While everything seems to be in meltdown mode on Twitter, a lot of users are jumping ship to Mastodon.
Mastodon is not new. It’s actually been around for a handful of years but operating in smaller, dedicated circles as an alternative to “major” social networks like Twitter or Facebook.
I had been thinking about exploring more about Mastodon a few years back but never found the time to dig into it. Of course, now that I’ve made my jump on board, I’m somewhat regretting that I haven’t explored it sooner.
I understood that it’s a “federated” social network but never really grasped what that meant until I got into it. Hearing someone say it is a lot different than actually getting hands on so that your brain can fully comprehend what that means.
And it’s awesome. Yes, it’s a little difficult to understand at first, and there is a lot of terminology and functionality that is mostly the same but different from those mainstream social networks that you might already be familiar with.
The one thing I really like about Mastodon is how decentralized it is. There are pluses and minuses to that concept, but this is what could make Mastodon a really great, evolutionary step in all things internet.
Because “federated” is something everyone is more familiar with than they know. The roads you drive on are federated. The phone you talk or text on are federated. Email is federated. There is an established method for how all of these things work that is managed on various levels but generally provide the same standards.
When you drive across the country, at least in the US and Canada, you subconsciously expect that there will be at least a two lane highway that is wide enough for two cars traveling in opposite directions. Every state or province has their own methods for how those roads are constructed and maintained, but they are all built to a standard that every driver tends to understand. From signage, road markings, and speed limits, there are established protocols that remain fairly the same from location to location.
That’s what is meant when it is said that Mastodon is federated.
There is an established method that allows islands of servers to exchange data in a predefined, open source protocol, which is pretty much the exact same way email already works.
And just like email, anyone can setup a server or find an existing service to sign up on to start interacting with the world. But once you control a server, you can decide who can have an account on it, what other servers can interact with your server, and so on.
That is where the power lies in Mastodon for me. It might not be perfect and need some work to make these protocols efficient as more and more people jump on board, but the idea of having control over your social network is a massive concept to a more free and open internet.
But where does that leave us, the consumers of Twitter?
I joined the site when it was nothing more than a website in 2007. Smartphones were still in the single-stroke engine phase of their technological evolution, and initially, the only mobile engagement you got was a one-way interaction via text message, meaning you could post a tweet through SMS but not really get any engagement back because all of that effectively happened at the terminal level.
It brought on a whole new level of engagement that we all declared to be called “microblogging”.
And the truth is that Twitter was the beginning of the end for the culture that blogging had become around that time. One technology overtaking another technology is a tale as old as time, so in hindsight, this should not be surprising.
Over the next few years, many blogs, mine included, went pretty quiet because tweeting was a quick, rapid fire method of dissemination that cost basically nothing and was simple to grasp the concept of. Blogs, like this site, took a little more to understand how the method of publishing content with pictures and links works and how to do it well.
Ease of use and instantaneously reaching the entire world at the click of a button was a huge jump in information sharing in human history, and anyone, not just those who could afford it, could suddenly do it with Twitter.
Because if you look back in time, the evolutionary track of how we share information is filled with the commonalities of how a handful of powerful players influenced, steered, and profited on technologies like the printing press, telegraph, the electrical grid, wireless, radio, television, to the internet. There were even other forms of microblogging sites that tried to be “the next” or “an alternative to” Twitter, but they came and went with varying forms of success and failure.
Twitter happened to be one of the first and got lucky to have investors that helped forge it into what it became.
So now that Elon has bought it and cleared out the core of those who were at the top of the company’s operations, I would say that there is something going on that can certainly destabilize Twitter as a business.
Tech companies have come and gone by the thousands, and no business is ever too big to fail. There is an absolute possibility that Twitter could cease to exist, which was true before Musk even thought about buying it. But being that he has forcefully removed those at the top of the company’s ecosystem, we’re going to see the beginning of a brain drain with employees walking out from the lower ranks.
That’s the real foundation of any operation where without those people knowing the daily ins and outs to how things work will cause a noticeable shift. It’s impossible to guess as to how much and to what degree, but this is true of any job, especially if you lose lynchpins that take multiple people to do the same things that a single person did.
That’s really my first thought. How long before the first fail whale resurfaces? What about sabotage? Because this is the type of event where there will be no two-week notices. Folks will quit by just standing up and walking out as their personal thresholds will be tested against that benefits package and steady income that is just too good to leave your job for.
“Oh. Steve used to take care of that. I guess we forgot to put someone in charge of that… three months ago.”
This is where we have to wait and see how this will play out. Because even if someone is wealthy enough to do powerful things, that does not mean they are the best, the brightest, or the most successful. It just means that they are rich.
Up and until now, Musk has been good with his capitalist ventures because he has invested in developing products. How will he be able to handle something service based? How do you keep users, not customers, content?
If someone has a problem with a Tesla, you can give them a new Tesla. If someone has an issue with a rocket, you build them a better rocket.
If the Twitter experience is ruined for someone, that’s it. There is nothing shiny or new that can be given. With users, you have to apologize and promise to be better, and then the final decision is in the hands of the user to stay or go.
And if you start introducing new things, then you risk users not liking new Twitter and fading away while left desiring Twitter classic.
Because Twitter doesn’t have to exist. It could have gone into the ground years ago under poor leadership and misguided direction, but depending on how you look at it, we’re lucky it didn’t in a weird, sometimes sad, human experiment sort of way.
Accepting that, I’ll continue to use Twitter because I remember the time when we didn’t have it as well as those times where it really showed the power of how the internet could bring people together and get out from behind our terminals. Long live cat photos and viral sensations. Down with anger and hate.