Mastodon isn’t a (real) Twitter alternative

Questo articolo è stato scritto oltre 1 years, il contenuto potrebbe essere datato.

In those days there are people running away from Twitter and there is this slogan around “move to Mastodon” but is not easy for a newcomer see what are the real differences.

Neither why people should run away now, as Instagram and Whatsapp after that were purchased by Facebook are still there and widely used and part of GAFAM. Yes, Twitter is not considered part of that specific group (yet).

Usually I am very critic to fediverse but I am too also about Open Source/Free Software when is proposed as alternative without understanding the real difference/purpose/philosophy. Because this to me is an under appreciation about it and give less value to the project and creating more confusion and working against the promotion of the good values behind and just a replacement.

Mastodon history

The idea behind came from the implementation of a protocol, ActivityPub that basically let you federate various nodes and exchange information, but we will see what this means later. While the project started in 2016.

Anyway, years ago when there wasn’t so much this fear of the big tech that spies and make moneys with your data there were some alternatives to Facebook/Twitter: Identi.ca (2008) and Diaspora (2010). They were just microblogging alternatives and just later when that protocol arrived added that integration to open to different services.
They were used by very few people and didn’t get any interest except from the enthusiasts. I had a Diaspora account but I never used it.
At the same time Mastodon is based on the idea of GNU Social (2010) another federate microblogging technology. I remember when Mastodon was launched people was angry because it was another alternative for microblogging creating more fragmentation and reinventing the wheel (as we saw the previous experiments didn’t got so much interests).

Why complicate your mind with these names? To explain that isn’t something new but like many things in internet is just the popularity and the right moment that something to spread a lot in internet and looking for something new.

What is federation/fediverse?

All this projects we saw are web applications that someone put online in their servers (and they pay for that for you personally) and offer for free to their users. This is the first step in the fediverse, the second one is understanding what is that.

Thanks to FilippoDB one of the mantainer of the Mastodon.uno instance

The various social networks like Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Tiktok are centralized, this means that the instance where your data are in the same place, shared with just them, and they are not accessible externally (well it’s no so simple). Including the fact that who produce the service, host it and develop them needs money to keep that running. So usually those services have ads that let the company behind to do a business with your data and provide the service.

Why I call social networks as “services”? Because they are, just because they are free doesn’t means that you are not paying like for Youtube or Google Drive/Gmail. This is the first reason why was created the fediverse (if you listen to the various enthusiasts of the fediverse). Also all those big tech company have difficulties to be profitable…
The second one is that you are not the owner of what you share on those services, in any of them, as you accept when you register a policy/EULA that basically says that. This lets the company behind to do a moderation and don’t ask your permission to delete something (also if it is a selfie) as example is against their guidelines likes piracy stuff or violent content.

So basically there are 3 big issues with those services:

  • You aren’t the owner of your content but those companies profit with that, because in this way they can provide to you most interested advertising or understand better what you are doing on their product
  • You aren’t free to publish everything you want, this doesn’t need to be confused with free speech (that is another thing)
  • Your life depends on that company, as it is not possible to migrate to a different one

Instead, the fediverse provide one tiny thing, it is easy to be anonymous.

Hey man, what is the fediverse please?

Do you remember at school where you have your notes and share with the other schoolmates to improve each others?

At the end is this, you have various notebooks around updated very often that are copied in other automatically if someone is following someone else notebook and shared with the other people accessing the notebook.

All of this create a state where there sin’t any algorithm to show the content but just the one you follow or the whole instance one.

This is how works any fediverse technology from alternative to Spreaker, Flickr and many others. There are people that pay for a server and offers to everyone that service, developed by someone else and the maintainer doesn’t need any technological knowledge (usually).
Those providers for the fediverse anyway have some moderation rules/censor rules, like don’t allow automatic posts because this can create an overload of resources in the server that they are paying for you. Like when you are a party and the house owner put a poster in every room asking to put the trash in the bin because he doesn’t have time to cleaning, instead people don’t care and fill the room with the trash.

So there isn’t free speech in the wide definition, as any limitation is just a moderation. So it is easy to find all the people that are not allowed to publish on the big company products on the fediverse from conspiracy theorists to people that want to say anything and anonymously (in specific instances that have different rules).

This means that those instances doesn’t have advertising and doesn’t need to provide some specific values to people that wants to put banner about their product for example. I don’t think that someone that put money to promote their new shiny car model want to be associated to people that eat pineapple pizza. Well, my personal opinion that no one want to be associated with that.

What is Mastodon

I have a Mastodon account since 2017 on an Italian instance that after the end of the year was abandoned because it was expensive to the guy that was hosting to keep that service for free and migrated to another one that was international, but Italian was allowed. In 2020, I had to migrate to another Italian instance because it was happening again.

This shows the first pro and against point to the fediverse.

  • PRO: You are free to move your content to another instance of the same service and not depends on someone.
  • AGAINST: I had to change the reference/handle of my account everywhere as the website was disappeared.

This migration procedure was semi-automatic but created a lot of burden to me, creating another problem. In the end the data were main and I was able to move it somewhere instead the data exported on other services are just exported but kind not usable.

Another difference is just that you can write more long content, but is something that is not needed by everyone (and killing the hateful threads).

The real interesting thing is something that we saw at the top of this article. Activitypub, yes this protocol means that any instance from a WordPress blog to a Podcast service can publish automatic something and it will be displayed in the instance if that is allowed (usually by a list of domains).
Let me do an example, the dashboard in a school where everyone can put their flyers like “I am selling a Vespa motocycle” to “I am looking for a drummer to our Hello Kitty death metal band”. It is like that for that dashboard there is content provided by someone outside the school like by Local Marketplaces and Heavy Strange Metal lovers websites.

So in the case of the Italian, there is an instances for FunkWhale (that is an alternative to Spreaker and free music) so when the podcaster publishes something you can follow the account of that instance (in Mastodon) to get the latest updates from your loved author. Also, if the author as it its own Mastodon account.

Also in the last month Mastodon accounts grow to a million as it is something that depends on the moment everytime there is something disrupting on Twitter.

How to choose an instance?

Who keep an instance online, define some rules and also some topics. As example, you can find some dedicated to retrogaming to LGBTQ+ (I hope that I write it rightly but the article is just long enough) or by language.

So if you want to find people, there is the second problem. A difference to centralized services, you can see a public timeline of everything published in real time (also reshare from other people from other instances, like a retweet) in that instance from anyone or just who are you following.
This means that if you are only interested in people that write in Italian about everything is fine, but if you are also looking for people that talks about retrogaming in English you need to find accounts outside.

If you are looking to expand your followers, you need to be in the right instances or create different accounts. If you are looking for people, you need to find in their websites or looking on other social networks and hopes that you get reshared by someone in their instances, so your content is spread to other people like in a domino. Only that on centralized the domino is there, in decentralized you need to put the first piece of the domino in every room by looking for someone else that does for you.

So Mastodon is not a Twitter alternative but a Twitter analogue

As Wikipedia says:

Mastodon (software), an open source software for federated micro-blogging, analogous to but distinct from Twitter.

On Twitter it is easier to get ads, find any content and people by everywhere, doesn’t change the website name and the content is moderated more strongly.

On Mastodon it is easier to find specific content, to manage it your data very freely, to depends on a guy that offers free to everyone something that if it is lucky pay 40$/€ every month and it is accountable legally on what is shared there (and this means various things for who decide to host it one).

Yes, I don’t think that the fediverse is the alternative to anything. It is just something different and depends on your needs. On Social networks I am there to create… a network with new people and this is something that is very, very difficult to create as we saw. Centralized solutions help with that, but they are not free rights included compared to decentralized solutions. But if you are on a social network you want to share with people and create something, a comment, a reshare but if you aren’t able to find those people… it is like to have a beautiful garden where you are the only one there and just the people you want can access but you need to find hose people. It is a never-ending circle and this is the limit (now) of the fediverse that is very time-consuming.

This is the reason why I have just Mastodon with a cross-share from Twitter that is my main account but on the instance I am not allowed for automated posts. In the past I got also people complaining with me that I was sharing instagram/reddit/twitter links on mastodon itself because they are not free. I have a youtube channel, but I don’t exist on Peertube, I have a Flickr account but not a Pixelfed account. I have a FunkWhale account because… it doesn’t allows automatic publishing from RSS feed from other services like Spreaker so I have to publish there manually every week on 2 different services.

Maybe this will change but honestly I never liked the enthusiasts as I am a person that prefer concreteness as I am one of the few people in the world that contribute to open source not just saying how much is beautiful but just doing and trying to do a difference for anyone, but for this there is my free and open book where I example how to contribute more effectively.

Thanks to Devol.it, Luigi Gubello (Twitter/Mastodon) for the review!

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