Tag Archives: social networking

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.

Alternate Sharing Buttons (Now with Less Tracking!)

I’ve been trying out some alternate sharing buttons that don’t talk to Facebook, Twitter, etc. — or to a third-party button provider like ShareThis — until you actually click on the button. Facebook can track you across the internet when sites include the standard “Like” button hosted on their services. Same with Google and the +1. Even WordPress’ Jetpack buttons will call out to Facebook and Pinterest to display the share count. I want to reduce my contribution to ubiquitous tracking.*

Sharingbuttons.io is totally self-contained and doesn’t even use any JavaScript. You use their site to generate a set of buttons for a particular page, then copy the HTML and CSS to your site. Downsides: The HTML includes embedded SVG that has to be repeated on every page, and your page title and URL are repeated in each button within the page. I used this set on the old Alternative Browser Alliance site, replacing ShareThis. It’s only around five pages, so it was faster to repeat the generator five times than write a tool to template it.

Share42 uses locally-hosted JavaScript to avoid repeating the title and URL on every button, and a single image sprite generated from the set of buttons that you choose. You copy both files to your own site, so that it doesn’t contact a third-party server just by appearing. This also made it simpler to add to WordPress, because I only need to add an easily-templateable stub and enqueue a local script. So I put it on Speed Force, replacing Jetpack’s sharing module. I may put it on the old Flash reference site (which used to have ShareThis on it) if it seems like it’s worth it.

These are both topic-based projects. For my personal blog here, I’ve decided to just drop the share buttons entirely. I’m not sure how useful they are these days, anyway, especially on mobile, where sharing to an app is built into the system.

*Yes, I said reduce, not eliminate. I’m still using WordPress stats, for instance, though I’m phasing out Google Analytics on my personal sites, and of course anywhere you actually embed content from another site, the remote site can potentially track your visitors.