I joined Mastodon this week, sensing like a lot of people that Twitter was in a death spiral. Here’s my profile.
I’d noticed about a week ago that the official Twitter app for iOS removed the functionality that let me toggle between different accounts. Which made me reflect further on how dependent I’ve become on a platform I have never really liked, and only went along with because I could never get more than a handful of people to try open-source alternatives back in the day. I chose the instance I did because of their long history with the Fediverse, as it’s called. (Because you don’t even need to be on Mastodon to interact with users there. Other options abound.)
For those who find the whole concept of a federated social media experience hard to grasp, think about email, and how you can communicate with someone on Yahoo Mail if you’re on Gmail or whatever. That’s how social media was supposed to be from the beginning. I once had a long conversation with the life partner of Twitter’s original lead developer. He left when they turned their back on the then-mostly-theoretical concept of federation with other microblogging platforms.
Somewhat to my own surprise I find I’m actually enjoying Mastodon, because the UI and the way everything works is so well thought-out, it makes the case against corporate overlordship better than any manifesto could.
I certainly understand the reluctance to learn how to use and navigate a new social media network, especially since it isn’t just one site, and you have to go to some extra effort to find interesting people to follow, and to reconnect with contacts from other social media platforms. I felt this reluctance so strongly, I avoided joining Mastodon for years. But without the distorting influence of the need to make money—each Mastodon instance apparently gets by on regular donations from users who can afford it—it’s possible to have a fully social social media platform, actually serving people in our intertwined communities, not investors. There’s no algorithm, y’all!
And one of the cool effects of that is the standardization of best practices, such as content warnings and descriptions of images for the visually impaired. It’s so easy, I’ve been converted from indifference verging on hostility to the very concept of content warnings to full acceptance, because when it’s just a routine click of a button to add a content description, why would you not, if you know (for example) that some people prefer not to see politics in their feed. So more sensitive or traumatized users have the option of minimizing posts by default, so that if there’s anything with a content warning/description, they’ll just see that description, and can decide whether or not to click to expand, while those of us who are coarse, insensitive bastards can opt to see full content every time. Problem more or less solved.
I’ve taken to using content warnings for poetry too, because a poem that doesn’t challenge people in some way isn’t much of a poem in my opinion. Plus I have friends who just don’t like or get poetry, and that’s perfectly fine. If I do post a poem with rape allusions or something like that, I’ll endeavor to post additional, more explicit CWs… as long as they don’t mute the impact in some way. But having that as a built-in feature makes it much more likely that I’ll be mindful of it. Well done, tech geeks. Long live open source software!