Anyone Here going to Mastodon?

For those who have been following the tech, business, & social media news, they will be well aware of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter. For those less familiar beyond headlines & short news articles, you can read my post on my blog, Implied Spaces.~ Hello, is Anybody There?

When Musk actually went through with the purchase of the social media platform, a panic set in amongst some Twitter users. The initial concern was with changes in the culture & values of the platform looked like they were headed even further towards the loud extreme right-wing segment of the Twitter audience.

In response to this, many users started looking for alternative social media platforms. A number of alternatives were being bandied about, but the one that gained the most traction was Mastodon. As Musk made further announcements and internal changes to the company, more and more sought to establish a presence on Mastodon (many considered it a plan B, just in case things became unacceptable). Nearly half a million users joined Mastodon between Oct 27 & November 7.

Like many who seek refuge in a new community with a different culture there was some stress and confusion.

While the Mastodon community is very welcoming, there are a couple of behavioural differences from the Twitter culture that caused frustration & friction. The simplest was the use of hashtags and search. Without an algorithm pushing content, the user must seek out content. Everything was driven by hashtag searches. To find someone, you needed the full Mastodon address, the same way you require it for email.

  The biggest cultural difference is the use of CW (Content Warnings) and Alt Text (text that is read by a scanner for the visually impaired). This is not a Twitter priority. Some new users on Mastodon considered the CW some kind of censorship or pandering to “weak oversensitive people”. Some returned to twitter complaining about Mastodon’s dictatorial rules and “lack of acceptance” of newcomers.

As time goes on these differences in attitude will sort themselves out, as more people see the advantages of accommodating others.

Look Whose Here!

One of the things I speculated on was what happens when celebrities and various organizations/institutions decide to join Mastodon. We will see this play out in real time, as that process has started. Here are a few recent additions to Mastodon.

Author Neil Gaiman

Author Charles Stross

Author Cory Doctorow

 Comedian Kathy Griffin

Actress & Comedian Elvira

NFB The National Film Board of Canada

The Winnipeg Free Press

Archive. Org

Voyaging in Mastodon

 

 When I first started exploring Mastodon, it struck me that the various Instances were similar to islands in a large archipelago. Some Instances were quite large, while others were relatively small. Going between was like island hopping. Each island shared common characteristics, but they also had their own unique qualities. In some cases the features and general terrain were almost identical, with minor differences.  While in others, things appeared considerably different in layout and design.

 

 

As you move into deeper Fediverse waters, the contours of the islands change ~ Pixelfed is designed for photography – resembles Instagram in layout and use.

 

Like islands, the cultures, while sharing common characteristics, varied in their community priorities and focus. Even the icons for mentions, favourites, and boosts had changed in appearance. The easiest way to explore  is to go to  joinmastodon.org/communities.

Remember the independent servers are federated, and are referred to as Instances. You can explore these Instances before joining, and find the community you wish to join. Once you join, you can use this directory to explore other Instances.

 

As mentioned in an earlier post, North American News Media has paid little to no attention to Mastodon and the Fediverse. So it is not surprising that there are only seven regions identified as English. One is for the San Francisco Bay Area, none of the others are connected to any North American region.

 

 

These are not the only English language Instances, under the other various categories you will find more. Another method of exploring is with the hashtags. 

Keep in mind that since Mastodon is not driven by algorithms in order to discover content the user must look for it. Not all users and their content will appear in the 3 timelines.

As the chart makes clear, there are a number of ways content from another user can become available. If none of those criteria are met, then that content will never show up in any of the timelines through which you access content. The content is there, but it is not pushed.

I discovered Instances by using hashtags. None of the content from the members of those Instances had shown up in any of the timelines. If a user does not include hashtags, then they are leaving it up to others in their Instance to draw attention to that Instance by using Hashtags, as well as, following and boosting content from other Instances.

 

Inevitably interacting with a specific medium influences the user. There are sufficient differences between Twitter and Mastodon, to create a difference in behaviour and attitude, when making use of the 2 social media platforms. The Codes and Conventions of each platform are based on a different set of Values, Beliefs, and Ideology. The users respond to those Codes and Conventions in how they select content to send or receive, and how they interact with that content. This conditioning reinforces the underlying set of beliefs and values of the social media platform.

As Marshall McLuhan observed, change the medium, change the message. Now it will be pointed out that Mastodon and Twitter are very similar social media platforms. While the type of content found in Tweets and Toots is much the same, the differences between push and pull media means the users of each platform experience the content differently and the interaction between users is considerably different.

 This is similar to the difference between watching a movie at a theatre or watching it at home. The surroundings and the visual and audio transmission of the same content significantly vary to alter audience’s the reception of  the content.

Another example, that is even closer, is the difference between watching Network TV broadcasts and a Streaming TV service, such as Netflix. In this case, the content, the transmission, and surroundings are the same, but changes occurred in audience behaviour. Binge-watching became a possibility. New content forms became available, as the streamers began producing their own content. The narratives of bingeworthy shows adjusted to the expectation of longer episodes, with no need to pace for commercial breaks. The episodes ended in cliffhangers, and the series required a shorter number of episodes.

One can see the pacing and length of messages on Mastodon is different to that of Twitter. At first, it is difficult to adjust to Mastodon when you have used Twitter. You feel the need to keep messages very brief. There is a sense of haste/time pressure – get things out quickly, hurry before you miss the latest Tweet, as you are bombarded with notifications, updating trends, and the roll-push of new Tweets showing up.

As you can see, from the description, once you become accustomed to Mastodon, you become much more aware of the Twitter push. I’ve noticed that I have changed my behaviour on Twitter. I attempt to compose longer Tweets, and build a thread, as I try to emulate the lengthier messages allowed on Mastodon. Also, I no longer re-Tweet with additional text (quote-Tweet). When sending visual content, I pause to consider sensitivity issues, even though Twitter does not have those settings.

 

The divide between definitely marks an experiential difference that differentiates the users’ attitude and behaviour. This in turn shapes how each social media platform presents content.

 

NOTE:

This morning Musk appeared to walk back his intention on buying Twitter, saying it was on pause. He later said the slow-down would not change his eventual ownership.  The speculation was that he was either having genuine second thoughts, and was looking for an excuse to abandon the deal, or using this as a negotiating tactic.  All one can do is wait and see what happens next. A concerned Twitter user, will follow the EU plan, and have an exit strategy in place.

Social Media: Connecting the dots, expanding the space

Let’s return to where the previous post left off, The EU establishing its own Instance, social.network.europa.eu and putting in place The Digital Services Act . As stated previously, this places Musk’s intentions for Twitter in a restrictive framework, that would allow the EU to ban Twitter, if Twitter fails to comply with the Act’s regulations. The formation of EU’s own Intstance would provide the same public access as the EU Twitter account. It would encourage others in the EU to also make use of the Fediverse & Mastodon in place of Twitter.

All depends on Musk’s actions – all we can do is observe as he thinks out loud and critiques on Twitter.

 

Well, the EU will not have to pay anything, just drop its Twitter account and continue using its own Instance on the Fediverse. The EU has established a template for a Twitter exit strategy that other governments, institutions, and businesses would follow – contingency plans may be in development already. Keep in mind entertainment corporations and professional sports – their huge fan base will follow their idols and favourite franchises.

Another consideration is how will casual vs. commercial be applied.

 

Now for many who are not on Twitter, is appears to be blown out of proportion. In one sense they are correct.  After all how many people are actually using Twitter?

If Twitter’s base globally is that small, why is it so important ? The old saying, “it is not what you know, but who you know”, comes to mind. It is not simply the content or the number of users that makes Twitter standout. It is who the prominent users are that makes it significant. Add to this the speed with which statements & images can be spread and magnify (thanks to the algorithms), and that creates a Mass Media Event that influences large numbers of the public. A Mass Media Event draws the attention of the News media, looking to grab the attention of their target audience. The headlines that are generated then feed back into the Twitter streams to magnify the event to an even greater scale. All of which demonstrates the Mass Media principle – All Mass Media Construct a Reality.

 

 

Mastodon, unlike Twitter, is not driven by algorithms (Society fails to understand algorithms now are a type of Mass Media. They construct a media reality, creating a syntax for a message hierarchy by pushing-magnifying some topics.). As stated in earlier posts, Mastodon’s atmosphere is considerably calmer. There are no trends trying to grab your attention, updating as you scroll through messages and notifications. Consider the next 3 images of the Twitter interface – note the changes and the time span.

9:52

 

9:53

 

9:59

Besides the quickly changing “What’s Happening” items, the central Home stream went from 4 tweets waiting to 34 in the space of 6 minutes (I took a moment to respond to a tweet with a lengthy rejoinder). For those less familiar with the platform, the central column show the stream of tweets from users that I follow. This is part of the duality of Twitter, it combines push and pull media, but it really wants to push, and get the user to become part of the domino wave magnifying the push, and diminishing the user’s pull(reach).

Push Media is when the message is aimed at a passive audience. Ads in magazines or commercials on radio and television broadcasts examples of where the message is pushed towards the target audience. You didn’t want the commercial, you wanted the show. Pull Media involves an active audience reaching  for specific content and pulling it to them. The use of search and hashtags is a form of Pull Media. The user creates a pathway for the Media content to reach them. The user of Twitter and Mastodon choose to follow certain accounts based on interests. The hashtags helps identify topics of interest.

If the user only relied on hashtags to direct messages to them, and provide topic indicators to those searching for content would the same topics rise to significant numbers? Would those numbers magnify into a Mass Media Event if there was no mechanism (algorithms) pushing towards the target audience? What might that environment feel and look like ?

First let’s consider the Mastodon Interface layout, as mentioned in an earlier post, it consists of a series of columns.  Going from left to right, first there is an area that includes search, and a new comment (Toot) space, followed by Home, Notifications, and Getting Started.

Unlike Twitter, where you change pages to see your Home stream and Notifications, everything is on one page. The Getting Started column is where you can access everything else. It is possible to generate more columns on specific topics or feeds and pin & unpin them to the interface.

 

What is not available in this interface is push media – no trends (topics, people events, headlines) are directed at you, instead trends are based on hashtags – and how many people have most recently used it. This is a pull-reach media environment, you control “the vertical  & the horizontal”. Home shows you in current time what you and others you follow have posted, including direct interactions.  Notifications tells you in current time Boosts (retweets), Favourites (likes), and Follows to your Toots.

All content is driven by hashtags, not algorithms. If you want to find content, you must search for it. You must choose to receive content, it won’t come looking for you. If you do not identify your profile and Toots with hashtags, it becomes very difficult to be noticed. Without the hashtags, the only place your Toots will appear in the Local and Federated Timelines. You are dependent on people choosing to look at those timelines, otherwise you become invisible to your fellow Instance members, and the wider Mastodon federated network of Instances.

Local Timeline shows you what is currently being posted by members of your Instance.

 

 

 

Note that the Local Timeline is a pinned column in this layout image, it could also be opened temporarily in the Get Started column by clicking the link.  If you take a look at the posts in Home, you can see the rate of posting, it is much slower than the rate for Local Time.  Now looking at the Federated Timeline you will find a rate that will resemble a faucet wide open.

The newest post on Local Time is marked at 10s. It is also marked at 10s on the Federated Timeline, but there are 3 posts above it marked Now. By the time 30s had elapsed, Federated posts had pushed that post way down the line, and there was only one new post at the top of the Local Timeline column (using the scroll bar you can pause and move up & down the column).

 

This reflects the number of active accounts 5.84K out of 17.5K on the Instance, Mastodon.art, and the number of members using it at that particular time It does point out how difficult it would be to push or intentionally create a trend in a hashtag based social media platform. Because there is no equivalent in Mastodon to Twitter’s retweet with a quotation, a “Boosted” content-message can not be magnified to inflate a trending topic – there are no repeated terms or hashtags to multiply the number of times the term/hashtag was used.

 

Will Mastodon be able to maintain a calmer , more nuanced  social media experience, or will it succumb to bad actors and spam operations ? Time will tell.

Mastodon: more observations and ruminations

Some further thoughts on Mastodon, both in terms of personal experience as a new user and Mass Media – let’s begin with some recent stats (May 2, 2022).

From Mastodon’s perspective, this is great news, but what does that mean for Twitter, and Elon Musk’s business interests ? At this point, it is unclear; many on Twitter, like myself, have established a presence on Mastodon, but have not abandoned Twitter entirely.

In terms of a demographic, there appears to be a wide range of ages and backgrounds. I found this comment very apt, based on my own recent experience roaming around Mastodon.

There is a remarkable lack of commodifying of celebrity status, and an absence of professional political pontificating. I will discuss the busy interface layout in another post, but the actual content presented is calmer and more controlled than on Twitter. Many new users, especially the younger LGBTQ, felt safer and able to be more open about themselves.

What this demonstrates is how software  of the two social media platforms reflect different constructed realities.  These constructed realities are derived from different codes and conventions, and differing sets of values, beliefs, and ideologies. Twitter and Mastodon have over-lapping  audiences; some may argue that there are different segments of the population that are being excluded from each social platform. Musk’s view of Twitter’s target audience, and his particular views on what he considers extremes on the left and the right, reveal much different values & beliefs from Twitter’s previous beliefs & values.

A meme hints at Elon Musk’s problems with Twitter click-source

 

Musk’s view of the political spectrum.

 

The social comfort zone of Twitter before the Musk take-over was far from perfect. The new arrivals to Mastodon notice a cultural difference in comparison to their experience on Twitter as it is now and has been. If their concerns with changes in Twitter’s moderation policies bear out, then the differences in the user’s experience on both platforms will grow dramatically.

What could be the outcome of such a dramatic difference in experience ?  The first is that those who put their full exit on hold will likely totally delete their Twitter account. The number, while significant, will still be a drop in the bucket. How many more will follow is uncertain. There is a tipping point, and a possible signifier has appeared. Western news media (American-Canadian) has ignored it, a constructed reality based on a North American centric view.

The European Commission (EU) sent up their own Instance (designated federated server) click to view in new tab on the fediverse that can be accessed by anyone with a Fediverse account.

Note that Eu is currently now doing what other nervous Twitter users are doing – keeping  a Twitter account, while adding a Mastodon account, but the EU went the step further of establishing their own Iteration.

This was the piece of news that North American news media paid no attention to. Now comes the additional context, that points to an interesting what-if scenario.

 

Click image to read full article.

 

The EU warned that Twitter must comply with the EU’s recently enacted The Digital Services Act. Failure to follow the Act would lead to fines or banned from operating in Europe.

The EU has prepared for the possible outcome of Twitter being banned. If other EU countries, their institutions, and businesses start setting up their own instances or join ones that are now established, Twitter and Musk could have a real problem, and social media regulation could look very different internationally.

 

Besides the possibility of the governments of other countries outside the EU establishing either their own Instances or joining existing ones, what happens when celebrities, entertainment companies decide to hoist sail for federated social media space? Their fans will follow. Where those three groups go, the news media organizations will follow. If governments had not taken notice before of the social media migration, they would have by that point.

 

As we watch how this all plays out, there are 3 things to watch for. Celebrities setting up alternative accounts on Mastodon. Various countries establishing regulations similar to the EU’s The Digital Services Act (and  possibly establishing their own designated server). How far, and how quickly Musk is willing to go in changing Twitter to his expectations.