Tuesday, 21 Mar 2023

Could this be Twitter without the toxic slurry? My week on Mastodon

Could this be Twitter without the toxic slurry? My week on Mastodon

Could this be Twitter without the toxic slurry? My week on Mastodon

How did I choose this as the day I would leave Twitter, already semi-destroyed by an "eccentric" billionaire, and migrate to Mastodon? Easy, stupid: it was the day after I had sworn never to move to Mastodon. About 230,000 people had flocked to the site in the first week of November. Eugen Rochko, who devised and first published the software that underpins the platform in 2016, promised a "different kind of social media experience," chiefly one that had "stringent anti-abuse and anti-discrimination policies".

Which all sounded great, but it looked too difficult. For a start, I didn't like the fact that it was described as a "fediverse", not least because I didn't know what it meant. It turns out to be a portmanteau of "federation" and "universe", to indicate that Mastodon comprises many different servers, also known as "instances", which are interconnected. Anyone can set up a server, if they have the expertise. If the server you're on gets too big, you're encouraged to join another. All servers have their own ground rules and their own interests, though many of them are quite broad. They can talk to each other, and it's quite easy to switch. It's more like a virtual party in one huge house than hundreds of different parties.

I also didn't like the word "toot" instead of "tweet", nor "boost" for "retweet". These are straight synonyms - I just don't like change.

But then I found myself at a book launch - nothing fancy - with people who knew a thing or two: a tech entrepreneur (Ed Saperia) who had put seed money into Mastodon; a climate activist (Hamish Campbell) who ran two Mastodon servers. And they made it sound interesting, if no more comprehensible. But more than that, this was just an ordinary, open-to-all event, a civic space; so what if Mastodon is too? What if it's the true "town square" - Twitter without the toxic slurry?

Stephen Fry crossed over from Twitter to Mastodon, and this was a big deal. He had been on the bird site since 2008, and had 12 million followers. Now he had a tribe of 56,000 on mastodonapp.uk, and everyone on Twitter who wasn't taking the piss out of Elon Musk was talking about how they didn't care that Fry had left (except they did). Everyone else on Twitter was talking about Mastodon, and one user (@ciaraioch@mastodon.ie) spoke for us all when she said: "Every Mastodon explanation is like, 'It's very simple: your account is part of a kerflunk, and each kerflunk can talk to each other as part of a bumblurt. At the moment everyone you flurgle can see your bloops but only people IN your kerflunk can quark your nerps. Kinda like email."

It was time to move. I downloaded the app - my first mistake. It's easier if you go in on the website mastodon.social - the original server (or instance, or community, or node), administered by Rochko, with 185,000 users - then you can roam around for a bit before you do anything stupid, such as commit.

But I was in the app, and had to choose my server. I wanted to join one that sounded full of anarchists, but I was offered a selection that sounded full of people who liked dogs. Whatever - I also like dogs. I became @zoesqwilliams@home.social, went back to Twitter to share my new handle, then back to Mastodon for 10 happy minutes, while I uploaded a profile pic and discovered that everyone on Mastodon was talking about Twitter. I logged out for a bit, then wham! Wrong password. Locked out.

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