UPDATED: Twitter, Mastodon, and Ned Segal’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

PLEASE NOTE: You can find all my previous blogposts about Twitter and Mastodon here (including, of course, this one; just scroll down for the rest).

Over the past six months, I have become enamoured with Mastoson (picture by doodlebrink)

It is a grey, sullen Thursday afternoon up here in Winnipeg, and I am taking a sick day from work, feeling both literally and figuratively under the weather. I slept in till the crack of noon, dragged my raggedy ass out of bed, and my only plans for today (other than pounding out this somewhat cranky editorial while coughing up a lung) are to go to the pharmacy. So be it.

I have other blogposts that are simmering away on the back burner (go ahead, call the Metaphor Police, I dare you), but today I wanted to write about the big news in the world of social media, which is, of course, Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter. (Standard disclaimer: Auntie Ryan has OPINIONS, and is not afraid to share them!)

Six months ago, when Elon first announced that he was buying the popular microblogging platform Twitter, I decided to set up a couple of accounts on Mastodon, a federated microblogging platform, to get a feel for the place and to set up a Plan B in case I needed to flee Twitter.

Some Mastodon statistics at the six-month mark: I have made just over 1,000 posts, and I am following a little over 700 people, of whom 343 are following me back (many added within the past week). If you follow me, I will follow you back, unless you have a blank profile (i.e., no icon, no banner, no profile, no posts, no comments).

My Mastodon profile

As for Twitter, I have now unfollowed all but 25 people, plus I am following about 125 people using the highly-recommended website and app Feedbin (which I wrote about previously here). I have installed a plug-in for my WordPress blog to automatically post any new blogposts to my Mastodon account, and I am also using Renato Lond Cerqueira’s Mastodon-Twitter crossposter website to automatically crosspost any public posts (or “toots”, as they tend to call them in Mastodon) to my Twitter account. I find that between Feedbin and these two other crossposters, I have no need to actually go onto Twitter, and be subject to its algorithmic whims, trending hashtags, and advertising!

If you’ve been following the news media or social media at all this week, you will already be well aware of how things have changed (for the worse) over at Twitter since Elon trudged onsite, ridiculously lugging a kitchen sink, with a team of Tesla engineers in tow: the firings and resignations of most of the executive team; reports of workers being forced to work 12-hour days, 7 days a week, at the risk of losing their jobs if they do not meet artificially-imposed deadlines; major advertising firms advising their clients to pause advertising as Elon himself retweets QAnon conspiracy theories in response to Hillary Clinton, and bargains with Stephen King about the cost of a blue check mark (Twitter’s user profile verification symbol):

I could go on and on, but you get the idea: Elon is sowing chaos, and with recent reports that he is planning to fire half of Twitter’s workforce, the microblogging platform seems to be turning into a very different, and very worrying, place.

As I said, I was part of the wave of Twitter immigrants who came over to Mastodon six months ago, which led to a bunch of new users. The events of the past week have led to almost 200,000 new Mastodon accounts being set up October 27th, 2022, an influx that temporarily bogged down many Mastodon servers (called “instances”), and forced instance admins to scramble to add new servers and tighten up the code which runs the Mastodon service. Despite these pressures, I have found that the service works well, a testament to its distributed, federated nature.

I think I’m moving rapidly from bargaining to depression in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief, about the impending demise of Twitter (or at least, the Twitter I knew and loved). And I am still trying to decide what to do about my stub account over at Twitter, although I am now leaning towards deactivating my account and deleting it completely. The Washington Post has an excellent article outlining how to back up your Twitter data, delete your tweets, lock down your Twitter privacy and anti-harassment settings, and even deactivate and delete your Twitter account (if you hit a paywall, here’s an archived version). I will let you know what I decide, but do not be surprised if I leave Twitter completely by year’s end.

As for Twitter Spaces, Twitter’s version of the Clubhouse social audio app, I am now firmly of the opinion that social audio as a whole is dead. When I first joined Clubhouse in February, 2021, it was at the height of the hype cycle, with people desperately trying to obtain an invitation to join. Now, the few times I do go onto Clubhouse, it’s crickets. And, by and large, I have found the same with Twitter Spaces. Most social audio spaces seem to be about sports or crypto, and I’m not especially interested in either, so I will pass.

Ironically, it was as a result of a Twitter Space that I participated in that I became acquainted with Ned Segal, the Chief Financial Officer who was recently fired by Elon Musk (he still has his Twitter account up, and is still following me). I was sorry to see him go; in my chat with him, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and he posted an awesome chocolate chip cookie recipe to his Twitter, which I share below (in case he decides to shut down his Twitter account, which, after what happened to him, I wouldn’t blame him in the slightest for doing):

Ned Segal’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

(Note: sorry it’s not in metric; Ned’s an American! You’ll have to do the conversions yourself.)

Image taken from Ned’s tweet

In a large bowl, mix in 2 1/4 cups of flour and 1 teaspoon of baking soda

Beat in with handheld in order:

  • 1 cup of room-temperature butter (don’t melt it)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 room-temperature eggs
  • 3 cups of Nestlé’s Tollhouse semisweet chocolate chips (feel free to substitute if you’re boycotting Nestlé for being an evil company)

Put the bowl in the fridge to cool for a few hours.

Place heaping tablespoons of batter onto a baking tray, they should be tall, not flat or wide.

Bake for 9 minutes at 365°F. Every oven is different, so this is trial and error.

Remove from oven and sprinkle immediately with sea salt (I actually cheat, and add a bit of salt to the bowl before refrigeration).

Remove the cookies from the tray to cool (although they are also delicious warm, especially with a glass of cold milk to wash them down!).

I leave you with my initial thoughts and impressions of Mastodon, after having used it for six months. I have, by and large, found the difference between Twitter and Mastodon to be like night and day; I find I get much more engagement on my Mastodon posts, even though I have five times as many people following me on Twitter! (I also suspect that Twitter is probably downplaying or not displaying my posts about Mastodon, which might factor into this.)

I have found the people I interact with on Mastodon to be interesting, intelligent, lively, considerate, and (like me) opinionated. However, you will have to do a bit of work to get up to speed, like setting up a full profile with hashtags, posting an introduction post tagged , and actively searching for other people who share your interests to follow (again, using hashtags, or looking at who other people follow). I have made the conscious decision to boldly follow as many different kinds of people as possible, and I have found that when I favourite or boost somebody else’s Mastodon post, I inevitably go read their profile, and land up following them! I can always prune back later.

I have also set up my main Mastodon account so that it is “locked”, which means that other users have to make a request to follow me (I accept these requests 99% of the time, denying them only if they have zero information in their profile: no icon, no banner, no profile, no public posts, no public comments, zip, nada, bupkis). Like Twitter, the more people you follow on Mastodon, the livelier your feed! But keep in mind that there is no automatic recommendation algorithm like Twitter (some would see that as a good thing).

The two biggest issues you might face in getting started with Mastodon is picking an instance/server to join, and picking a mobile client (although you can certainly use the default Web page; it even has a TweetDeck-style interface if you like multiple columns, with your favourite hashtags in a separate column!). For example, while I do have an account on the https://scholar.social instance, just to be able to see the local feed on that server, I have my main account set up on the biggest and most popular Mastodon instance, https://mastodon.social.

I use an iPhone and an iPad, and I have been very happy with a Mastodon client called Toot! It is very intelligently designed, and it makes clever use of animations in particular (you can turn this off, of course). My favourite part of using the Toot! Mastodon client on my iPad is this cute animation when it takes more than a few seconds to post a toot (which has been happening a lot this week, while Mastodon accepts a surge of new users). You can even toss the spiralling notes around with your finger! (I know, I know, I’m easily amused.)

One of the features of the iOS Mastodon app Toot!, which I did not know about until very recently, is that you can follow the local and federated feeds for a Mastodon instance without having to set up an account on that instance (I’m doing that right now with https://fediscience.org). If you favourite or boost a toot on an instance you’re not on, up pops a menu of your existing profiles to select one. Very cool, and it’s a great way to keep track of what’s going on in the local feed of other Mastodon instances, and (of course) finding new people to follow!

However, one of the drawbacks of Toot! is that sometimes I miss requests from other people to follow me, which can be annoying. This is easily resolved by using an alternative Mastodon client (many of which are free or cheap), or the web interface. (And, of course, you can set up your Mastodon profile so that people can follow you without sending you a request.)

So, that’s it for today. As I wrote previously, I’m still percolating. This whole Twitter/Elon Musk situation has really made me think about my social media habits, and I can see that I still need to make some more adjustments.

I love Mastodon and the community I have found there, and I’m not going back to Twitter.

UPDATE Nov. 5th, 2022: Late Thursday evening, I decided to deactivate my Twitter account, which I did Friday evening. The final straw for me was Elon’s truly appalling letter which was shared on social media and via the news media, outlining how the staff layoffs were to take place:

I vividly remember the day when I went through something like this at my first job after graduating from library school, working for Geac, a now-long-closed library automation firm. In my case, in my department of six people, two people were called into the manager’s office, one by one, and fired. I was the third person to be called in, as the first two were cleaning out their desks. I was told that I could stay. After that, I left as soon as I could, and I swore I would only work in a unionized job (and I am).

Hence, my decision to delete most of my tweets, and deactivate my account (it will be deleted in 30 days, according to Twitter). Elon Musk can go fuck himself.

UPDATED WITH AUDIO LINKS! Philip Rosedale: Second Life Stories, and Designing the Metaverse—Some Notes from a Wide-Ranging Conversation Multicast on Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, Callin and Second Life

Today at 11:00 a.m. CST, Philip Rosedale (the founder and former CEO of Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, and the current CEO of High Fidelity) hosted a discussion titled Second Life Stories, and Designing the Metaverse, where people had an opportunity to ask him questions. Dr. Fran Babcock and Dr. Hayman Buwaneswaran Buwan from the MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show were key organizers. Philip is always an engaged, articulate, and informed speaker, and if you missed this event, I will update this blogpost with links to an archived version which you can listen to via Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, and Callin. UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: Links are at the end of this blogpost.

Philip was on Twitter Spaces, with well over 100 listeners in the room, but the conversation was also extended to the social audio apps Clubhouse and Callin, plus there was a virtual auditorium set up in Second Life, with almost 50 avatars present! Participants in all four spaces could both hear and ask questions. To my knowledge, this is the first time something like this set-up had been attempted.

Philip shared a couple of “first stories” from his experience with Second Life, real stories from the early years of the company, both pre- and post-launch in 2003, e.g. Steller Sunshine’s beanstalk. He talked about how it was a challenge to provide backwards-compatibility, and how this affected the design of SL over time (for example, changing the friction elements would affect how people could climb the beanstalk). He talked about how he was able to drop a virtual pebble into the virtual water to create ripples (something which was later taken out because it was so computationally expensive!).

When asked why Second Life did not create mobile apps, Philip says that SL, when launched in 2003, predated mobile devices like the iPhone (introduced in 2007) and apps like Facebook (launched in 2004). While Philip is an advisor to Linden Lab, he is not a member of the executive team running the company day-to-day. He says that running SL on a mobile app is a “hard problem” to solve (I agree).

I asked Philip about his opinions regarding Meta’s surveillance system to enforce good behaviour, which includes constantly recording what happens in Horizon Worlds in case someone wants to send an abuse report to the moderators to act upon. Philip talked about his misgivings about AI-based surveillance and targeting systems in the metaverse, and how they could be used to gather information about us in new and disturbing ways, such as using how we are feeling to decide what ads to show us.

Philip has grave concerns about a business model of metaverse designed around advertising and surveillance. Talking about moderation, Philip wants the metaverse to be designed largely driven by the actions of the (human) people who are there, rather than implementing an automated behavioural surveillance and reporting system.

In answering a follow-up question, Philip said he felt that it it is indeed possible to have a metaverse with consequences for trolls and griefers, while still building strong social connections between people, citing as an example banning a person from a public place such as a restaurant where they were misbehaving.

Philip mentioned, in an interview he gave to a media outlet earlier today, that Second Life still has a higher revenue per person per year than YouTube does, with most of that income coming from fees: fees on sales and fees for virtual land (tier). He feels that a business based on fees (as opposed to surveillance advertising) is most definitely scalable, citing the approximately one million users in Second Life.

Philip talked about how presence can change communication dynamics, such as how how walking up to another avatar, and being physically near another avatar, triggers a response where people tended to be more civil than they might be in a text-only environment like a chatroom, and how quickly such presence could help defuse potentially negative communications.

Among the speakers present were Avi Bar-Zeev, the person who created SL’s primitive system, the digital atoms used for building anything and everything in the early days of Second Life! In fact, many content creators in the metaverse got their start by prim-building in SL. (One SL historian remarked that today was the 20th anniversary of the first-ever created prim in Second Life, made on January 25th, 2002.) Philip talked about how Second Life’s prim permission system could be seen as a forerunner of newer digital asset systems being considered for the metaverse.

Avi also talked about the necessity to design the metaverse to be human spaces, a place to rehumanize rather than dehumanize those who participate.

Philip talked about how VR headsets are still not affordable and accessible enough (i.e. uncomfortable if you have to wear them all day), to be able to have the kind of social community that we experience in virtual worlds like Second Life. He said (and I was transcribing madly while he spoke, so this is a paraphrase!):

It’s difficult to get people to communicate normally in a virtual world. It’s easy to forget that this is an experience that most people would not be comfortable with, yet. We’re not there yet, and the way we get there is to make avatars more visually expressive, which is a tough problem to solve.

—Philip Rosedale

Philip talked about spatialized audio products such as High Fidelity’s 3D audio as an aid to community-building, but adds that we still need to work on nonverbal communications (the listener leaning in to the speaker to indicate engagement, etc.).

There was a lot more discussed, including Philip Rosedale’s thoughts about virtual economies and NFT real estate, which unfortunately I did not have a chance to transcribe. Philip is always an articulate and informative speaker, so you will want to listen to the recording if you missed this event.

I will, however, provide a link to an archive of this wide-ranging and fascinating discussion on Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, and Callin, once Dr. Hayman posts it! He is to be thanked for juggling everything in order to make this multicast such as success.

UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: Here, as promised, are links to the recordings made:

Twitter Spaces recording 1:43:44 (Dr. Hayman tells me, “this recording has less of the interruptions from Second Life, as I muted the mic when feedback and keyboard noises were present in SL”)

Callin recording 1:40:08

Enjoy! I know I will be relistening to portions of this.

I Am Addicted to Social Media

One of the ways I try to get people to understand just how wrong feeds from places like Facebook are is to think about Wikipedia. When you go to a page, you’re seeing the same thing as other people. So it’s one of the few things online that we at least hold in common.

Now just imagine for a second that Wikipedia said, “We’re gonna give each person a different customized definition, and we’re gonna be paid by people for that.” So, Wikipedia would be spying on you. Wikipedia would calculate, “What’s the thing I can do to get this person to change a little bit on behalf of some commercial interest?” Right? And then it would change the entry.

Can you imagine that? Well, you should be able to, because that’s exactly what’s happening on Facebook. It’s exactly what’s happening in your YouTube feed.

—Jaron Lanier, from the documentary The Social Dilemma

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This is not the blogpost I originally started writing.

The first draft of my blogpost is quoted below:

As I lie on the sofa in my darkened apartment, listening to an LGBTQ “Queeraoke” room in Clubhouse (and wondering if I have the audacity to inflict my pitchy tenor voice on the assembly), it occurs to me that my relationship with social media has evolved significantly since I started this blog, a little over four years ago.

I don’t kid myself; my divorce from Facebook (not so much a single event as a series of steps), led not to a reduction in my use of social media, but an overall increase, something about which I have strong mixed feelings about. (It would appear that I am not alone in this: I have noticed a significant uptick in recent views of a blogpost I wrote about Jaron Lanier’s 10 reasons to quit social media, according to my WordPress blog statistics.)

Spending so much of my time in social isolation since the pandemic started 20 months ago, I find myself spending varying amounts of time every day on five wildly disparate social media platforms: Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Discord, and (the newcomer) Clubhouse. I tell myself that it helps me stay connected to other people, but I also

And then, like so many other blogposts I write, I set it aside, literally mid-sentence, to complete on another day, when the muse struck.

Well, today is another day.

And it is a day that I started watching a one-and-a-half hour documentary on Netflix, which is also available to watch for free on YouTube: The Social Dilemma. And, as it happens, Jaron Lanier also appears in this particular documentary—along with two dozen other experts, many of them executives who formerly held high-ranking positions at social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I full well realize the irony in asking you to watch a YouTube video on social media addiction (given the platform’s at-times-scarily accurate recommendation engine, algorithmically designed to keep you viewing long past your bedtime), but I would urge you to set aside 93 minutes and 42 seconds of your time, and watch this documentary. It is eye-opening, it is disturbing, and it is a wake-up call.

One shocking thing I learned from this documentary is that even the people who designed, created, and tweaked the algorithms that glue us to our cellphones, are addicted to social media and its attendant ills (for example, a more divisive society and increasingly polarized politics).

We are participating in an experiment that is slowly but surely rewiring our brains in ways that we are only now starting to comprehend. Particularly disturbing is the impact that social media algorithms are having on children and teenagers, something once again brought to light by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen last week in her testimony to the U.S. Senate.

According to the video description on YouTube, The Social Dilemma was only supposed to be on YouTube until September 30th, 2021, but it’s still up as of today. I don’t know how long it will be available on YouTube, so if you don’t subscribe to Netflix, please don’t delay in watching this.

As I said up top, while I might be proud of my emancipation from Facebook, I have landed up spending more time—a lot more time—on other social media, notably Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Clubhouse, and Discord. The pandemic (and its lockdowns and social distancing requirements) have only exacerbated the problem over the past 20 months. And I suspect that I am not alone in this.

I might be free of Facebook (which I consider the most egregious culprit), but I am still addicted to social media.

Are you?

Here’s a resource to help you learn more: The Center for Humane Technology.

MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show on Clubhouse

Metaverse chat rooms on the social audio app Clubhouse have come and gone—there was a Virtual Worlds club which used to host regular rooms, but like many Clubhouse clubs, it kind of ran out of steam—but there’s a new club, called the MetaWhat? Show. (By the way, you no longer need to wait for an invitation to use Clubhouse; it’s now open to the general public, with both iOS and Android apps.)

Here’s the description of the MetaWhat? Show club on Clubhouse:

MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show: Everything you wanted to know about the metaverse, but you didn’t have the metadata to go on or felt uncool to ask! From the perspectives of the uninitiated to the movices and the pros, we’ll explore all things metaverse and more.

The club already has over 500 members, and they’re meeting on Sundays at 3:00 p.m. CDT/4:00 p.m. EDT time. Here’s the Clubhouse link to this afternoon’s chat. (I’m not sure if these links will work on desktop, but they will on your mobile device!)

The chat show brings together a number of people, from various backgrounds and with varying levels of experience, to talk about anything and everything metaverse-related (including blockchain metaverses).

Even better, the Clubhouse chats are being archived as podcasts on Callin, which is also an app on both iOS and Android devices. Here’s a link to part 1 of episode 1 to get you started (you’ll need to download and install the free Callin app).

You can also follow MetaWhat? The Metaverse Show on Twitter. If you are at all interested in the metaverse, I highly recommend you follow them!