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15 posts from December 2022

Mastodon, Nonprofits, and the need for *some* kind of basic analytics to help justify spending time and resources

three question marks on a blue grey background

Why aren’t there more nonprofits using Mastodon? Why aren’t there more small businesses? What is taking these organizations so long? Shouldn’t they be already here?

These are questions I’ve seen raised repeatedly on Mastodon, and I’ve been asked directly about some of the organizations I’m involved with.

One challenge most nonprofits have was highlighted over on Reddit when Ben Jancewicz asked a question in r/mastodon:

Among many other things, I run social media accounts for large organizations.

Many of these large organizations are moving to Mastodon.

These organizations require reports; they want to know how their account is performing. Things like new followers, reshares, clicks, that sorta thing.

Is there an but for Mastodon?

His question was unfortunately answered with a lot of criticism, and initially many “down votes” (which, on Reddit, can reduce or remove the visibility of a post).

I answered at some length… which became the basis for this post.

I think some folks in the thread were confusing the request for info *about the performance of your Mastodon account* with advertising and surveillance. But the question was NOT about ads or tracking visitors. It was about just getting very basic engagement analytics - which unfortunately are not readily available right now on Mastodon.

Having being involved with nonprofits for many years (as an employee, volunteer, board member, donor), there are some simple realities about nonprofits and communication / marketing:

  1. Most nonprofits don't have much money.
  2. What money they do have comes from donors who are giving to the organization to advance the mission of the organization and expect their donations to be spent for delivering on that mission.
  3. Most donors (and boards) do not view "talking about the organization" as part of the core mission. It is viewed as "administration" or overheard.
  4. Therefore most nonprofits have small communications budgets and teams.
  5. This often means that engaging with people on social media is handled by a very small number of people (maybe only one or even part of a person's time). Similarly, they often have a small IT team... or may not have any at all and use an external vendor.
  6. Those communications staff are usually buried in work because they are being asked to do so many things to communicate about the organization.
  7. With limited time and budget, the nonprofit needs to prioritize their activities to where they can engage with the most people in order to advance their mission.
  8. The nonprofit needs to justify to its donors why it is spending time / money on any activities.

Think about it… if you donate $100 to a local nonprofit organization helping feed people in your region (a food shelf, food bank, food pantry, etc.), most people would ideally like as much of that $100 to go to FOOD, versus to communicating about the organization's services.

But... the organization NEEDS to use social media / networking to communicate to potential audiences, to help people learn about its services, to find volunteers, to attract more donors, and just to engage with the community around it. Most nonprofits *want* to be part of their larger community, whether that is regional or global.

Centralized services like Facebook and Twitter make this easy because they can provide all sorts of stats and analytics about how many people see your content, how often things are shared, etc. They even provide nice charts and trends over time. You can go back to your donors and board and say "by spending our time/$$ in posting to Facebook, we've been able to reach X people. They have further shared our info with Y more people. We've had Z people 'like' our content, so we know at least that many people are seeing our info. Our account has been followed by N other orgs in our community/region", etc.

Of course, the platforms provide this info because they want to sell you ads, but even if you never buy an ad (because you may not have budget), these analytics help you justify WHY you are spending time on the platforms. You have a measure (which may be inaccurate, but it is *a* measure) that you can relay.

So if the person involved with social media wants to expand into using Mastodon, they need to be able to justify to their donors and board about WHY they are spending their time setting up a Mastodon account, sending out messages, interacting with people, etc.

The donors and or board will have questions like:

  • how many people are you reaching?
  • how many people are learning about the organization?
  • are you spending our money wisely?
  • or are you wasting our money experimenting with something that isn't going anywhere?
  • shouldn't you be spending your time on Facebook or Twitter where we can know how many people are seeing our information?

With limited time and resources, nonprofit staff have to be able to justify any use of their time. 10 minutes spent on Mastodon is 10 minutes NOT spent on some other social platform.

One common reply was that “these organizations should just run their own Mastodon server!” Running your own Mastodon instance may be possible for larger nonprofits with IT teams, but may not be for smaller organizations without any IT support. Even then, the information you get may or may not be useful (I've not administered a Mastodon instance, so I don't know). And with posts/toots being federated, I'm not even sure what server logs would realistically show, since the posts are being viewed on servers all across the Fediverse.

Ultimately, if we want more nonprofits to move off of centralized services like Twitter and move over to decentralized services like Mastodon and the rest of the Fediverse, we need to help those nonprofit staff be able to justify why spending their time on Mastodon is a good thing! Hopefully over the months and years ahead, tools will emerge to help with this kind of information.

For the moment, I think the only option is what Anil Dash suggested in a thread that nonprofits need to view using Mastodon as a future investment.. but the question is whether resource-starved nonprofits even have the staff time to do that.

P.S. While I focused on nonprofits, you could equally say this for small businesses, just thinking of "investors" (which could just be the owner) instead of "donors".

The Beauty of Ad-free Mastodon Versus an Ad-full Twitter

Twitter ads

This morning I opened up the Twitter app on IOS and found myself surprised - and annoyed - by how many ads I was seeing. I started counting:

1, 2, ad, 1, 2, 3, 4, ad, 1, 2, 3, 4, ad, 1, 2, 3, 4, ad, 1, 2, 3, 4, ad….

I repeated this several times after refreshing the feed. It seems that there’s an initial ad after 2 or 3 tweets, and then the pattern was consistent - every fifth tweet was an ad!

Repeating this in the web browser, the count looked like:

1, ad, 1, 2, 3, 4, ad, 1, 2, 3, 4, ad, 1, 2, 3, 4, ad, 1, 2, 3, 4, ad...

I wondered in a tweet if Twitter’s advertising was always this intrusive and I had just not noticed… or if Twitter in their desperation was just pushing more ads?

Or, as I put at the end, is that I am now used to Mastodon with no ads?

I don’t know whether Twitter is pushing more ads now or if it has always been this way, but I do think my perception this Monday morning is probably because I *have* been using Mastodon far more than Twitter these days. (You can find me there at )

And there is a beauty there in NOT drowning in ads!

Now, to be clear, someone has to pay for the servers and services needed to run any social network. Twitter has chosen to do so via advertising, as has Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and pretty much every other social media service.

I you choose NOT to rely on advertising, as Mastodon servers (a.k.a. “instances”) are right now, you have to have some other business model. Some I’ve seen include:

  • Individual server operators just paying for the server / services themselves (can work on a small scale)
  • Donation pages / requests via services like Patreon
  • Operation by a nonprofit that is supported by donations of various forms
  • Operation by a commercial company

I thought I saw someone setting up a Mastodon server and requiring payment to have an account on the system, i.e. a subscription of sorts. I can’t find that site right now, but I could totally see someone doing that.

The beautiful thing about the decentralization and federation of Mastodon and other “Fediverse” servers is that people can try out MANY different business models and find what works for them.

And right now, there is a strong ethos within the Mastodon community to not have advertising and to rely on these other models. People are encouraging other users to help sponsor whatever server you are using. So far this seems to be working… although we’ll see as more and more people migrate to Mastodon.

I do expect that at some point we may see some Mastodon servers supported by advertising. But it may be more in the form of banner ads or other display ads on the Mastodon web interface, versus the intrusive ads directly in the feed. (Ads in a feed would probably quickly be blocked by admins of other Mastodon servers!)

We’ll see. But in the meantime, for as long as I can I’m going to continue enjoying the ad-free experience over on Mastodon! See you there!

Mastodon Grows To Over 8,000,000 Users (and probably more)

Screenshot of two charts showing the growth in Mastodon users and posts. The top graph is a greenish-blue and the bottom is a reddish brown

Boom! About six hours ago, one count of Mastodon users crossed over 8,000,000 users! The latest hourly count of the @mastodonusercount bot as I write this is:

8,015,904 accounts
+2,333 in the last hour
+54,536 in the last day
+398,175 in the last week

It’s fascinating to watch the growth:

12 days to grow from 6 to 7 million, and then 15 days to grow from 7 to 8 million. How long will it take to grow to 9 million?

A key point is … this is NOT the total count of ALL Mastodon users!

As noted in the bot description, it is the "User Count Bot for all known Mastodon instances”.  The key word there is “known”. Mastodon is a decentralized network where anyone can set up their own Mastodon server. They don’t have to tell anyone. They don’t have to ask permission. They just gave to download the source code and set up their own server.

They can then choose to federate - or not - with other Mastodon servers. It is certainly possible that there are more Mastodon servers out there that haven’t been incorporated into this count.

Still, this is a “good enough” approximation of the user count to be able to look at the phenomenal growth. I’m excited to see where this all goes!

Congrats to all involved!

And of course you can find me there at (or search on @[email protected] )

The Ongoing Twitter Migration is a Reminder That on the Internet, There Are No Permanent Favorites

Text: on the Internet, there are no permanent favorites

The ongoing Twitter migration highlights one of the characteristics of the Internet that colleagues wrote about back in 2012 in what they called the “Internet Invariants”:

There are no permanent favorites.

We remember MySpace. AltaVista. Friendster. And SO MANY others..

In their moment, they seemed THE place to be.

And then suddenly they weren’t.

Twitter will fade, as will Facebook/Meta, and all the others.

New things will emerge. In time, they, too, will fade.

The cycle continues.


[Originally shared on Mastodon - ]

#100DaysOfBlogging - Let's Do This!

The words "100 Days Of Blogging" on a gray / blue background

Joe Brockmeier, who I’ve known from back in the amazing early days of Linux in the early 1990s, recently posted to his Mastodon account:

With the renewed focus on owning your content and DIY web / #IndieWeb ethos, I'd love to encourage folks to think about more long-form content.

Mastodon allows for longer thoughts than the birdsite, but I miss the days of blogrings, conversations in comments, and so forth. I don't think we're going to get back to blogging's heyday, but a revival would be great.

And with that, he announced he was going to do a “100 day blogging challenge”. As he writes, “let’s get those RSS feeds going again!"

He then invited others to join in on the creation of long-form content:

If you’re reading this, consider this an invitation to start or dust off your own blog and update it regularly. If 100 days straight is too much, how about twice per week?

So… okay, Joe, I’m in! Since I said way back on January 1 that I hoped to create more content this year… and haven’t really… let’s see if I can finish strong!

I’ve long wanted to start writing again on sites that *I* control, versus writing on the platforms and social sites. (See… POSSE … from four years ago! 🤦‍♂️)

Today is December 1 - a random site on the Internet tells me that 100 days from today will be March 11, 2023.

Let’s see if I can go that long. If so, hopefully it will then be back to being a “habit” that I will just continue indefinitely.

To be clear, I’m not going to commit to write here on THIS site alone for 100 days, although maybe that would be good. My goal will be to write across my various personal sites and other sites like CircleID and the Internet Society’s blog. I’ll also be scheduling content in advance, since I don’t expect to actually be writing on Christmas. We’ll see!

If you care to follow along, or just want to hold me accountable 🙂, you’ll be able to see my writing at In theory, that little calendar on the right side should show a bold date from here on out to March 11!

Care to join in? 

Let’s bring some more long-form content back to the Web! (Tip: you can use this site to find your end date.)