Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Thoughts on Mastodon

 When Elon Mush took control of Twitter, a couple of million people went to Mastodon, an alternative to Twitter, built to be a decentralized platform that no single person controlled and didn't vacuum up your personal data or push advertisements into you feed. The hypothesis was solid, it is a good idea, so I decided to dip my toe in and see if reality matched the hypothesis.

My first issue was getting signed up, you have to find a server to sign up with, I did what any reasonably competent internet user would do, I googled the most popular servers and found several lists all nearly identical. I started at the top and tired to sign up. The first one was not taking any new users, same with the second and 3rd. The fourth put me on a waiting list and on it went. I found a few more, but the servers were either not accepting new users or simply did not exist anymore. If I were a Twitter refugee, i would have gotten very frustrated at this point and been done with it.

I am however, not a Twitter refugee, I am a nerd with home lab infrastructure, so I decided I would simply setup my own Mastodon instance. I am not going to get into the process I went through to build it. It was not particularly difficult and I had very few problems, but again, I already had everything I needed, I could fire up a virtual machine, I had a domain name with DNS redirection, so it was just a matter of following some instructions on getting the software up and running, it took me the better part of a Sunday to get everything the way I wanted, but it has been humming along perfectly since then. I provided an overview of this process just after I did it, you can read it here.

So now I had a Mastodon account, so what to do now. Well I needed to find people to follow, so once again I went to google and found some lists of interesting accounts to follow. Once again, all of these lists were nearly identical and I was only really interested in a couple of them. I also found a couple of Youtube content creators who use Mastodon. Once I had some posts coming into my feed, I found some other folks who were posting mildly interesting things, so I followed them as well. Then I got to where I was following about 20 accounts and I had a steady stream of posts, but I was not seeing any new people to follow.

I had no trouble finding other Tech nerds interested in Retro computers, Linux, home labs, that sort of thing. What I found difficult, was finding people interested in Science Fiction/Fantasy Literature, Dungeons & Dragons, Comic Books, or any of my other interests. The problem is, to get these things into my feed, I need to know who to follow. There are of course lists of people by subject matter floating around and I even found one for RPG's with a good 30 accounts listed. When I started going through those accounts, many were just flatly gone, hadn't posted in months/years or were posting cat pictures and nothing else. I am use to being able to curate my feed, which I can do easily in Facebook and Twitter, it seems nearly impossible to get a nice balance of posts about a variety of topics unless you already know at least a few people already on Mastodon.

Now for the BIG problem with Mastodon, and this is not Mastodon's fault really. No one I personally know uses Mastodon. Sure, my wife signed up on my server when I was testing it and I had 1 friend also sign up, but neither of them use it. The reason I use social media is to interact with friends and family. If my Nephew was not using Twitter as his only social media platform, I probably would not have a Twitter account. On Facebook, I have maybe 40 friends, all of whom I know personally and have an active relationship with. By comparison, my Mastodon feed is very flat, there is nothing personalized about it, there are no people I know post about their lives or sending me messages. It feels like I am reading a blog written by multiple strangers. Yes, there are interesting posts, but there is no personal connection or depth.

All in all, I don't really think setting up my own instance is worth the trouble, simply because if you don't have a built in group of followers, it is just too difficult to get an interesting balanced feed going. If you can get onto a big server with lots of people, you get access to their local feed and better access to other large federated sites. Otherwise, I think you will just be wasting your time.

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