Thought I’d give an update on my experience with Mastodon. There have been few more lessons learned since the first post.
On Saturday, after thinking about it for several days, I decided I needed to try a new server. Many of the servers in the Mastodon space are experiencing growing pains due to the influx of new users, but mine seemed particularly unreliable. It was hit or miss whether it would be up when I went to it, it was slow when it was, and I was seeing what looked like a lot of web service call failures in the UI.
The problem was, which server to try? You can move your account but it’s not a trivial thing to do. A lot of people fret about joining the right server for them, but my interests are varied and scattershot, and my inclination was to look for something general that is well run rather than focus on identity or ideology.
One server that had caught my eye was Universeodon, I’ll admit partially for its science and philosophical themes, but also because it’s in North America, as well as this post from George Takei from that server, which gave the impression he wasn’t feeling any of the pain I was. I poked around on the server’s public interface, decided its quick responsiveness was a good thing, and made the move.
One tool I didn’t come across until after I’d already moved was instances.social, which in its advanced lister shows all (or most of) the Mastodon instances (servers) out there, and provides scores, what version of Mastodon they’re running, and their uptime percentage. I wish there was documentation on the grades it provides, but at least it’s independent information on the servers out there. My new server has an uptime of over 99%, while the old one is at 94%. (Mastodon.social, the largest English speaking one out there, is at 88%.)
The site also has a wizard to help you choose a server, which I haven’t played with. My recommendation for anyone looking would be to peruse the servers at JoinMastodon.org, and once you find one or two that look promising, check their stats on instances.social. You want to see the most recent version of Mastodon listed (4.02 as of this post) and an uptime percentage as high as possible. (Although be aware that many of the servers with 100.000% uptime are new.)
Anyway, I seemed to have lucked out. The server I’m on appears pretty solid, at least for now.
I learned a few things in the server move. First, your posts don’t move over. The old posts don’t get deleted. They’re still out there on the old server, but your new profile doesn’t show them. This didn’t bother me too much, since I tend to see tweets and other social media as ephemeral anyway, but it’s not something I was initially aware of, and I can see a lot of people being unhappy about it.
Second, while your followers are automatically moved over, you have to manually export the accounts you’re following and import them on the new server. For some reason, my list wouldn’t import. I only had a few dozen at this point, so I eventually just added most of them manually. Someone I follow experienced the same issue on another server, and their list was too large to do manually. After multiple days, they got it imported, either because their server finally processed the uploaded file, or because one of their many repeated attempts finally clicked.
The problem is that importing involves uploading a file, then waiting for the server to process it. If it fails for any reason, you get no feedback other than seeing or not seeing your followed accounts. And my attempts to find help on this in several venues was mostly met with deafening silence. It does appear that someone is trying to improve the importing process, although their revision hasn’t been accepted yet. Hopefully this is an issue that will be resolved soon. I suspect Mastodon’s success will be somewhat dependent on making this process less onerous. (Note: update in the comments.)
Those issues aside, the number of people on Mastodon continues to increase, and I’m seeing more conversations happening there exclusively. Conversation there seems more natural, easier to engage in. At first I thought it might only be because of the people that have chosen to be there, but I actually do see some rude interactions, so it’s not like everyone is just mellow.
This New Yorker piece points out something important. Mastodon is antiviral. The UI buries the metrics associated with any particular post (number of favorites, boosts, etc). And while you can boost someone else’s post, you can’t quote-tweet it. Boosts are much more about the boostee than the booster, very different from Twitter’s retweets. All of which seems to discourage the kind of grand standing, conversation hijacking, and confrontational BS so common on Twitter. In other words, Mastodon is designed for conversing rather than performing, and it makes a difference.
The difference is particularly evident from a lot of the stuff that comes in from Twitter crossposting. It ends up being jarring in the Mastodon environment, which has resulted in some complaints. As a result, the most popular crossposting service now only crossposts retweets and quote-tweets as unlisted, so that they don’t show up in public feeds, and only people following the crossposters see them.
But I decided I didn’t even want to contribute to it that much, so now I’ve changed my settings not to crosspost retweets and quote-tweets at all. It can make for extra work, but since Mastodon boosts weren’t crossing over to Twitter anyway, not much more than I was already doing. And a fair amount I’m just not bothering to cross over.
There are some other Twitter alternatives being discussed like Hive and Post. Hive appears to be mobile only, and Post isn’t out yet. But Mastodon seems to be getting the most mindshare for now. (It’s reportedly gone from a few hundred thousand to two million users in the last month.) And Automattic, the company that runs WordPress, is talking about adding support for ActivityPub, the protocol used by Mastodon, to Tumblr, which would make Tumblr play with Mastodon. There’s also an ActivityPub plugin in development for WordPress. Hopefully it will be something supported by WordPress.com before too long.
That’s where I am right now with my Mastodon journey. Anyone else using it yet? Or any new thoughts on the Twitter situation?