(2022-10-28) Hon S13e17 A Proposal For News Organization Mastodon Servers And More

Dan Hon: s13e17: A Proposal for News Organization Mastodon Servers and More. Here’s the inevitable thinking about The Next Phase Of Social Networking [sic].

here’s a proposal: The first news organization to stand up a Mastodon / activitypub server at, for example, follow.washingtonpost.com gets a medal

creates accounts for its staff on its Mastodon server

What you get:

Verified accounts.

Ease of discovery

Nobody else gets an account; the public can’t sign up.

I mentioned above that only organization users would get an account, and I think that’s right

Okay, so you don’t just have to do it for news organizations.

You want verifiable US government social media accounts? Run them all off their .gov domains

Bill Gates gets @billg@gatesfoundation.org and that inherits all the trust in the gatesfoundation.org domain. People get to keep their personal accounts separate from “trustable”, “verifiable” professional accounts.

Why wouldn’t you do this?

Well, it’s a bunch of work!

It’s a buzzword bandwagon thing and you don’t have a long-term strategy, it’s just so you can look like you’re doing the innovation.

Reasons to do it:

It’s where your early adopter audience is! I don’t know, are there the kind of people who read Teen Vogue on Mastodon?

s13e18: Mastodon, or What Happens When Your Software Has Opinions And Now You Have Choices

Two governments already do this.

EU Voice is the European Union’s Mastodon instance

Germany’s Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information has its own BFDI Mastodon instance for its own press and PR work

Some Thoughts About How And What Mastodon Is Okay, this is a bit of a grab bag.

opens up another issue inherent to how a federated network works

The Guardian is also known for and criticized for its anti-trans reporting

So if you’re on an instance that blocks abusive instances, what do they do to follow.theguardian.com, for example when it posts transphobic columns from one of its longtime writers? Does the entire follow.theguardian.com instance get banned?

Again, the whole point is that there’s choice here, which means we humans get to make a whole bunch of decisions. We love making decisions, but that’s the rub of being alive and ostensibly conscious.

what other types of institutional instance might be good ideas?

One idea was for unions to offer instance accounts, in particular the National Union of Journalists in the UK -

Is Mastodon actually all that usable?

The signup flow for Mastodon in a client app like on iOS or wherever explicitly involves picking an instance. For certain outcomes (i.e. easing onboarding and maximizing your users), this is not great!

One way you can think about Mastodon instances is as a whole bunch of mailing lists and if you are old enough then you can also think of them as SIG listservs: in some cases, highly-moderated, potentially small, special-interest communities where people with shared affinities get together to talk about whatever it is they want to talk about.

older internet people who are shaking their head and might be thinking THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT might be feeling a bit weirded out about the above, almost as if you might construct some sort of hierarchy or taxonomy of these instances! Or even a directory!

If you have a third party client, then what can happen now is that you add multiple instance accounts to your client and then you switch between them which is kind of okay but not great?

Why would you need to do this? Because there’s this thing called your Home view

Do you join a general instance (most people are on mastodon.social)?

Or! You could forego that and just join one of the (smaller?) instances like the one for people who make things and do crafting and your Local timeline is full of nice people doing the same thing as you

You might though encounter a schism about mask wearing

And what if you have multiple interests? Do you join lots of them?

See, in the end, I don’t think most people want that choice

I have open, right now, five Slack workspaces on my laptop,

I haven’t even counted the different subject-specific Discords!

There was a great analogy I saw, that Twitter is like a big city.

The city analogy feels much more apt than the town square, not least of which because a town square with tens of millions of daily active users isn’t something for which we have a mental model

It’s worth mentioning Facebook and Reddit, the latter because it’s genuinely built around communities, the former because it subsumed communities in the form of Groups, which weren’t previously a Thing.

Reddit, briefly, has the equivalent of a whole bunch of towns (i.e. subreddits) with their own neighborhood/homeowner’s association,

So, what would I change, and what might happen?

Mastodon.social might just become the Mastodon, through sheer weight of history, accident and placement.

I suppose what might happen is that if you’re worried about the shared consensual hallucination of reality having been systematically dismantled with the splintering of mass media and mass shared experiences that have a half-life longer than, at best, a week, then boy howdy are you going to freak out

Nov08 update: s13e19: Just Because We Can Doesn't (Necessarily) Mean We Should: Mastodon and Social Networks Edition

I’m going to cover some related concepts here that are all smushed together as a function of “what Mastodon does” and “how Mastodon works”.

A Mastodon’s local timeline of everything on that server is best case something interest-specific/social norm specific. It can be like a village or town of like-minded individuals bound together.

When a Mastodon instance gets really big, its timeline approaches City sized, which is to say Probably Never As Big As Twitter (say, 200-odd million daily active users), but then what people have in common is “they’re in that city”.

How might you bump into other people, people whom you don’t know, whom you aren’t folloping?

the likes/favorites of people you follow are inserted into your timeline

the retweets and quote tweets of people you follow are inserted into your timeline

lately, just random shit that “Twitter” “thinks” you might be interested in

the big city is an example of a centralized social network.

Mastodon instances are on the internet, which means they have domain names. At this point in the lifespan of the internet, a whole bunch of conventions and institutional trust have developed around domain names.

Domains are only part of that trust: you trust the institution that operates the domain.

That Goddamn Blue Check Mess: Twitter fucked up by conflating identity verification with notability

Notability was always going to be a mess.

On the other hand, identity verification didn’t have to be a mess

But now, the blue check – which meant two things – is potentially now going the way of “someone has paid some money for this”, which is a very, very loose check of identity. In fact, it’s barely a check of “is there a human in the loop”, never mind “is there a specific human in the loop”.

I think, for certain instances like proving organizational affiliation, having organization instances (like in my original proposal) still makes sense

The common reply to my proposal is “you can do that already” by inserting a link back to your profile from a page that you control. Then, the link to that page is shown in green on your profile

Sure, that works now, but I still think that a better, more robust and clear experience would be more like the https padlock

quality of trust that you have in the account’s identity is tied up in the domain of the asserting webpage.

as with most things on the internet, it was to scratch my particular itch.

As a danhon, I want to know that the Mastodon profile I’m viewing is trustable.

Jumping straight to organization instances inheriting trust from their domain name is just one way to solve that problem. Here’s another way to solve it:

I go to Alexandra Petri’s page on The Washington Post.

Right there on the page are links to..

So what I could just do, and what I would probably just do, would be to discover and follow Petri’s Mastodon account from her institutional webpage. Which is fine.

It doesn’t solve for encountering an account claiming to be Petri’s on the timeline, or elsewhere, to be honest, and wanting to figure out whether I should trust it or not.

Institution: yes, this is all fair and good, but have you seen the environment we’re operating in?

Institution: Do you have a business case? Because this either lives in a cost center, or…

Institutional trust and the cost of showing up
If mastodon – or, honestly, any sort of “federated social network” – actually takes off, this will be the price of doing business.

Growing and nurturing community increases engagement which increases your surface area for revenue
Now, this doesn’t work for The New York Times or The Washington Post because those two institutions, being the size they are, have absolutely no community identity or shared interest whatsoever.

Local newspapers might want one, if they were interested in clawing back the share of local discussion and information that was inadvertently ceded to Nextdoor.

a current problem with Mastodon, and an opportunity

It’s at early-adopter stage.

The terminology is, if not just confusing

choice is a problem: the largest instance got overwhelmed and closed to new invitations

presents the user with a baffling array of choices for their home instance

there are two distinct use cases here

the first, where you are looking for like-minded people, in which case you are looking for the appropriate community

The other use case is “I want to use Mastodon to talk to people because people are there now and I want to talk to them” and you know what? They don’t want to have to choose an instance. Because they want to talk to and follow people.

I would set up an instance, explicitly designed to cater for the tens or even hundreds of thousands, and it would be paid subscription only. It could cost, I don’t know, $8.99/month.

I don’t think I’d start with plain/vanilla Mastodon. It’s not ready. I’d have a roadmap to move from Mastodon, if I did use it, to a more efficient ActivityPub implementation, with web and native platform clients

I would hire moderators.

I would set up, inside that brand, provision for special interest communities. In other words, I would set up something like The Well, all over again.

what I’m proposing is that there needs to be at least one really, really good onboarding experience and, as ever, one way of doing that is vertical integration, and a variety of really, really good onboarding experiences would be preferred)

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