One of the worst parts of the Social Diaspora is the fact that our social graphs kind of exploded all over the Internet. While there are many hot takes on the dangers of consolidating anything in the hands of the few, one of the benefits –for some — was that it forced everyone into the same space, making visibility and discovery extremely easy. For others, this silo and all of it’s supposed benefits were the major pain points of the Old World of social media: when things got dangerous for them, there was no where to run to.
We are now in an age of Heirs as many different platforms vie to take over the role of the One True Platform. They may not say it outright, only abashedly admitting to the honor of being part of a greater whole, but many of the new platform players are undoubtedly scheming behind heavy velour curtains on ways to convince social media window shoppers that their platform is better than the old platform, that lessons were learned, and that things will be Better Going Forward.
Personally, I have ended up on Mastodon, as I have probably mentioned repeatedly in the past. It is not perfect, as nothing will ever be, now and forever, but it’s been doing the job for me quite nicely since I left the Hellsite. I have also accepted an invite to BlueSky, a site created by the guy who originally created Twitter in the days before everyone realized that social media was less about knocking down barriers to global communication and all about getting users hooked on a monetizing IV drip of humor and terror that they could never look away from.
Life on the Hellsite was such a formative experience that we still view our options through its lens. Mastodon has the ability to edit posts, but generally not to quote posts that people respond to; the former is used as a selling point while the latter is sometimes bemoaned. Would we care either way if these hadn’t been missing features or included features in the Hellsite? Here they would just be features and the normal way that Mastodon works. Similarly, I suspect that a lot of people took to BlueSky because it was so goddamn exact in the same ways that the Hellsite worked that they didn’t have to think differently. They can easily leverage years of Hellsite training so it was probably easier for most people to set up shop under Dorsey once again.
I occasionally stop over at BlueSky only because there are a few — literally, one or two or three — people I want to keep in touch with there who are nowhere else in my modern graph. I also still have to go to Facebook because there are some people there as well, so this isn’t just about a recent diaspora. I do not like BlueSky, though, which is going to make the rest of this post very hypocritical; I am aware. There’s no need to point this out to me.
Before the Hellsite started its slow-mo implosion I had tried Mastodon but didn’t stick with it. It was an esoteric ritual, but for good reason. Some/many/most/all of the instances available at that time were tightly targeted at and by distinct communities. Not coincidentally, those communities were the ones being run out of the Hellsite by the types of fascists and bigots who are currently being welcomed back to that site. Because Mastodon instances could be spun up by technically-minded people, small kingdoms arose where marginalized groups could set their own rules and right the wrongs that had been levied against them. When I first tried Mastodon, it was interesting from a technical perspective, but I wouldn’t say it was a warm and inviting place for someone like me. Quite the opposite. A thin — and sometimes not so thin — veneer of a different type of authoritarianism was prevalent as members of Mastodon communities actively policed the behavior of others. There were constant reminders from people about how to post and what to post and what not to post, and judgement could be swift and frighteningly unified and final. Some people would say that Mastodon instance operators were defending their kingdoms; others might say that the bullied had become the bullies. I kept my Mastodon account, but I almost never logged in during this early time as the Hellsite wasn’t yet so hellish, and the people I followed hadn’t yet flown the coop.
That kind of changed when the shit finally hit the fan. I had to go somewhere. Facebook wasn’t an option as I had become used to the Hellsite without ads (thanks to third party apps which rapidly became persona non grata in the new incarnation). Oddly enough, I and a bunch of others had tried several wannabe social networks throughout the years, none of which I can remember at my current level of caffination, but most of which were video game based, and most of them are offline as far as I know. There’s Discord, but that’s it’s own clusterfuck worthy of an epic poem of its own. Mastodon was kind of the only game in town for me at that point, so I threw my jacket over my head and roadie-ran back into the Fediverse.
This time, though, the tide seemed to be turning as everyone was fleeing the Hellsite. A lot of people new to the Fediverse were joining up with the mega-instances like Mastodon.social which forced admins to scramble to build out their infrastructure. Systems crashed and slowed, which was annoying for those trying to gain an understanding of how Mastodon worked, but it seemed particularly infuriating for the Mastodon Old Guard whose refuges were not only being inundated with uneducated masses, but whose castles were buckling under the strain. The scolds posted hourly about proper Mastodon etiquette since none of them could be sure if everyone within the reach of their voice had been properly schooled that day. Some newcomers stuck it out, but a good number of people I know left because they didn’t like being talked down to. I suppose the more bitter among us would mention schadenfreude at this point, but we would then also have to revisit the definition of hypocrisy as well, so let’s just move on.
It seems that the tsunami of refugees from the Hellsite was too much for the few Masto instances that existed, as many, many new ones sprung up in the months following the finalization of the Hellsite’s sale to Shyster-in-Chief. Since people can move around instances at-will, over time, people seem to have found new homes which are more comfortable for them, leaving the older instances for the undoubtedly grateful OGs who had tried to control the flood in the early days. I and several others I know ended up at Gamepad.club. I occasionally see reposts from members reminding people about including alt-text or content warnings, but now those only seem to come when a massive wave of new signups are expected. The days of rampant scolding seem to have subsided and everyone is just getting on with their business of being social.
I write this post because as I occasionally visit BlueSky, I will sometimes see people badmouthing Mastodon which, for me, now, in the Year of our Lord 2023, feels like a personal attack as Mastodon has become My Home. There’s still the complaint that “Mastodon is too hard to learn” which, in some regards, is true if a person can only think in terms of the way the Hellsite works, or if they don’t want to actually take time to understand. Deeper than that, I think, is the confusion around visibility and discoverability. People have to choose an instance to join, which in itself feels limiting and final (it’s not), but then the whole “how do I find people” fear kicks in well before they learn how hashtags and searching works. More recently, though, I saw people talking about their initial experience with Mastodon, and how the intense levels of finger-wagging were what turned them off. I doubt any of them have looked back since, as their statements invoke a sense of minds made up, but I’m here to say (in my usual roundabout fashion) that in some/many/most cases, this is no longer an issue in many corners of the Fediverse, although never not-zero.
To that end, I will admit that my laissez faire attitude towards BlueSky is, at least in part, my own fault. I have not made an attempt to learn how the platform works because I have found a platform I am happy to inhabit. I know that there is the concept of “lists” there which aggregate posts and posters according to set criteria, so that I could see posts and posters of “star citizen” if I wanted to by simply following a list someone has made, but I don’t really want to do that as I have decided that BlueSky is not where I’ll be spending any time outside the twice daily check-in. More importantly, I think, is that BlueSky is “Twitter for Ex-Twitter Users” in both name and deed. It works like Twitter did. It looks like Twitter did. What worries me is that it will — maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day — enshittify itself the way Twitter did because it’s made by the guy who made Twitter in the mold of Twitter, which makes it safe to assume that it’s ultimate goals are the same as those of pre-X-Twitter: making its users the product for techbros to get rich(er). In many ways I think people have become accustomed to this state and have made peace with it, which is what platform owners want. I’m sure BlueSky HQ is happy to know that their users aren’t going to Mastodon any time soon, although that makes me personally sad for selfish reasons, but also because of Big Picture reasons. I’ve never been an open source kind of guy, and in many ways I still am not, but I am glad that when I have options between feeding the machine and making my own choices, I can make the right one now.