lots of post it notes in the air inside a room

Mastodon <> Twitter

I’ve not been a big Mastodon user so far. In so much as the “twitterverse” is looking for an escape vehicle as new CEO Musk seems to thrash form one wild idea to another[1]Gift link: Opinion Users can leave before Twitter degenerates further, Mastodon isn’t it.

Everyone is writing Mastodon “how to’s” and seems like something I should do?

Nah, here is a quick take though. The idea of pub/sub software systems has been around for a long time and isn’t new. As far back as the late-1970’s we had pseudo pub/sub for text forums, where daily digests were sent out for the topics you were subscribed to. Mine would appear on a teletype writer.

Complexity is in the eye of the beholder

Mastodon is not as complicated as people are implying. It’s just a different paradigm completely from the way that messaging in Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Signal and DM’s in Instagram etc. have evolved. I created a userid, customized my profile, added a profile and header picture without any real issues.

Mastodon has some obvious, valuable uses. It has some basic terms and conditions after which, the local server owners can implement guidelines for their users. The obvious difference between twitter and mastodon is that if you see disinformation, race bating, pornography, or whatever coming from people on a server, you can block everyone on that server in one go. This is kind of like muting certain words on twitter as well as blocking subjects/topics in one go.

Do you have multiple twitter userids that you used to monitor and participate in different topics, and follow different people? I know that I did, one for my general (tech) community, one for triathlon, and a third for jazz.

Mastodon could really be useful for that but to be most effective, you’d likely also benefit from multiple, segmented userids. The alternative is to create your own server, create an ID and invite the people you most want to interact with on a timely basis to join you on the same server and basically have your own twitter within a single server. I must admit, I’m vaguely interested in doing this at some point.

Here is an example of effectively a private Mastodon server/space, clear it’s only for friends and relatives.

As many have found though, scalability has a profound impact and cost. Twitter was losing millions per day, not least because they run massive datacenters that provide the image of a single thing, with highspeed connections within servers and between severs and datacenters. If your mastodon server in the basement has too many users, to high toot volume or stores too much data there are currently few solutions to that.

Twitter was easy from the start!

No, it wasn’t easy unless you only used it via the web interface on a desktop browser. You couldn’t use an official app for the iPhone until more than 4-years after twitter launched.

Twitter via txt msg while on the move was an entirely different beast than what we have now with mobile apps. Even the web UI that was available on mobile was pretty unusable. We used it because it was new and an interesting way to keep in touch while mobile. People laugh at me know when I tell them that text messages were chargeable in the USA, and if you sent a lot of text message, it could consume your monthly phone bill.

In 2008, T-Mobile was charging 20¢ per domestic text; 400 Domestic Messages, $4.99 per month; 1000 Domestic Messages, $9.99; and unlimited text messages were $14.99 a month. International text message was the most expensive way to transmit data between countries.

The twitter solution? Provide telephone short code number you could send a text to. In twitters case that number was 40404.

It was the ideal way to communicate with a group of contacts. Send a tweet to a single number and twitter would send it on for free to those contacts. If they replied, their tweet would be sent as a text message. Receiving texts was free. Especially useful if you followed or were followed by people in different countries. According to at least one “Dummies” article, this was still available in 2016[2]How to Set Up Twitter Text Messages (SMS Delivery) – dummies.

This is also where the bot thing and the Internet of Things became really interesting. I was relatively simple to write a small program that ran on a PC and just waited for a tweet or DM’s and take an action. I could be anywhere in the world, provided I could send a text message.

5-years before Ring was founded, I could send text message to twitter which included a DM to the userid for an old laptop with a USB webcam. The webcam was pointed out my kitchen window at the front of the house. The DM would be received, the app would do a screen shot using the web cam and DM it back to me. It wasn’t that useful as the resolution of the web cam was only 2-megapixel, VGA resolution.

The whole paradigm has changed for mobile messaging since then and Mastodon doesn’t neatly fit that paradigm, and that’s the problem. Twitter, Facebook Whatsapp, signal etc. all give the appearance of a single entity, spend $billions doing it. Mastodon isn’t the same thing at all.

The Pandemic Cohort Paradigm

If you had kids working in remote cohorts during the pandemic, you’ll understand Mastodon implicitly. The kids working in one place could communicate instantly, they could talk among themselves, but if they mentioned someone else remote via video, that person would be pulled into the conversation and things would get disjointed quickly. The whole chat was moderated by a teacher who would start the class, let children in and be able to segment kids into rooms.

In a nutshell, that’s Mastodon. You can work in real time and effectively with people on your server, you can mention or reply to people on your other servers and will get to them when you send it. If people are on other servers, especially on high user/traffic servers they won’t see them immediately.

Even if Mastodon was super easy to use it would fail as a twitter replacement and would likely be doomed because of the way it works, it will eat itself trying to federate messages from everywhere to everyone.

Ignoring the usability, I like to find my tweets from 2007 and on and use them as examples of what I was doing, or dumb things I tweeted. Mastodon has a 2-yeat history default. Also, if you change servers your followers move but your history does not.

Can these be solved,yes. But it doesn’t fit the paradigm and would incur different types of technical debt. Does that mean Mastodon isn’t useful, no. It’s just not Twitter, but that’s not because it’s hard to use.

This diagram shows you what you need to know about the life of a toot.

Mastodon documentation (joinmastodon.org)

The rest of the documentation for Mastodon, which is excellent, is here.

What’s your experience and take on Mastodon? Leave a comment, let me know.

I’ve used this post as a way to self-verify myself on Mastodon. It’s not really verification but is simple and doesn’t cost $8 per month for ever and is about as useful. Also, it won’t go away unlike that other place.


11/11/22 Added a link to self-verify; added an embed to a Mastodon toot; added a link to the Mastodon docs.


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