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.

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.

Editorial: The Competition for Social Audio Is Getting Interesting

Twitter versus Clubhouse: who will win the battle for social audio?

I’ve written twice this week about Clubhouse (here and here), and I remain endlessly fascinated about social audio apps in general, and the two leading apps, Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse, in particular. It would appear that the competition between Twitter and Clubhouse is beginning to heat up, with Twitter working aggressively to add users and features while Clubhouse seems to be experiencing some growing pains. While Clubhouse has the early lead, Twitter is making slow but steady progress, particularly in support for Android users.

Late this afternoon, I listened to a Twitter Spaces room where the future of Twitter was discussed at length, and it is clear that the new push is towards attracting content creators and providing ways to effectively monetize the platform for them. Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour tweeted today about just how far Twitter Spaces has come in only four months:

Anyone of Twitter with more than 600 followers can now host their own Twitter Spaces room, which anybody on Twitter can listen to and join in, without any limit on how many people can be in the room (Clubhouse rooms are capped at 5,000 people). Also, Twtter Spaces supports both iOS and Android devices, although Clubhouse is expected to roll out Android support sometime in the next month.

Also, Clubhouse does not have a direct message ability, relying instead on people putting Instagram and Twitter links in their bios so that people can contact each other. Of course, Twitter already has direct messaging built into the platform (although celebrities and other people can choose to turn that feature off).

All this means is that social audio is still anybody’s game to win. While Twitter Spaces is lagging behind Clubhouse in terms of overall features, Twitter has something that Clubhouse does not: a much larger potential audience (192 million users). In other words, once Kayvon and his team work out some of the bugs and add more features, they could potentially have a hit on their hands. And Facebook, with 2.8 billion user accounts and deep pockets full of profits from advertising, has the potential to come in and steamroller over both Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

(By the way, the Twitter Spaces room I was in crashed abruptly…it would appear that there are still quite a few bugs to iron out!)

Stay tuned; things are about to get really interesting!

Andrew “Boz” Bosworth and John Carmack Have a Discussion About Next-Generation Virtual Reality

When John Carmack and Andrew “Boz” Bosworth have a conversation, people tend to listen. Andrew is vice president in charge of augmented and virtual reality at Facebook, and of course John is the millionaire Chief Technical Officer of Oculus, who is currently working away on an Artificial General Intelligence project.

The two recently held a half-hour conversation on Twitter Spaces (Twitter’s version of the hot new drop-in audio app Clubhouse), which offered a fascinating glimpse into the heads of two key people who are driving Facebook’s move into virtual reality.

Right now [VR is] still largely an early adopters’ toy where a lot of people that have VR already have everything else, and we’re just adding some new spice, but we need to be a displacement device where we need to be something that somebody hard up for money decides “I’m going to buy a VR headset instead of a Chromebook or instead of a tablet.” And we need to do everything that those devices do. You know, we need to have similar app libraries. We need to be just as effective with keyboard and mouse. We need it to be something that you could put on your head and do the work that you need to do during a normal day.

—John Carmack

Anybody who uses what Philip Rosedale has pejoratively called a “marimba keyboard” (i.e. where you use a mallet-like device to awkwardly type on a virtual keyboard), can immediately relate to what John says here. Despite the many technical advances of the past five years, we are still not anywhere near the ease of use that is required for people to actually opt for a VR headset instead of a tablet!

Here’s the whole half-hour discussion, which I can highly recommend: