A Few More Thoughts on My Move from Twitter to Mastodon

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.

In only 3-1/2 weeks, I have 150 followers on Mastodon, and I am already following 300 people!

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.

This picture still makes me laugh whenever I see it!

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 @ryanschultz@mastodon.social—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.

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.

UPDATED! Confessions of a Shameless Clubhouse Room-Hopper (from a Former Friendster Whore)

Remember Friendster? Aaah, those were the days…

I seem to have a predictable pattern when it comes to new social media and social networks. In Friendster, way, waaay back in the day, I threw caution to the wind and simply began friending strangers with reckless abandon, eventually creating a large, squirming ball of three million interconnected Friendster friends, before getting bored of it all and tossing it aside (you can read my saga here). We called ourselves “Friendster whores”. Gamifying Friendster and undermining Jonathan Abram’s dream of creating a dating site based on three degrees of separation: ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED! (And yes, I am shameless.)

Yes, even Dame Edna was my Friendster friend!

When Flickr hit, I was among the first thousand users, when it was still a tiny little Vancouver startup run by Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield (who went on to found Slack), again recklessly befriending people based on their photos and pictures. And I followed much the same pattern with Tribe and MySpace and Orkut and Facebook and Google+ and Periscope and Ello… (Remember Ello? They were red hot for a full nanosecond. Blink, and you missed it! Obviously, Clubhouse wants to avoid that fate.)

Ello turned into a weird, obscure little cul-de-sac on the Internet for creatives

So, as per my usual inclination, I have been diving into the deep end of Clubhouse, jumping into and out of rooms with alarming alacrity. Rooms about empowerment or expressing gratitude or non-fungible tokens or mental health or attracting venture capital or manifesting your soulmate or crypto investing. Rooms on candle making. Rooms for serial entrepreneurs and serial daters. Rooms created by people who want to practice their interview skills. A room about lullabies to listen to as you fall asleep (a surprisingly popular room!). Rooms stuffed with super-achievers, the kind of high-energy people with firm handshakes and loud voices that make Tony Robbins look like a shrinking violet. Rooms that were tightly controlled by their moderators, and rooms that were absolute chaos. Rooms with thousands of people and rooms that were empty. So, so many rooms. It made my head explode.

Clubhouse Overload!

For example, yesterday evening I spent an hour listening as the author of a forthcoming book about Clubhouse took pitches from people who wanted their stories to be included in the book. Some were shy and somewhat scattered in their speaking, while others spoke in full, forceful, prescripted paragraphs, seemingly without once drawing a breath. Some were cringe-inducing in their naked ambition to find a way to monetize Clubhouse and/or promote their business. After a hour of pitch after pitch after pitch, I felt exhausted and I went to lie down on the sofa.

Basically, in tried and true Ryan Schultz fashion, I became an utterly shameless and brazen room-hopping Clubhouse slut. I have been told that the more time you spend on Clubhouse, the more you are rewarded with free invites to send to other people to add to the social network during their initial, invite-only phase (a tactic used by many predecessor social networks such as Google+, as well as non-social-media apps such as Gmail…and I vividly remember a very lively trade in those highly-coveted early invitations to Gmail, back in 2004!).

In my first week, I spent so many hours on the platform, sampling rooms at various times of day like a fat man at a pre-pandemic-era cruise line buffet, that I earned a total of EIGHT invitations to bring other people onboard! If you choose to support my work on this blog and the (currently on hiatus) Metaverse Newscast, at the bronze level or higher, I will send you an invite to join Clubhouse! Here is my Patreon page.

PLEASE NOTE: You must remain my Patreon supporter for AT LEAST one monthly billing cycle (the first day of each month) before you receive the Clubhouse invitation, in order to avoid people abusing this privilege by signing up, getting an invite, and then promptly unsubscribing from my Patreon a day later, before you get billed. Thank you!

Thank you to all my wonderful Patreon supporters! Your support helps me cover my WordPress hosting fees for this blog, and it means the world to me. (And I, in turn support Voices of VR podcaster Kent Bye and social VR platform NeosVR via Patreon.)

My Patreon page: support me and get an invite to Clubhouse!

Since I am very familiar with the life cycle of social networks, having participated in so many over the years, I recognize well the addictive, giddy honeymoon period which Clubhouse is now in, where everything is bright and shiny and new. Is it gonna stay that way? Hate to break it to you, but probably not.

There are already rumblings in the press about how Clubhouse will struggle to scale, such as this March 2nd, 2021 Bloomberg Businessweek article by Sarah McBride, titled Can Clubhouse Keep the Conversation Going?, which states:

Investment firm Andreessen Horowitz has supplied much of the capital that helped spark the sudden rise of Clubhouse, the audio-based social network that’s become one of the hottest things in Silicon Valley and has drawn in mega-celebrities including Oprah and Drake. In a twist on the standard venture capital model, it also provides a good deal of the talent responsible for the content…

New forms of smartphone-based media consumption that suddenly take off among early adopters don’t always translate well to the wider world. For every Twitter, which first gained prominence as the must-have app of the 2007 South by Southwest conference, there’s a Highlight, a location-based social networking service that was SXSW’s top app in 2012 but was promptly forgotten after everyone went home. That cautionary tale holds special relevance for Clubhouse given that its co-founder and CEO, Paul Davison, created Highlight.

Newsweek went so far as to claim that Clubhouse is dying (Now, I would rather argue that it is Newsweek that is dying, and that this is a click-bait title, but that is the topic for another blogpost…)

It will be fascinating to see Clubhouse grow and evolve over 2021! As I wrote previously about Friendster, a social network which landed up becoming something quite different from what its creators had originally anticipated:

You can’t predict what’s going to happen. People may take social VR spaces and virtual worlds into as-yet-undreamed-of and unanticipated areas. Nobody can predict what the metaverse is going to look like.

UPDATE 7:32 p.m.: If you are interested in learning who the most influential (i.e. most followed) people are on Clubhouse already, well, there’s actually a handy website for that, just for you people with your noses pressed against the window, waiting to get in!


And I also wanted to quote someone’s hilariously snarky opinion of what Clubhouse is currently like, taken directly from the r/ClubhouseApp community on Reddit:

The crowd is

• 25% Venture Capitalists VC-ing
• 25% Founders foundering
• 25% Scammers scamming
• 25% Wannabes wannabe-ing

And somebody else shared this funny picture, which perfectly sums up the current difficulties some people are having in obtaining a highly-desired Clubhouse invitation, in a Reddit thread where some entrepreneurial souls were peddling Clubhouse invitations for up to $50 each:

I Have Joined Clubhouse (Be Afraid…BE. VERY. AFRAID.)

The Clubhouse logo

Well, it finally happened: I caved, and I joined Clubhouse. (God help us all.)

If you know nothing else about me, know this: I have been a lifelong tire-kicker of social networks of all kinds over the years, starting with Friendster and MySpace (I wrote about my many misadventures with Friendster here and here). I was an early adopter of Facebook and countless other social networks (remember Tribe? Hi5? Orkut?!?? Trust, Auntie Ryan was on them all, sweetheart). I was an early adopter of Flickr way, waaay back, when they were still a tiny Vancouver startup. And I was also a part of the whole wild, crazy Google+ rollercoaster saga, from beginning to bitter end.

So this is not my first time at the rodeo! Far from it. If my past experience with Friendster, Flickr, Facebook and its ilk repeats itself, I am in for a head-first, deep dive into Clubhouse! (I may not resurface for weeks, people. Google+ basically took over my life for months in 2011.)

Be afraid…BE. VERY. AFRAID.

I have lived and learned, made many mistakes (which I hope I will not repeat this time around), and basically, I have become rather bitter, cynical and jaded about it all. 😉

What had seemed like such good, clean, harmless fun back in those halcyon MySpace, Friendster, and Orkut days has turned into something more suspect, more sinister, more polarizing and divisive, and more weaponized (and yes, I do think I have some form of Facebook PTSD, which tends to colour my perspective).

Therefore, I am now much more reserved and cautious when it comes to new social networks and social media platforms. In fact, at the very end of January, when there was such a big fuss on Twitter about Elon Musk hosting a room in Clubhouse, I tweeted:

I am following all the chatter on Twitter about Elon Musk and Clubhouse, and half of me is feeling FOMO, and the other half is thinking: do I *really* want to join yet another social network that is going to get worse the more it opens up from its exclusive, invite-only phase?

However, when an acquaintance on Twitter posted about a new virtual worlds discussion group starting up in Clubhouse tomorrow night, I was in like a dirty shirt! (Thanks to Shawn Whiting for creating this new group, and thank you to the kind person who shared one of her precious Clubhouse invites with me. so I could take part!)

The tweet that sealed my fate: Now I *had* to get into Clubhouse!

So, yes, I am excited, but I am also cautious and wary (and no, please do not ask me for an invitation to join; I only have two and I am saving mine for a few, select people whom I already have in mind). Half of me feels like one of the cool kids, and the other half thinks I have drunk the Kool-Aid. So we’ll see how this all turns out. The sentiment I expressed in my tweet above still holds as true as when I wrote it.

What is Clubhouse? If you have been living under a rock, or (like me) in the frozen Canadian prairie hinterlands, Clubhouse is the latest hot social media platform (currently invite-only, and currently only available for the iPhone) which allows users to connect with each other via voice, create rooms where discussions can take place, and host events. (The Elon Musk event I mentioned above was an interview, where over 5.000 users packed into one room to hear him speak.)

C|Net reporter Erin Carson writes:

Clubhouse, which is still in beta and isn’t yet available to the public, was founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth. It’s an audio-based social platform. You can enter rooms (or create a room) and hear or participate in discussions on topics: how to pitch your startup idea, the future of marriage, whether Clubhouse is getting boring. Rooms generally have speakers, the way conference panels do, and moderators. The conversation is in real time, meaning you can hear folks throwing in their opinions about the subject at hand, and you can raise your hand to toss in yours as well. 

“Imagine if you were in class with everybody in the world,” said Natasha Scruggs, an attorney from Kansas City, Missouri, who’s been on the app for a couple of weeks. 

Clubhouse is the latest manifestation of our desire to connect to each other at a time when social distancing and remaining isolated at home is the new norm. But while videoconferencing services like Zoom have blown up for everyone, Clubhouse’s largest appeal is its exclusivity and its ability to draw in notable figures including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

Officially launched less than a year ago, in April 2020, Clubhouse has racked up some truly impressive user growth statistics (source):

  • May 2020: 1,500 users
  • December 2020: 600,000 users
  • January 2021: 2 million users
  • February 2021: 6 million users

In fact, Clubhouse is currently valued at one billion U.S. dollars  (up from $100 million in May 2020), making it a unicorn along with the likes of Uber and Facebook (yes, Mark Zuckerberg is a user, too, and yes, I’m sure that the breakout success of Clubhouse is giving him some sleepless nights).

So, like I said, we’ll see. I hope that I will be able to use Clubhouse to interact more easily with the many wonderful and talented people who work and play in social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, in much the same way as I do on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server.