Category Archives: Tech

How Mastodon is Different from Twitter

Not thrilled with Twitter lately? Mastodon is a good alternative social network that’s not controlled by one monolithic ad company.

It works a lot like Twitter, but with some key differences:

  • Posts are 500 characters
  • Mix public and private posts from the same account
  • Spoiler warnings!
  • Chronological timelines! You see posts in the order they arrive, not the order that some algorithm thinks will make you angry enough to “engage” more.
  • No ads!
  • Less data mining!
  • Human moderators!
  • Each server is its own community within the larger “Fediverse,” and they can all interact with each other.

Wait, what’s that last one again? Mastodon is not a centralized service, but software run by many different people and organizations. You can join a server (or “instance”) that suits you (or start your own!), and you can still interact with people on other instances because the servers talk to each other to make a larger combined service (“federation”). Think of it like choosing an email provider: You can still send to people on other providers, get replies, etc. Mastodon uses a standard called ActivityPub for this, which means it can interact with other software that uses that standard as well.

Join Mastodon gives you a quick run-down, and helps you choose an instance (don’t worry, you can always move later on). Some helpful guides (hat tip to @Canageek@cybre.space) include:

You can find me at @KelsonV@Wandering.Shop for general discussion, @KelsonReads@BookToot.club for books, and @KelsonV@Photog.Social for photography.

Oh yeah, there’s also this short video:

Mixed Feelings: Facebook Has Shut Down (Some) Auto-Posting

I have mixed feelings on Facebook closing down automated posts to personal* profiles. It might cut down on spam, and it will lead to better descriptions on link posts, but it also locks you further into their silo.

You can still write elsewhere and link back to it on Facebook, but you can’t use WordPress Publicize or IFTTT to post it, or Buffer to schedule it. You have to do it manually, which adds more friction, and you can’t time-shift it. I used to spread out look-at-this-cool-link posts using Buffer, and queue them up from Pocket while offline, but I can’t do that anymore.

If you want your Facebook audience to see your words or photos, it nudges you to maybe just post on Facebook to begin with (never mind that you want its main home to be somewhere you have more control). And it’s another way for them to get you back onto the site so they can try to keep you there for another 15 minutes, see some more ads, and generate more value content for Facebook.

Then again, I can’t help looking at it in terms of the debate over cross-posting from Twitter to Mastodon. There’s an argument that if you’re not actually on the platform, you’re not contributing to it. And while that debate tends to focus on auto-posts from a specific mismatched (and hostile) community, I think it’s fair to consider the broader context that if you’re not at least following up, you’re not really participating. (I’m especially guilty of that with my cross-posts to Tumblr.)

Though I suppose it matters more to a smaller community like the Fediverse than to something as massive as Facebook.

*Pages and groups can still accept automatic posts through the API, but those supposedly represent a business, or an organization, or a public persona rather than a “real” person.

Expanded from a Mastodon post on Wandering.Shop.

Categorizing Social Networks

You can broadly categorize social networks, or really any communication software, based on four criteria:

  1. Are replies subordinate to the original post (Facebook, Instagram, blog comments) or top-level posts but linked (Twitter, Mastodon, Tumblr, blogs with pingbacks/trackbacks/webmentions)?
  2. Do you primarily follow people/organizations (all the above) or topics (Reddit, message boards)?
  3. Is the default interaction one-on-one (email, Skype) or broadcast (most of what we call “social media” these days)?
  4. Is it a single service (Facebook, Twitter), a collection of isolated services (message boards), or a collection of interacting services (email, the Fediverse, blogs to some extent)?

More than whether the content is likely to be short text, long text, a photo, a video, or a link, these questions define the types of connections and types of interactions that people are going to have.

Long-Form Twitter: WHY OH WHY?

Twitter is suited for short statements and back-and-forth conversation.

It’s terrible for anything long-form.

Long Twitter threads* and images filled with text remind me of the old tech support days when users would paste screen shots of error messages into Microsoft Word documents and email me the document. It was a terrible tool for the job, but it was the one they knew.

Once you get past two or three tweets (doesn’t matter whether they’re 140 characters or 280, it’s the structure that matters), your ideas will hang together better and be better understood if you write an actual article somewhere. Sadly, Twitter has trained people to stay in Twitter instead of going outside to read the %#$ article**, because you won’t be able to get back to where you were in your timeline, and besides, that’s just too long to read right now.

And that would require you to have, like a blog or something, and what sort of weirdo has one of those? 🙄

So people use what they know, and we get screenshots of long paragraphs that are awful for accessibility. And we get 40-tweet threads that people only see fragments of and take bits out of context. And they’ll reply to tweet #5 complaining about something that’s addressed in tweet #12, but they didn’t see it, because that was hidden behind the “read more” link, and how long does this thread go, anyway? (Scroll bars solved this problem decades ago.) And we get links to articles that people don’t read, but they reply to them anyway — or rather they reply to what they assume was in them.

Which I suppose is what we had in the old days, I mean “nobody reads the articles” was a joke on Slashdot 20 years ago. But it’s still frustrating.

Update: I realized I don’t see this so much on Mastodon. I wonder if that’s one of the ways the culture is different, or if I just happen to not be following anyone who writes/boosts long threads on a regular basis, or if 500-character posts give people enough room to breathe that they don’t feel like they’re already writing a long chain, so why worry about keeping the number of posts down, what’s the difference between 10 tweets and 15?

*To clarify, I’m talking about long threads that are effectively one piece of writing, not a series of “oh, and another thing” follow-ups, live-tweeting as things come up, actual conversations, etc.

**This part is true of Facebook as well.

GPS Navigation Options We Need

GPS navigation options we need:

  • I know how to get to the freeway from home.
  • I know how to get home from the freeway.
  • Don’t send me down someone else’s narrow residential streets just to save two minutes.

If I’m trying to get somewhere other than home after work, I’ll use GPS to get an idea of the time remaining and the fastest route. Since I’d rather avoid the freeway during rush hour, it keeps trying to send me on these zigzag paths through residential neighborhoods to avoid backed-up arteries or just avoid busy intersections. I used to follow those routes, but after a while I started noticing other cars ahead of me that were clearly doing the same thing. It’s not just one car being added to that lumpy narrow road with lots of driveways, stop signs, kids on bikes and people taking out the trash. It’s a lot of cars. And of course we’re following the same apps drawing from the same data, so we’re all taking the same side streets, not spread out among all of them.

If there’s a big difference, that’s one thing, but for two or three minutes? What’s the point?

Of course the avigation app seems so testy when I decline to be part of the problem, and it has to keep recalculating…