10 posts categorized "Mastodon"

The Curious Aspect of Facebook Supporting Multiple Personas

I find it fascinating that Meta just announced the ability of Facebook users to have multiple accounts attached to their single Facebook account. So you can have different “personas” for interacting with different communities differently.

Now, this is nothing very new. We’ve had this in the Fediverse since its beginnings. You can have as many accounts on different instances as you want. And many apps let you seamlessly switch between them. I use the Ice Cubes app for Mastodon on my mobile devices, and with the tap on an icon in the lower right corner of the app, I can switch to a different profile. Other social media services have had this capability, too.

But why I find this fascinating is that my memory is that for so long, Facebook did NOT want you to do this. They promoted the notion that you used your “real name” and that Facebook was a place where you could go to interact with real people, not potentially anonymous people. And in fact they seemed to encourage the blending and blurring of work and personal lives.

I remember this being a big deal to them - and something that differentiated Facebook from other services that allowed anonymity or pseudonymity.

Or at least that is what I remember. And so it is fascinating to see the pivot to allowing people to have different accounts for different facets of their lives. Which DOES reflect the reality of how most of us like to interact with people online.

Whether this incentivizes more people to use Facebook, I don’t know. I’ve decreased my time there mostly because of their extremely privacy-invasive systems. Multiple personas will not bring me back. But I am only one person. What about you? Will this make you do anything more on Facebook?

Mastodon Tip - Filter Languages To See Only The Ones You Understand

Screenshot of Mastodon preferences panel allowing you to filter posts based on languages

A tip for all the newcomers to Mastodon - if you are seeing a lot of posts in your timelines in languages that you don’t know, there is a very simple way you can filter those posts out. You just:

  • In the web client, click on the gear icon to go into Preferences
  • Select the “Other” panel under Preferences (see screenshot above)
  • Scroll down to “Filter languages"
  • Check the boxes next to the languages that you want to see
  • Scroll up to the top and press the “Save changes” button

Now your Mastodon timelines will only show you posts that indicate they are in the languages you have specified.

I made this change a few years back because I’m on a larger instance, and on the rare occasions when I actually looked at the Local timeline, it was full of posts in so many wonderful languages… but only a few of them I could actually understand. So I went into these preferences and changed it so that I only see posts in the three languages I know (at least somewhat): English, German, and French.

One important caveat - these filters are based on *the language the post indicates it is written in*. If you look at the screenshot above, in the middle right side you see a “Posting language” that is set as “Same as interface language”. And back on the main Preferences screen I have set my “Interface language” to English.

So all my posts are set by default to be in English. However, if I decide to go in and write a post in German or French, by default it will go out to everyone on Mastodon as “English”.

And so even with the filters on, you might still see posts in other languages if the author has their Mastodon client set to default to one of the languages you want to see. But setting these language filters should remove many of the posts in languages you don’t understand.

Setting a Post’s Language

BUT… what if you are a multilingual person and you want to post in multiple languages and allow people to filter based on languages?

In the web view of Mastodon, it’s very simple. When you are writing a post, you simply go to the bottom of the compose window where you will see the two letter abbreviation for whatever your default language is. Mine shows “EN” as English is my default.

screenshot of the window for posting a message to Mastodon showing the menu to change the language

When you press that language, you get a popup menu where you can change it to whatever language you are writing in. 

This changes the language setting ONLY for the post you are writing.

As soon as you hit “Publish!” and the compose window returns to being blank, the language will be reset back to your default language.

So if I wanted to send out a series of German posts or replies, I would have to REMEMBER TO CHANGE THE LANGUAGE SETTING for every single post. Which, to be honest, I will probably forget to do.

Additionally, I cannot find a way to change the language setting for a post in the Mastodon mobile app. When I go into the compose window, I see many options, but not to set the language. Some of the many other mobile apps may have this language support, but the one maintained by the Mastodon development team does not.

For both those reasons - people having to remember, and support on mobile clients - people writing in different languages may have the posts going out as whatever their default language is.

The point being that the language filters are great to have and can help adjust your timelines so that you are seeing content in only languages that you understand - you just need to know that they are not 100% perfect. 

Regardless, I’m very glad that they are there!


Techmeme Now Highlighting Mastodon Posts In Addition to Tweets

Screenshot of a section of the Techmeme.com news site with a red box around a section of Mastodon posts.

In a sign of the growth of Mastodon in the midst of the continuing drama at Twitter, Techmeme, the news site I use the most to keep up on tech news, has started to highlight Mastodon posts in addition to the way the site highlights tweets. In fact, in an interesting bit of prioritization, the site puts Mastodon posts first before tweets.

If you go to Techmeme.com now, you can see the Mastodon sections for some articles that are discussed on Mastodon. It’s actually an interesting view into what groups of people have moved from Twitter to Mastodon.

For example, at the moment when I am writing this article, the top of Techmeme has 9+ stories all around cryptocurrencies, the FTX debacle, and the latest news of more bankruptcies and other issues. There are no Mastodon sections but this makes sense as most of “crypto twitter” seems to be sticking with Twitter right now… or trying to look at other “web3” social media.

However, when you get past all the cryptocurrency stuff, the next current article is about LastPass and has a large Mastodon section… because a substantial amount of the Twitter “infosec” / security community has moved to Mastodon.

Other articles such as the one I show in the image above have a more balanced mixture of Mastodon posts and tweets. (Although seeing the prevalence of “@geoffreyfowler”, I’m guessing he is cross posting between Mastodon and Twitter and Techmeme’s algorithm has picked up both.) Another example shows the Mastodon posts and tweets combined in a single block (at the time I’m writing this).

It’s great to see this recognition of the growth of Mastodon’s usage. It’s also great because it shows to all the readers of Techmeme who are NOT yet on Mastodon that there *are* conversations happening on Mastodon. Perhaps this may cause some others to try it out!

Techmeme is, of course, on Mastodon themselves. You can follow them at https://techhub.social/@Techmeme (or search for "@[email protected]” in your Mastodon account).

P.S. As a daily reader of Techmeme, I noticed this change when it was happening, but I must give a tip of the hat to Will Oremus who was the first I saw posting about this change on Mastodon. 

ACM Launches Public Mastodon Server - Mozilla Planning To Launch Fediverse Instance in 2023

The text "MOAR mastodon!!!" on a blue and white gradient background

It’s great to see nonprofit organizations getting into the business of operating public Mastodon / Fediverse instances. Two announcements recently caught my attention.

First, Mozilla, the makers of Firefox, announced that they would launch a public server (“instance”) in early 2023:

In early 2023, Mozilla will stand up and test a publicly accessible instance in the Fediverse at Mozilla.Social. We’re eager to join the community in growing, experimenting, and learning how we can together solve the technical, experience, and trustworthiness challenges inherent in hyper-scale social systems. Our intention is to contribute to the healthy and sustainable growth of a federated social space that doesn’t just operate but thrives on its own terms, independent of profit- and control-motivated tech firms. An open, decentralized, and global social service that puts the needs of people first is not only possible, but it’s absolutely necessary.

Now, they did not specifically say it would be a *mastodon* instance, although I’ve seen many people assume it will be. But if they use some other Fediverse / ActivityPub software, that’s perfectly fine! It will just be great having Mozilla in the Fediverse with their lengthy experience in operating Internet systems at scale.

Second, the 75-year-old Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), has already launched their own publicly available instance at mastodon.acm.org. From their intro message, that includes the link to join:

Hi there! This is ACM, the world's largest computing society. As you might have noticed, we have opened not only our official #Mastodon account but also our own #instance! 

Please consider joining @mastodon.acm.org, a community for #computing researchers & practitioners to connect & exchange ideas with each other, whether you are an ACM member or not. 

They’ve also tweeted about it and from the server stats it seems 548 people have so far joined.

Addressing The Two Major Challenges

The importance of these entities relates to what I described as two major challenges for operating Mastodon servers: scaling and content moderation.

If we are to bring millions of more people (or even 10s or 100s or millions) into the Fediverse, we will need many more servers. It will be helpful if we have some servers operated by companies or organizations that know how to operate Internet infrastructure at scale. This is what excites me most about Mozilla. With their operation of the Firefox browser, plus services like Pocket and their VPN product, they understand how to do this. They can potentially help provide an example for others.

I don’t know much about whether the ACM can also address the scaling (I’m not a member), but it’s good to see organizations like this getting into the space. The ACM’s announcement, though, does highlight the challenge around content moderation. Already, a couple of people are asking for specifics around content moderation:

screenshot of two Mastodon replies asking the ACM for more details around their content moderation policies

And another apparent member was questioning the ACM’s ability to manage a server.

These are questions that organization will have to be ready to handle.

As Mozilla gets ready to launch their server, they can expect to be similarly grilled about what level of moderation they will or will not do.

It’s tough to find the right balance - which is why I think organizations have to be sure they are ready to commit the necessary staff time, energy, and finances before they plunge into it.

Regardless, I think it is great for both Mozilla and ACM to be entering the Fediverse with their own servers. I wish them all the best!

Two Major Challenges For Operating Mastodon Servers - Scaling and Content Moderation

The text "2 major challenges" on a blue and white gradient background

As more people embrace the decentralized world of the Fediverse - and as we WANT more people to migrate to the Fediverse - we are seeing an explosion of new Mastodon servers/instances set up by all sorts of people and groups. Friends of mine have launched their own just running in simple virtual machines. There are now “Mastodon hosting” springing up - ex. masto.host, although the person running it has paused new customers due to the high demand.

But there are two major challenges for people or organizations getting into the space:

1 - SCALING - If you just run a small server for yourself and maybe a few friends, you can limit the system administration workload. But if you launch a public server… you have to be able to handle the influx of new accounts, particularly during the current Twitter migration/exodus. This might be very cool initially, but at some point it starts to become a serious amount of work. You have the technical challenges of scaling to support more users - and you also have to meet the expectations of members in terms of availability, reliability, etc. You have to answer their questions, feature requests, etc.

Running a Mastodon server at scale (or really any kind of public server with user accounts) takes a considerable investment of time, energy, and money. You need to think about how you involve multiple people, how you will support all your users, and how you financially support it all.

[UPDATE - It was noted to me that there can be very real technical and cost requirements with growing a server in particular with storing media. Whenever someone uploads an image or video to the server, it must be stored on that server. Additionally, your server will host media coming from other servers with which you are federated. So as your server gains more users, who follow more people on other servers, there is more and more demand for file storage on your server.]

2 - CONTENT MODERATION - This is perhaps the BIGGEST challenge for hosting a public server. If you again run a small server for yourself and people you trust, then this may all be fine. You set clear expectations with your friends or people you think you can trust, and that may be all you need to do.

But the minute you start letting the broader public into your server, you run into all sorts of legal compliance issues you have to be aware of. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently wrote, there are a range of legal concerns in the USA for operators of any service that hosts “user-generated content”. One big issue is copyright law and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). EFF also mentions FOSTA/SESTA, law enforcement requests for identity information, and child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

And this is just for the USA. Add in the need to potentially comply with European Union (EU) legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the recently passed Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA). And… the legislation popping up in many other parts of the world. And, of course, your content moderation abilities needs to be able to grow as you scale to support more users.

[UPDATE - Aswath Rao pointed out in a comment on Mastodon that as a server operator its not enough that you trust the people who have accounts on your server. For every person your users follow on other servers, that person’s content and media are also copied onto your server. So you wind up hosting content on your server from all of those other external users, too. ]

These are also just the legal compliance issues around content moderation. You also have to think about what kind of community you want to foster on your server. Will you have additional moderation policies to create the kind of community you want? (For example, specifically not allowing “hate speech”.) If so, how will you then enforce those policies?

You need to again have the time, energy, and financial resources to be able to comply with the legal requirements, which may end up involving some level of monitoring / enforcement.

For both of those reasons, it will be interesting to see where the Fediverse goes - and in particular where Mastodon goes - in the time ahead. Will we continue to have the wide range of public servers as we do right now? Or over time will we see larger ones emerge that have the time, energy, and financial resources to address these challenges?

Mastodon - The Server You Are On Is Most Important When You Are Starting Out

The text "What server are you on?" on a blue gradient background

“How do I choose which Mastodon server to join? It’s SO CONFUSING! I just want to sign up to ‘Mastodon’!” 

This seems to be a common refrain from some people exploring Mastodon as part of the Twitter migration/exodus. 

The reality is that the Mastodon server you join is most important in the beginning when you are trying to discover new users. Over time, and as you follow more and more people, the server you are on becomes less important.

Let me explain...

I routinely point out to people asking these questions that it is a lot like choosing your email provider - do you use the email address your ISP gives you? Or Gmail? Hotmail? Yahoo mail? Protonmail? Or even run your own email server? 

No matter where you have an email address, you can send email to anyone else using email. Similarly, when you sign up on a Mastodon server (or “instance” to use the older term), you can view and interact with people on any other Mastodon server.

But that still doesn’t seem to register for some folks in an era when we are used to centralized, monolithic social platforms. You just join Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or… whatever service. Mastodon is different - you have to make a choice.

I’ve been using Mastodon since December 2016, and in my opinion, which server you are on really matters the most when you are first starting out and seeking to discover new users. Here’s why. In your Mastodon view on the web or in apps, there are three “timelines” (or “feeds”) that you can view:

  • Home - all the posts (or “toots”) of people you follow
  • Local - all the posts of people on your local server
  • Federated - all the posts of people across the Fediverse who are followed by people on your local server[1]

When you are starting out, your home feed will likely be pretty empty, and so Mastodon will be a bit of a ghost town to you. What’s the point of going into it if you only see a couple of posts?

This is where the Local and Federated timelines are important. They help you discover new users to follow.

With the Local timeline, you get to see posts from all the people on your server. So if, for instance, you join techpolicy.social, you will discover posts and people to follow interested in technology policy. If you join mastodon.art, you will discover more people interested in art. If you join fosstodon.org, you’ll discover posts and people interested in free and open source software. If you join ipv6.social… you guessed it, you’ll discover people interested in IPv6. 😀

Beyond the Local timeline, the Federated timeline will help you discover all the Mastodon users on other servers that people on your server follow. So on techpolicy.social, odds are that you will discover other people interested in tech policy, as well as probably tech news sites, and all the other kinds of accounts people there follow. If your account is on mastodon.art, your Federated timeline will probably tend to have more artistic people mixed in. On fostodon.org, your Federated timeline will probably have more people using Linux, developers, and people advocating for free and open source software.

By viewing the Local and Federated timelines, you can find people to follow!

Each person you follow will then start to appear in your Home timeline.

At some point, you will follow enough people that your Home timeline is all you really need to pay attention to. There are sufficient people posting that you only really have the time to read your Home timeline.

The Local and Federated timelines aren’t as important any more. I mean… you still might dip into them from time to time to see if there are new people to discover, but you don’t really need to do so anymore.

This is the key point. The server you choose to join is most important in the beginning when you are trying to find people. But you don’t have to worry too much. Pick one you like and start there.

Over time, much like what email server you are on, it won’t matter quite as much.


[1] Yes, it’s a little more complicated than that, but I’m simplifying for the purpose of this article.

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 analytics.twitter.com 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 https://mastodon.social/@danyork )

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 https://mastodon.social/@danyork (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 - https://mastodon.social/@danyork/109347347499021562 ]