberpunk queen but I intend to keep this place decent and safe for everyone.

So now I’m signed up as pzmyers@octodon.social. I haven’t done anything with it yet — you know the general principle with any social medium, right? Listen for a while before blaring — but the environment seems pleasant, if a little more quiet. The problem with these things is that they require a critical mass of users, or they fall flat and die, so that may happen here, too.

Oh, and another problem: you don’t “tweet”, you…”TOOT”. Ugh. Why do the people who have the smarts to set up this kind of thing always have a tin ear?

Anyway, if you’d like to take a small step in disrupting the Twitter hegemony, try it out.

Comments

  1. says

    “Tooting Mastodon”
    Awwwww! When I saw that headline I thought that there had been an absolutely AMAZING discovery in South London…. bummer, now I’m a bit disappointed. :-(

  2. Moggie says

    Well, I hit the instances.mastodon.xyz link, and waited. And waited… and eventually gave up waiting. If they want to be the new Twitter, they need to be reliable, and able to scale.

  3. Owlmirror says

    Wouldn’t a mastodon trumpet rather than toot?

    Mastodon = “breast-tooth”

    Octodon = “eight-tooth”

    Wikipedia:

    Octodontidae is a family of rodents, restricted to southwestern South America. Thirteen species of octodontid are recognised, arranged in nine genera. The best known species is the degu, Octodon degus.
     
    Octodontids are medium-sized rodents, ranging from 12 to 20 cm (4.7 to 7.9 in) in body length. They have long, silky, fur, which is typically brownish in color, and often paler on the underside. The name ‘octodont’ derives from the wear pattern of their teeth, which resembles a figure 8.

  4. says

    It’s new, and it’s growing really fast, so it’s no surprise that some of the bottlenecks are getting overwhelmed.

  5. says

    Legit thought this was something about evidence of how mastodons farted or something.

    I’ve gone around saying that with Twitter so bad an alternative should be made and it’d totally do well, so I should probably live up to my words and try this. When I have a bit of time I’ll look into it. I just need to find out what any of these instances are about.

  6. davidnangle says

    Duth, two things are most certain: Mastodons farted, and early/proto humans joked about it.

    Evidence… I wonder if people ascribe too much propriety to ancient cave painters…

  7. David Marjanović says

    TOOT

    Let me be the first to suggest a German translation: tröten.

    TRÖT TRÖÖÖÖÖÖT

  8. says

    Sounds at least somewhat similar to (part of) the idea I’ve been working on (which I adore, it’s my dream website). I should check it out and also read about how they got started and became successful etc.

  9. says

    It jumped from 23 thousand to 25 thousand to over 30 thousand users. The developer finally met his modest Patreon goal of $800 a month.

    Inspiring :)

    That’s about enough for me to live on right now.

  10. says

    I’m curious what (if anything) they will do about astroturfers and stealth marketers.
    One of the unfortunate things about social media “success” is that a certain percentage of the users are robot sockpuppets: it means “you’ve made it” except it also means your content is overwhelmed with astroturf.

  11. says

    @Marcus Ranum

    I think some curation methods can effectively kill those kinds of things. Or at least they can keep them out of your user-experience most of the time.

  12. says

    The problem I see is that (as far as I can tell) there is no guarantee of privacy for private messages. No end-to-end encryption, no encryption of any kind. So you have to trust the instance you’re connected to, the instance the person you’re messaging is connected to, and every single instance in between. For Mastodon to be better than Twitter this stuff needs to be built in, IMO, not just promised by indivual people running instances.

  13. Duckbilled Platypus says

    The problem I see is that (as far as I can tell) there is no guarantee of privacy for private messages. No end-to-end encryption, no encryption of any kind. So you have to trust the instance you’re connected to, the instance the person you’re messaging is connected to, and every single instance in between.

    There is encryption on the transport level, because all of the instances seem to be using https. This means that the messages are at least secure against eavesdropping the line.

    You’re right that you have to trust the instances in between without end-to-end encryption, but end-to-end encryption alone does not mitigate that. It’s entirely possible to do man-in-the-middle attacks where instances can act as a fake endpoint between the two communicating users, and keep different end-to-end encryption keys with both of them will being able to read messages going both ways.

    End-to-end encryption is only secure if you can verify that the encryption key of one user to encrypt the message, is the same as the encryption key used by the other user to decrypt it. This can be done by comparing these keys (usually their thumbprints, which is like a non-reversible signature of it – a series of hexadecimal characters). And this should preferably be done outside of the supposedly secured channel, because you can’t initially trust the channel. Well-behaving apps will tell you if the security key of your contact has changed.

    This back-to-back checking of encryption keys makes sense for messaging apps where you know the people you communicate with personally (although I have never witnessed someone actually checking keys), but not much when doing casual private messaging on a social platform with people you are unlikely to ever meet. End-to-end encryption cannot be called secure without the ability to reliably compare key thumbprints, so it looks to be rather pointless to put it in for private messaging.

  14. says

    Yeah, I should probably have thought my response through rather better. Point being, if you want your private messages to actually be private, you can’t trust Mastodon with them.

  15. Duckbilled Platypus says

    Yeah, I should probably have thought my response through rather better. Point being, if you want your private messages to actually be private, you can’t trust Mastodon with them.

    No, but in fairness, that’s not the goal they set out with. If you want secure private messaging you should turn to apps that specialize in it, like Signal.

  16. Dark Jaguar says

    I would disagree that Twitter is a “social necessity”. I’ve never used it and I’ve never felt put out or “out of the loop” because of this. I figure if it’s actually important, it’ll get vetted and put up on news of real interest before I see it. I really don’t need to know anything “as it happens” (with the exception of actual physical disasters), so I’m okay with being, at most, a few hours out of date with “everyone else”.

    Give me social interaction as “web standard”, something that isn’t owned or managed by one company. Then I’ll be interested.

  17. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

     
    Article: Mastodon is a good technical achievement, but that’s not enough

    it doesn’t have any anti-abuse measures beyond a block button, making it even more prone to abuse than Twitter itself.
     
    In order for a social network to escape the traps that Twitter has fallen into, concentrating on the technical aspects is not enough. This can’t succeed with a single developer, or even a team of developers. It needs some strategic thinking behind it.

     
    Article: Mastodon FAQ

    How is Mastodon funded?
     
    Development of Mastodon and hosting of mastodon.social is funded through my Patreon (also BTC/PayPal donations). Beyond that, I am not interested in VC funding, monetizing, advertising, or anything of that sort.

  18. says

    Dark Jaguar #20:

    Give me social interaction as “web standard”, something that isn’t owned or managed by one company. Then I’ll be interested.

    There is no real shortage of long standing open source, distributed social networks like that. Search for things like pump.io, Diaspora, GNU Social, MediaGoblin. Problem is, not enough people are willing to do the work (like hosting servers for the community, or even just learning to use some new software) to really make these better (than Google, Twitter, Facebook et al) systems accepted by the mainstream. Short explanation: there is no capital behind these initiatives. And capital rules the world (it’s called capitalism).

    I am likewise not expecting any wonders from the Mastodon thing. It is really too new to tell how it will develop. But going by the rate of acceptance of the other ‘alternative’ social networks I am not optimistic.

  19. ftltachyon says

    There’s one thing that I’ll disagree with in this post, and that’s the idea that it’s best to stay quiet and read around a little.

    It’s a new social network. There’s nothing to read yet, because everyone is just joining. The more people that start by talking the more chance the rest will join in and find something worthwhile to read and stay for. But if everyone starts out ‘reading around’ and seeing what other people are writing, then nobody finds anything worth coming back for.

    So if you want it to succeed, better to post more rather than less.

  20. vytautasjanaauskas says

    “It’s similar in function to Twitter, but has a different underlying philosophy, relying on distributed clusters of users called instances, which then share conversations with users you follow more widely.”

    Serious? Why not just call it Echo Chamber: The Social Network?

  21. Dunc says

    Why not just call it Echo Chamber: The Social Network?

    Breaking news: human beings prefer to interact socially with people they like, and they tend to like people with similar views to their own! Collapse of civilisation surely imminent!

    Seriously, when exactly did it somehow become a bad thing not to want to socially interact with every rando on the internet? Do you understand how social interaction works off-line?

    Generally, I find that people who complain about “echo chambers” usually mean “people should have to listen to me!”

  22. OptimalCynic says

    I suggested this as a solution to the Twitter problem once here and was flamed to ashes.

  23. Dunc says

    @28: That is entirely your right, and no skin off my nose… Although it does present something of a logical paradox. You will join approximately 7 billion other people on the planet in not reading my comments. I’ll live.

  24. Dunc says

    Hell, I’ll even help you out – if you’re running Chrome or Firefox, you can install the killfile extension and automatically hide all of my comments, which will save you from the trouble of reading them to decide that you don’t want to read them.

  25. Colin Davey says

    I recently joined the mastodon network through the awoo.space instance, but found it doesn’t “federate” much, so now I’m with PZ on Octodon. It isn’t ready for primetime yet and I do think people will be put off by not knowing which instance to choose (and why). It’s a lovely thing with a lot of supportive users. The challenges will come but it’s nice to be away from the name-calling.

  26. Colin Davey says

    Did I mention I’m @haestinger.octodon.social ? I believe you younglings may want to “hit me up”. Is that still what they do?

  27. says

    #24: I agree in part. You have to open up and contribute for the thing to work — you don’t want it to be one of those awkward parties where everyone stands around waiting for someone else to start a conversation.

    But you should take some time to scout out what the local conventions are. Read first, then join in. It’s not as if there weren’t already conversations going on on Mastodon.

  28. says

    Wait it’s not selfish to think “wait, there’s not a lot of people on here, i could get noticed easily, i could ADVERTISE and get POPULAR” is it?
    Actually I don’t even know if there’s a significant enough novel/writing/reading/story community on it yet.

  29. Skatje Myers says

    You could always start a new instance, freethoughtblogs.social or something.

  30. says

    Yeah, we might do that…if Mastodon sustains its current growth. It could be a flash in the pan, so I’m not going to commit the network to it.

    Are you on it yet?

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