Twitter and beyond:
I have never been part of the Twitterverse. Some friends are and still have commendably large rosters of followers. All have been hit by the shenanigans over the last few months or so, enabling vile racists, sociopaths and downright exploitation to become the norm on that platform. A few are bravely fighting on, and many have just left. But a few have been looking elsewhere.
Other fine social platforms are available
The history of Twitter means that there will never be another social media site quite like it. But there are a few out there, some under the cloud of foreign government influence, others run for the benefit of criminal oligarchs, self-seeking politicians and other not-so-nice people.
Essentially, this means that, unlike Twitter, Mastodon runs on any number of servers – “instances” – connected by open source standards so that any number of instances cooperate in communicating “toots” – “tweets” – throughout the internet – “fediverse“. In fact, anyone can set up their own instance, and many do.
Twitter ostensibly uses a single server
Now, if you’re the kind of Twitter user who likes the cut and thrust of dealing with Nazis, racists and other reprobates as well as stuffing it to Elon, Mastodon is not for you. And this is why:
People tend to congregate on instances that in some way reflect their interests. Instances may be location-based, ie. mastodonapp.uk or gardenstate.social, or interest-based, such as toot.bike and mastodon.green. Some have strict rules on stuff like sex/politics/religion, but these are made clear when signing up. A good place to start looking for an instance is here.
There are also other instances which remain private, dealing with things like recovery, addiction, mental health, etc., which do not propagate out into the fediverse, nor take stuff from outside the instance.
I joined what ended up as the largest instance in the fediverse. At the time I also joined a UK-based instance, not understanding how the system works and left it as I came to be more competent.
My experience with the Elephant…
Mastodon seems much like Twitter in most respects, but there are significant differences. If you set it up on a computer it’s most similar to Tweetdeck. Mobile apps are also available. I find Tusky the best on Android. I don’t use an iPhone, so I can’t advise on that.
The critical difference is that, unlike Twitter, you have to go out and find your own world. The unpleasantness does not come to you.
At first, I thought that not much was going on but eventually settled on this strategy. Review the two timelines; local– and federated-. Local– is all the stuff that’s going on inside the instance, and federated– is all the stuff connecting to the instance from the rest of the internet.
All I did was “follow” anyone who posted a view or experience with which I felt some connection, posted interesting articles/links to news and information, expressed interesting views, or even people who just posted nice pictures. Some will turn out as “bots“, but they have to tell you that. Others may turn out not to be the sort of person you like, so just unfollow them.
Once you’ve identified a few solid “tooters“, look at who they follow and who follows them and start following whoever meets your criteria in those lists. It’s unlikely you’ll find anyone who is the total antithesis of you because of the way Mastodon federates. In fact, I have only unfollowed one bot which posted every track played by BBC6music in real time. It was fascinating, but just a bit too much.
Up until now, most people you follow are likely to follow you back, even quite well-known ones. But the fediverse is getting beyond the initial stages and I don’t know how much longer they will do that. But the best way to build your own following is to toot for yourself.
A couple of differences with Twitter.
- You cannot “reTweet“. The nearest equivalent is “Boost“. This copies the post to all your followers, but no further. You cannot comment on the actual boost itself, you post anything you want to say as a reply to the original.
- Initially, your immediate contacts are only within your instance. Anyone in any other instance is visible if they follow or are followed by someone in your instance. That’s a help since you’re unlikely to come across someone you might not want – Nazis, abusers, sociopaths, etc. – unless you really want.
- There is a difference in the way that both apps use the #hashtag.
It takes a little while to build up your Mastodon world. It’s taken me a couple of months, although much of that time was spent wondering what to do. But I’m finding it quite a useful element in my online life.
#RedBankNJ Social Media feeds
I’ve now added two social media trackers to this blog to track the #hashtag #redbanknj on Mastodon and Twitter. This is new and there are shortcomings.
The Twitter API has a lot of latency. That means it often takes hours for a particular tweet to show up despite Twitter being run on #hashtags
The Mastodon feed is quick but since the app is centred on the user #hashtags are secondary and getting the API to recognise every #redbanknj is more difficult.