One of the things I like about Mastodon and Pixelfed and the rest of the Fediverse vs commercial social networks is that they don’t TRY TO GET MY ATTENTION every time I open the page or app and offer ALL THESE THINGS I SHOULD BE LOOKING AT that might be relevant to what it thinks my interests are, to make sure I stay online and don’t stay away again for sooooo long! (Even if it’s only been a few days.)

Seriously:

  • I opened Instagram for the first time in at least a month and I was bombarded with more ads and recommendations than photos from people I was actually following.
  • I opened an alt profile in Twitter yesterday to post something off the cuff, and all the trending topics, pushing new features, etc. were like walking onto the Las Vegas Strip when all you want is a sandwich.

Never mind the normal “You haven’t logged onto Twitter in a few hours, here’s all the stuff you missed, and look, people are posting new stuff while you’re catching up, you’d better keep scrolling! What, you switched to another app for five seconds? Here, I’ll scroll it for you!”

Compared to Mastodon just showing you the latest that you’re actually following. And if you want to fill in what you missed, that’s up to you.

(There’s also the posting culture. On Twitter, people are used to discussing DOOOOOM all the time, so even curating your timeline isn’t always enough if you want to follow people talking, I don’t know, astronomy or whatever, because they’re also talking doom. And the algorithm reinforces it at both ends in a vicious circle, encouraging doom-posting and encouraging doom-scrolling.)

Choice Complaints

None of these complaints is inherent to the structure or functionality of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc. They’re deliberate UI design choices to optimize for the company’s targets. A third party client could bypass it all (which of course is why they basically don’t allow those anymore).

Similarly, Mastodon and Pixelfed and so on could implement UI like this, but they don’t. The project goals aren’t engagement at all costs. And each instance can have its own goals.

Or someone could add an ATTENTION-GRABBING EXPERIENCE on top of the code and launch their own service. And those of us on other instances, running different software, wouldn’t be affected. Unless the site injected ads into the ActivityPub streams going out to people following its users, in which case I imagine a lot of instances would block them really quickly.

Or they could write an app that adds extra popups and keep-scrolling incentives to the phone experience!

I’m not sure many people would consider that an improvement.

Then again, people do use Yahoo mail. 🤷‍♂️

Expanded from Mastodon.

Purism’s explanations for removing various safety features from Librem One’s social network sound like someone explaining why they removed the mirrors, brakes, horns, seat belts, airbags and signals from the cars they’re reselling, because they know those cars are only ever going to be driven on a track where they’ll never have to change lanes or negotiate with other drivers.

Even though there’s a bunch of driveways on that track, connecting to the public road system.

If a collision does happen, we can call in the tow trucks and ambulances. But giving drivers tools to avoid collisions or reduce injuries? That would be interfering with their freedom!

Sometimes you choose which social app to open based on

  • who you want to talk to
  • who you want to hear
  • what you want to talk about

Sometimes you’re just shouting into the void. At those times, I figure I’ll choose the void that feels less exploitative.

That’s part of why I still have a blog. And why I post more on Mastodon, while Twitter is mostly auto-shares from my other networks, retweets, and occasional cross-posts.

(And politics, because I’d rather keep that on Twitter, where it’s sort of the main topic anyway, than on the network that’s still fun. Not that Mastodon is apolitical. Far from it! But it’s a lot more varied than the overwhelming focus on US partisan politics I see on Twitter. And the culture and structure make the discussions at least somewhat less train-wrecky. Most of the time.)

Update: If you’re interested in checking out Mastodon and the Fediverse, good places to start are JoinMastodon.org and JoinFediverse.wiki.

Like many people, I’ve moved away from Facebook over the last couple of years. I haven’t deleted my account, but I only visit once or twice a month, and it’s been a long time since I’ve posted there. And like many people in that survey, I’ve come to prefer Instagram to Facebook. Friends and family seem a bit more relaxed there, and I follow interesting photographers rather than “brands” that are trying to sell me something.

But lately, it feels less like a photo sharing space and more like an ad delivery mechanism. Less like its own thing and more like Facebook Lite. Every time I visit, I remember Facebook will cheerfully squeeze every drop of monetization potential out of it and keep going. Every time I post, I remember that I’m handing personal data to a company that has been caught misusing it over and over again.

It just doesn’t spark joy anymore.

Where next?

Instagram has been where I post in-the-moment* snapshots, alongside Flickr for albums and my better photos, and my blog for topical images. I don’t want to flood either of those with random snaps. Twitter and Tumblr aren’t terribly appealing at this point, either.

Mastodon takes up some of the slack. I’ve found a great community of photographers at Photog.Social, but it’s more of a place for curated shots. I have a general account at Wandering.shop, and I’ve started posting amusing pictures there, but it doesn’t feel like the right place to post snapshots.

I was an early adopter of Pixelfed, jumping on as soon as it went into public beta. It’s designed to fit the same niche as Instagram, only with a decentralized volunteer model instead of attention-based ads. Even better: I can post photos on Pixelfed and boost them directly into Mastodon instead of cross-posting duplicates. But the community is still small. It’s at the stage where it feels like you’re shouting into the void because there aren’t a lot of people listening, rather than because there are a lot of other people for them to listen to.

At this point, I’m cross-posting photos across way too many accounts. I need to simplify. What I think I’ll do is reduce the number of places I post, and then pare down who I follow on each remaining site to the point where I can check in once in a while and it feels like I’m checking in on the people, not the service.

You can find me as KelsonV on Flickr, on Instagram, on Pixelfed, on Wandering.shop, and on Photog.Social.

*More or less. Sometimes the moment was three days ago.

Over at Key Smash!, I’ve been helping beta-test the Pterotype plugin to hook up a self-hosted WordPress to the Fediverse. It gives WordPress an ActivityPub presence, so new posts and comments can be seen in Mastodon, Pleroma, and other ActivityPub-powered networks, and replies from those networks can come back as comments.

But Key Smash! is a simple test case. It’s at the top of the site, there’s no caching, it’s only got a handful of posts, and it hasn’t been bombarded by spammers for years.

So I’ve installed it on here. Older posts won’t federate, but new ones (starting here) should, and replies should show up as comments. With luck they’ll land in the moderation queue instead of the spam queue.

You may be able to follow the site by searching for this post’s URL in Mastodon/etc. Maybe. I need to report a bug in the handling of sites that aren’t at the top level: To find the site I need to search for @blog@www.hyperborea.org/journal – the first time. Then that search stops working, but I can find it at @blog@www.hyperborea.orgjournal instead. But that only works after I’ve searched for the first one.

Well, that’s part of why I set it up here: to help beta test.

Update: Submitted the username/discovery issue to Github.

Update: You can now follow the blog directly at @blog@www.hyperborea.org

Update (Dec): I turned it off temporarily due to spam problems. Spam comments were visible through ActivityPub, and couldn’t be deleted due to a FK constraint on the Pterotype tables.

Update (2019): Pterotype appears to have been abandoned. 🙁