Entries Tagged 'opinion' ↓

opinion: misconceptions about non-commercial federated networks in the press (draft)

This is a response to mashable.com – mastodon-wont-survive. It’s an early public draft, later versions will go more into depth of explaining certain concepts of networks which I do imply knowing here.

As a personal information, I’m neither involved with mastodon development nor do I speak for the project. In fact I’m advocating methods to make the majority of server based networks obsolete in the long run.

Shel Raphen, one of the people who are actively contributing to Mastodon’s codebase wrote an essay here. It was so obvious that I failed to include in this text the fixation of “killing networks” and “financial support” in the press.

This news post reads like a mixture of misunderstanding of federation and just mocking.

Let’s look at everything Mastodon gets wrong.

1) Terrible name

Mastodon implies large, slow, frozen, and dead for thousands of years. The logo is cute, but the service right now stinks almost as badly as a thawing woolly mammoth.

What’s in a name anyway? Softwareprojects and companies don’t have a record for original names (look at twitter, facebook, diaspora), and when they do have original names they tend to be way over the top with too much rocket gear added to the name finding process.

2) There is no single Mastodon

In trying to satisfy a spike of new users, Mastodon broke the cardinal rule of social media: it separated them into silos and made it hard if not impossible for them to all socialize. This unfortunate design makes Mastodon feel more like a bunch of chat rooms rather than a cohesive, growing social network. The Federated Timeline helps, but it’s not the default view.

And I get that having a decentralized social media platform, Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko’s big idea, helps create safe zones from groups and topics, but it’s really a terrible approach that will lead to a stagnant growth and way more opinion bubbles, which is the last thing we need.

(Growth for the growth deity.)
But my dear author, it is federation by design. Let me first introduce this with a picture:
network types in a picture: centralized, decentralized, distributed. copyright or copyleft unknown, assumed to be public domain.

Socialmedia networks do not have to re-use models we currently know as succesful as they get rich by making money of your metadata. Twitter, Facebook, and GooglePlus all are corporate networks with a centralized structure. Mastodon is not the first federated network. Other kinds of networks exists and are in the making (distributed ones). The overall concept of the internet and its earliest usecases was a federation. Email as we know it today is federation. Fidonet, started in 1984, still has 3,652 active nodes and it is federated. Diaspora, even if there might be no longer that much coverage in the press, is federated, has 328 active nodes and around 17.000 users.

To present a more precise usecase of federation you can experience, here’s a diagram by @vhf I am allowed to use (click to see the full size):
diagram: federation of toots in mastodon. created by https://techn.ical.ist/@vhf

3) Toots

In trying to be the anti-twitter, Mastodon’s Rochko chose the dumbest and most ridiculous post name possible: Toots. This too-cute take-off on Tweets literally hurts me every time I say and do it on Mastodon.

See above, regarding names. It’s a personal opinion, I think toots are as random as tweets.

4) Handles are meaningless

User handles do show up in Toots (blech!) but not in the URLs for users’ Mastodon homepages. Giving users numbers (mine is 995) instead of identifiable website addresses makes Mastodon feel amateurish.

Actually they do: @vhf has the handle vhf and the public URL https:// techn.ical.ist/@vhf. What precisely is amateur when it comes to how you format URLs for profiles? In the end you do not interact with the URLs, you interact with the people. I did not see the issue the author of the post raised, so I suppose this is just mocking.

5) Where is everyone?

If you can’t find people by name, then how can you follow them on Mastodon? Someone in one local Mastodon timeline may not appear in another (Sorry, Mr. Shatner). To see everyone (at least I think you see everyone), you have to troll the Federated timeline, open a Toot (blech!) and add them there. Twitter and other social networks already have this stuff figured out. Why is Mastodon better? It’s not!

It’s not as obvious as it is, and should be explained better. You know that for software project bugs can be reported. This is a known (?) documentation bug, for a current explanation take a look at the 2nd image here.

6) Apps feel like a science project

I started using Mastodon in Safari. It was not a good experience. At least there’s an app…or apps.

There is no one app called Mastodon. Instead, you can find a Github list of apps for the open-source project. Apps like the iOS-based Amaroq let you log into any of the many Mastodon “instances” by typing in the name. Nope, there’s no list of instances because I don’t think anyone knows just how many Mastodon instances are out there.

One app per child!
Why is having no centralization of client applications considered bad? It’s about the freedom to create an application and choosing one of many compatible clients, and not being forced to use THE mastodon app.
There is a list of instances and it is being advertised on most instances sign up pages:
https://mastodon.social/about displays a link to this https://instances.mastodon.xyz/ public listing of instances which chose to be displayed.

The Internet is a big place — universe-big — so there’s room for another social media platform, but the Internet can also feel like a very small place, one that targets the weak and consumes them quickly.

Mastodon cannot live on hype alone.

Mastodon has potential. It can be easy to use and there are clearly a lot of people trying it right now. But its weaknesses are glaring. It’s more project than product. Unless someone buys the code off Rochko today and consolidates this mess ASAP, it can’t survive.

This implies that succees can only be achieved if you are throwing money at a project. You have facebook. Companies and other investors have decided to throw money at it, yet it is a threat to democratic systems and human rights. Still people use it. You an throw money at it, but what makes a good project is passion and community interaction. I don’t see a future where facebook opens up contributions to its core code by volunteers with no hidden intentions.

And, no, Mastodon cannot live on hype alone.

I fully agree. But does it have to grow that much? Federated social networks do not scale to world population sizes. Forms of distributed networks can achieve this. Federation still features the same trust issues (points of authority) as centralized networks. The advantage of federation is that you can be transparent about what you publicly state you do, don’t do and if people don’t agree they can move on. I would not say we are at the point where anyone can run a server. Among SysOps knowledge this requires skills and time to debug software, failures etc which normally happen in operation of any software on any network. A small step in the right direction would be a Guix package for Mastodon and system services for it on GuixSD, so that it can be as easy as putting a couple of configuration lines into your local system configuration, run guix system reconfigure, reboot and have a a functional Mastodon node!

Remember Peach? It, too, was a fun social network that let you keep track of friends and share funny images. It was a crappy version of Snapchat without all the sexting.

Peach enjoyed a solid two weeks of being the hottest thing on the social media planet. Then, as I predicted, it fizzled. The last time we talked about Peaches and technology was when Apple changed the peach emoji so it no longer looked like a butt (and then changed it back). No one even mentioned the now mostly forgotten Peach social network.

Late last night on Twitter, we quickly reached the same conclusion: Mastodon is more Peach than Twitter, Less Snapchat than Path.

I was already ready to move on. So was Shatner.

I suspect thousands of other Tooters (blech!) will soon do the same and Mastodon will lay down beside all other other fossilized social media platforms and fade from existence.