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 social.ds106.us 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 hcommons.social 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.
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.