HOUSEKEEPING NOTICE: My proposal (and budget!) for a virtual reality lab for my university library system is almost done, and soon I will be able to get back to blogging “news and views on social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse”, as the tagline of the RyanSchultz.com blog states. Thank you for your patience!
It’s been almost one month since I first decided to jump ship from Twitter after Elon Musk announced that he was buying the microblogging platform, and it seems like a good time to share with my readers my thoughts about the move.
The culture and ethos between Twitter and Mastodon are completely different, like night and day. There is a blessed absence of advertising and “influencers”, people are politer, there is a relative lack of trolls, and the lack of a quote feature means that people tend to talk to each other, instead of about each other. Partly, these differences are because Mastodon has a much, much smaller network of users than mighty Twitter. (Some stats: Mastodon has about 4.4 million users, while Twitter boasts over 396 million users.)
One thing I quite like in Mastodon is the ability to put a content warning (CW for short) on a post, so that the person reading it has to read the content warning and decide whether or not to click through to read and/or see the actual content. Here’s an example of a recent post I made with a content warning:
One person whom I am following on Mastodon, Rachel Sharp, wittily summed up the difference between Twitter and Mastodon as follows:
Tonight I spent a little time scrolling both Mastodon and Twitter, and I gotta say, the tone difference is just STAGGERING…
Mastodon: I put a content warning on my dinner in case anyone doesn’t feel like looking at food right now.
Twitter: THE WORLD IS BURNING AND SO TOO SHOULD EVERYONE ON THIS HELLBIRD SITE, AAAAAH!!!
After kicking the tires on a number of iOS apps, I have settled on a paid one, called Toot!, which I quite like (I tend to use it on my iPad while I am relaxing on the sofa in the evenings, before I go to bed). In addition to my main account on the mastodon.social instance, I also have an account on the scholar.social academic-themed instance (an “instance” is the term for a Mastodon server). I have discovered, much to my dismay, that for some reason, my employer blocks the former site, but not the latter. I also can use Toot! to monitor the local/community timeline on scholar.social, choosing to follow people from my main account on mastodon.social.
One of the things that I really like about Mastodon is that it is possible—and, in some cases, even encouraged!—to switch instances. For example, I could decide that I prefer the local, more focused community over on scholar.social, and move my main account over there. While your “toots” (what Mastodon calls tweets) do not follow you over to your new instance, the social network of people you follow can be carried over! So you’re not starting off from scratch every time you move, like you do on Twitter. I quite like the flexibility this offers!
All is not perfect, however. One thing I do miss is the ability to following certain Twitter accounts that are essentially feeds of tech news (e.g. Ars Technica). While Ars Technica does offer many RSS feeds, it looks as though I will have to learn a bit of Unix (or pony up for a premium IFTTT account) in order to set up a bot to automatically post Ars Technica news items, which I can then follow on Mastodon. (The good news is, that once I set this up, anybody can then follow it! Or, I could just bug Ars Technica to set up a Mastodon feed…) I am already keeping abreast of news sources like WIRED, the Guardian, and The New York Times via Mastodon, using bots that either the publications themselves or other users have set up.
And, let’s face it, every change does take a bit of adjustment. I have discovered that, while I have severely curtailed the amount of time I now spend on Twitter, I now find myself checking my Mastodon timeline several times a day! I seem to be just as addicted to the dopamine rush of getting my toots favourited, boosted (i.e. retooted), and commented on! I’m just glad that I am conscious of this, which is, of course, the first step towards addressing the problem of how I use social media in general.
I have retained my Twitter account, to (automatically) cross-post new items posted to the RyanSchultz.com blog, as well as any public toots I make over on Mastodon. And, of course, I will still use Twitter Spaces social audio, as it seems to be taking market share away from the Clubhouse app, which appears to be slowly circling the drain as it bleeds users, even as it adds new features. So, you might still find me on Twitter from time to time, even as I try to wean myself off reliance on the service.
If you are intrigued by Mastodon and want to try it out for yourself, please go to joinmastodon.org, pick an instance/server, and create an account. It’s easy and free, and then you can follow me at @firstname.lastname@example.org—follow me and I’ll follow you back! Please note: If you follow me from an account with zero information (no icon, no banner, no profile, no posts, no comments), I will most likely block you instead of following you back.