The Allure of Mastodon

Since November I’ve been toying around with Mastodon on Reclaim Cloud. At first it was to take up the gauntlet thrown, and see if I could create a space for the ds106 community. I did a bunch of work for a month or so spinning up a few instances, and Taylor even got an installer built, which is awesome. We have partnered with ALT since January to run Mission Mastodon, a sandbox Mastodon server so folks could test out this tool and begin to wrap their heads around how it works in practice. We had three sessions, the server will “explode” next month, but one of the things we came away with is that the tech is eminently manageable for a fledgling sysadmin like myself (I speak from my experience) and costs to run it are not crazy. The question that looms is should organizations feel compelled to stand-up their own servers, or does it make more sense for folks to sign-up where ever, and then just use the magic of federation inherent to the system to glue together that community.

I think we leaned towards the latter given the overhead of managing a community for most orgs in our last discussion “The Final Countdown,” but I can still see tremendous value in creating intentional community servers—like our little ds106 Mastodon experiment—that provides a more localized space outside the maddening crowd. What’s more, I’m really excited about the much grander work Kathleen Fitzpatrick and company are spearheading with to build a full blown scholarly community that is built around an open source, federated infrastructure that is only beholden to its own community rules and policies. The key here is it stands intentionally apart from the corporate overlords that everywhere dominate Social Media presently—which is why new services like Bluesky for me are a non-starter at this late stage of my metastasizing Web 2.0 growth-cycle.

And that for me, right now, is the allure of Mastodon, and other federated tools I’ve been playing with like PeerTube. The network effects may be less, but personally I’m fine with that. It’s a re-calibration to a more human scale I desperately needed. My tweets were getting lost in all the noise for many years, but on Mastodon I’m finding connection again, folks are actually responding, conversations are happening, and there’s a growing sense of community. That’s what I signed-on to Twitter for 16+ years ago, and I’m realizing I missed it.

But there’s another piece that’s re-kindled something in me that I’m appreciating these days. It allows me to tinker in service of that community. Just like with WordPress Multiuser back in the day, I really enjoy trying to support a community using a tool to share and connect. I’m digging figuring out how to run Mastodon; what’s the best storage option; how to map domains; how to integrate Azuracast; some basic tweaks and maintenance; etc. It’s that old idea of narrating your work openly, with hopes it could benefit others. And look who else is blogging their exciting experiments with Mastodon. Lead with the work, it’s how you learn what you’re doing and give others a peek into how you’re doing it.

“I’m doing the work! I’m baby-stepping! I’m not a slacker!”

That might be what allures me the most, the idea of having a shared object of attention (other than the AI goldrush) to gather around and learn from one another. It helps me understand what we’re building with Reclaim Cloud, it provides a real-world example, and it’s the open infrastructure I want to see in this virtual world to help support healthy online communities.

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8 Responses to The Allure of Mastodon

  1. Tim Owens says:

    It’s a real testament to how time and environment can change perspective. Even back in November I remember you and I having real hesitation about Mastodon as we had tried back in 2016 to run it and couldn’t really make heads or tails of it at the time, and the community there was nacent. It took a lot of things to align from Reclaim Cloud to Twitter’s implosion for it to really start to come into focus. I’d love to tell 2014 me that was just starting to play with Docker containers that I’d be running my own open source version of something that is kinda like Twitter on Reclaim container infrastructure almost 10 years later.

  2. “But there’s another piece that’s re-kindled something in me that I’m appreciating these days. It allows me to tinker in service of that community.” I need to do more blogging from OER23 as this is to my mind an extension of the conversation we had about the invisible labour behind platforms and taking that back into intentional ownership in order to have the community spaces we want, not the ones we’re given. Once we take back that little bit of creative agency suddenly it becomes clearer (I think) that the kinds of spaces we want are actually possible.

    • Jim Groom says:

      So much of this renewed energy, at least for me, was about connecting with the people at OER23, all of whom reminded me that folks still believe in open as a practice and an ideal, not a license and a pragmatic solution. That is absolutely where I have lived these years, and the relative isolation of the last 3 years can lead one to forget that, and begin to think the only options are the ones we are fed, but we can make our own, hell we’ve been doing it for years. Why stop now?

  3. Alan Levine says:

    Anne Marie’s quoted line of “tinkering in service” was the one that spoke to me. It seems like there has been this large move to platformed solutions, and it’s refreshing that Reclaim Hosting has kept the lights on for the importance of owning / managing (+tinkering) what we use.

    And it never should be or was about one platform or one space, it was always multiples, that the real federation happens at the human interaction scale.

    Alluring indeed. Refreshing too.

    • Jim Groom says:

      I mean tinkering in service is basically what you have been doing for 20 years on the web, my interactions recently have reminded me there has never been more need of that than now. Mastodon is a means to an end for me, but the ideals undergirding the fediverse more broadly appeal on some fundamental levels. Plus, the promise of being able to access the code and build the integrations makes it that much more accessible and fun. I don’t really care how many people do it, I mean how many did it for WordPress in highered early on? A handful, and it was never about singularity, it was always about the idea of a simple means to share and connect. “We have to make the myths, Morrison!”

      • Both of you have had to stay outside formal educational institutions to do this work and I think that goes a long to way to sustaining a wider perspective. For me I knew I needed to keep doing things like Apereo and OpenETC exactly because this work is so rarely inside institutions any more and I see so many people who’ve had the possibilities beaten out of them.. But it’s not gone, and I want to do everything possible to try revive some hope and some alternatives.

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