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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Mastodon in April

April hasn’t ended but Eugene Rochko wanted to share what has happened thus far with Mastodon during the month. It is an interesting post. Always neat to see explosions like this from the inside. Like this bit:

So, April, huh. Twitter changed the reply system, which everybody told them they shouldn’t do, and then removed the iconic egg avatar for new users, and suddenly all of my work of telling people that one day Twitter would do something they didn’t like and they’d need a viable alternative paid off. Mastodon caught on on Infosec Twitter, which is both huge and influential, and (somehow, I do not quite understand how) also French Twitter. France really likes free software and decentralization, as it turns out! Think explosion of users from 20,000 to 42,000 in the span of two days. Most importantly, this offset a wave of press attention, from French journals to tech journals to non-tech journals. I had phone and text interviews with The Verge, Mashable, Wired, Engadget and more. I actually don’t remember exactly, because I chose not to read the resulting (or any) articles for the sake of my mental health. (On the other hand, my mother collected them all). The Mastodon band has playfully acknowledged the project. We also witnessed the birth of a meme of a man not being able to be found by William Shattner.

Most people would likely say that The Verge was the start of the wave. But Eugene shows us it wasn’t. Totally worth reading the entire post.

How to support Mastodon

Don’t know what Mastodon is? Read my Observations on Mastodon post first.

I’m all in over on Mastodon for #woollyweek. I thought I’d take a moment to jot down all the ways you can support Mastodon even if you’re not running your own instance, aren’t a programmer, or have a ton of time.

  • Support a major Mastodon contributor. Find someone on the contributors list and support them in some way. Money helps but also following them on Mastodon, thanking them, sharing their posts, can also help. Personally I back Eugen Rochko who is the lead contributor. You can too via his Patreon.
  • Support your instance. Each instance of Mastodon costs money to run. Usually each instance links to a way to donate from their home pages. Personally I support Valentin Ouvard‘s Mastodon.cloud since that is the instance I use. You can too via Patreon.
  • Support the apps you use. In addition to the main Mastodon web app you may use a mobile app like Amaroq on iOS or Tusky on Android. If you do, these are built by different people than Mastodon itself. Personally I’ve contributed to John Gabelmann who developer Amaroq (which is excellent btw). You can contribute to Amaroq too via Paypal.
  • Support the support staff. A few instances have brought on additional support persons to help them manage the community. When hundreds of thousands of new people are added to a new community and platform within just a few weeks there are tons of questions to be answered, problems to solve, and messages to communicate. Personally I’ve contributed to maloki. Even though she is the support person for Mastodon.social (an instance I do not use) I see her role as broader than a specific instance’s support. You can support her too via Patreon.
  • Support the community. There are a ton of ways to do this. Here are just a few: post original content to Mastodon, start conversations, participate in conversations you didn’t start, boost an interesting post or two, help to welcome new users, if you see negativity try to help turn it around, and if you notice any abuse let your instance’s Admin know.
  • File bug reports. This software is still very much under active development. You may have noticed your instance being updated several times in recent weeks. With the entire platform under so much strain from the attention it has received, now is likely the very best time to find issues and report them. You can do so by signing up to Github and adding an issue there.
  • Take time to clearly understand Mastodon so you can teach others. Don’t just read the headlines on popular tech news sites. Dig in and learn what Mastodon is, how it works. Then, when you hear a conversation about Mastodon you can accurately describe these things to others. Mastodon isn’t a Twitter killer as the press likes to position it as. So be sure to help spread good information about it.
  • Be inclusive. Mastodon has exploded in France and Japan. Rather than complain about your local instance’s timeline being filled with a language you do not understand, embrace the cultural diversity and try to learn a little of those languages or use a translation tool. You’ll likely learn something!
  • Have fun! Take time each day (or week, if you’re busy) and poke around the community to find things you enjoy. Try to have fun with it.

You might be thinking “I don’t have enough money to contribute to all of these things!”. Yes, you probably do. This morning I bought a small coffee at Starbucks. It cost me $2.50. If I didn’t buy this small coffee once per week that’d add up to $10 a month. If I spread out my patronage to each of the above people I can give a few dollars per month to each. Just these few dollars can go a very long way. Over 480,000 people have signed up to Mastodon. If just 5% of those people decided to contribute $10 a month that’d be $240,000 a month.

If you like something and want it to exist, back up that desire by trying to contribute to it in any small way that you can.

I’m in for #woollyweek

Speaking of Mastodon, a few tooters have massed together to start #woollyweek.

Sebastian Morr:

In our experience, a hard cut works best for trying out new platforms like this.

The idea is simple; you log out of Twitter and stay away from it for an entire week starting this coming Monday April 24. Anything you would have shared on Twitter you share on your Mastodon instance instead.

I’ve seen efforts like this be a boon for fledgling platforms in the past. Daily photo challenges being one simple, yet very effective, way to burgeon a ton of usage on a new platform. This particular effort is no different with Sebastian giving a list of things you can try to do during that week. See his post for more details.

I’m in.

Observations on Mastodon

I’ve been fiddling with Mastodon (to the tune of over 500 toots). I’ve also been reading up on the history of the service a lot over the last few weeks. Here are some general observations that I’ve made along with a few helpful links.

  • Mastodon isn’t a single service. It is an open source app that runs on multiple “instances” but are optionally connected together. So an Admin can run an instance for his soccer team to track their weekly progress but, optionally, connect it to other soccer team instances or even all public instances. Instances can also be completely private. Imagine having Twitter for just your family. With Mastodon that is possible.
  • Think of Mastodon like email + microblog + Twitter. Just like you can have email addresses on multiple domains (like Gmail or work email)  you can, but are not required to, have multiple accounts across different instances of Mastodon. It is a good microblogging solution due to its slightly longer character count restrictions. And, it is like Twitter because most of the lessons that platform has learned have been absorbed into Mastodon such as mentions, hashtags, etc.
  • On Twitter my username is @cdevroe. On Mastodon my username is @cdevroe@mastodon.cloud – So my username includes the instance I’m on. If I were on more instances (I’m not, currently) I’d have other usernames. This is similar to email. My personal email is colin@cdevroe.com and my work email is colin@condronmedia.com
  • Mastodon isn’t an overnight success. In fact, the seed was planted over 10 years ago. Mastodon is an app (built using Ruby on Rails for the geeks) that uses the OStatus protocols to create a federated, or shared, timeline across instances. In other words, users on one instance can see the posts of users on other instances via a shared timeline.
  • Mastodon’s success is not contingent on mass popularity. Those calling for it to “fail” don’t realize it has already won. The web community is so used to seeing platforms reach hundreds of millions of users and die as a result of running out of money or traction whereas Mastodon needs neither (relative to something like Snapchat or Twitter) to be considered a massive success. As it stands Mastodon has dozens of instances (if not hundreds) that are fully funded by their respective communities and over 200,000 people have signed up to them. (Though, the above link mentions 1.3M users. I think that count is wrong.) Only a few thousand will stick around but that is more than enough for it to continue long into the future. Also, private instances may well live on for a very, very long time.
  • It will never replace Twitter for most people that use Twitter. However, it could bring more people into using a Twitter-like experience than Twitter itself would have. Because instances can be spun up by anyone, a company could use Mastodon internally or a community (like a soccer team) could use it as well. It allows different instances to own their community. In this way it could also be used like Slack is being used by small communities.
  • Mastodon, like Twitter, has terms for the things within it. Toot instead of Tweet, etc. Qina Liu wrote a great piece on Medium describing all of them.
  • There are several very good mobile clients for both iOS and Android. And, I’ve seen both Mac apps and VR apps in the works.

I hope to keep playing with Mastodon for a while. I’ve already contributed to the instance I’m on, the apps I use, and the overall project itself to help make that happen. If you end up playing around with Mastodon I suggest you do the same.