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.

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.

Now that Pixelfed federation and Pterotype are taking shape, I can hook up my photos and blogging directly into Mastodon and the Fediverse, but you know what would be even cooler?

Connecting them to each other.

A lot of my blog ideas grow out of photos or statuses that I’ve posted previously, as I find more to say or a better way to say it. And while it’s always possible to just post a comment or reply with a link, imagine posting them into the same federated thread.

Here’s a scenario we can do today:

  1. Photo of something interesting on Pixelfed, boosted to Mastodon. I believe we’re one update away from Mastodon replies and Pixelfed comments appearing together.
  2. Blog post on Plume or WordPress with Pterotype going into more detail about the photo. Comments and Mastodon/Pleroma replies can interleave right now. (Try it, if you want!)
  3. Another photo on Pixelfed as a follow-up. Again, comments and replies can interleave.

This is already pretty cool, but it still creates three separate discussions. The best I can do is add a “Hey, I wrote more on my blog over here: <link>” to the first discussion.

What if there were a way to publish the blog entry as a reply to the PixelFed photo? Or to publish the second photo as a reply to the blog?

And that opens up other possibilities where people can reply to other people’s photos and blog entries with their own. (Webmentions sort of do this, but they’re not going to create a single federated discussion.)

I’m not sure what form this interleaved discussion would take, or what the pitfalls might be. (Visibility might suffer, for instance.) Blogging and photo posting tend to be platforms for an original post that can have comments, rather than platforms where a top-level post can be an OP or a reply, and this would change that model.