A couple months ago, I shared why we were leaving the Birdsite. The lack of content moderation, the horrendous way New Owner is treating his employees, and the concerns about not having our content placed next to racist, queer phobic, misogynistic and other awful content were bad enough.
But when New Owner invited Orange Monster to come back, we decided we could not in good conscience stay there.
We’ve left our accounts there, with a note to follow us to Mastodon, because we were advised by a number of folks that if we deleted them, someone else might pick up our user names and start birding as if they were us (and for $8 a month, they could even get a verified check mark to “prove” just that).
But this column is not about the Birdsite.
Since migrating to Mastodon, my love affair with Social Media has been reinvigorated, returned to the way it was back when I was new to Facebook and most of the truly ugly aspects of social media had not yet come to the fore. I love just diving into our feeds to see what’s up, and connecting with strangers around the globe.
So what’s different?
Mastodon is a decentralized (or “federated) network. What this means in practice is that it’s really a bunch of smaller servers (instances) that have all agreed to run the same open source app (Mastodon) and to share content with each other. There are some downsides to this, which I’ll get to in a bit, but there are many upsides as well.
First off, it allows folks to find the instance that fits them best. Are you a writer? Maybe “wandering shop” is for you. LGBTQ+ and/or anti-fascist? “lol” might be your new home. And if you choose an instance and decide later that it doesn’t suit you, you can transfer your account (along with follows and followers) to another one, or even start your own.
Second, there’s a real hometown feel. Mastodon doesn’t throw ads at you, and there’s no algorithm that chooses which posts gain traction because they hit the right rage buttons, or which to suppress. It’s just people talking, sharing ideas, photos, and the occasional rant. I actually enjoy scrolling through my feed and commenting – today there was a retro boombox from the Eighties, a very scientific comment on my black holes post, and a reference on my zombies discussion to a film where it’s the first worlders who bring the zombie virus to the indigenous people, and not the other way around. Oh and a picture of a really cool looking piece of lichen.
Third, although this may be changing, most of the early adopters and creators of the “Fediverse,” as the connected instances are called, were progressive and/or queer, so it’s very welcoming in that sense. I also love how they support features like using alt tags for your images to make them accessible (and have bots that gently remind you when you forget).
There’s no advertising/ad sales, so you are not being sold as a product to anyone with money to buy your user inforation.
Oh, and no one can buy Mastodon and turn it upside down overnight (sorry, New Owner). The open source software and the very decentralization that can cause some of the issues below also means there’s no one person (or group of people) to buy it from.
Once you get used to its idiosyncrasies and find your right instance, it’s a fun place to hang out. Is it perfect? No. Not yet.
I found out a couple weeks ago how unfriendly it can be to businesses. Because of the antifa/anti-corporate bent of many of the members, even a small LGBTQ+ owned company can be seen as a corporate shill. We were on an instance we were very happy with, but then one by one, almost all of our accounts were closed by the owner. In this case, the instance owner is God, and he didn’t want any primarily business accounts associated with his instance.
We had a long talk about it, and his points made a lot of sense. A number of his members objected to such content, and complained, making headaches for him as the admin. As an admin for many, many sites and groups, I understand this well. In the end, this instance wasn’t a good fit for accounts like ours, that regularly share new authors, new books, reviews, and the like.
He very graciously offered to reactivate my accounts so I could transfer them, and we set up our own instance and were back up and running in two days.
The Fediverse has also historically been fairly white. What it had in sexual and gender diversity, it was lacking in color. Fortunately that seems to be changing with an influx of folks from Black Birdsite who are being justifiably vocal and starting to make the Fediverse theirs too.
Another upside / downside thing is the fact that instances can “defederate” other instances – that is, basically cut the connection between them. It’s a good thing when those instances are hotbeds of racism, white supremacism, terfs, or other trolls. But it can also potentially cut off people you know from you.
And finally, it can be difficult to follow folks on other instances. The follow button on their page often makes you sign in with your own instance login (which in my experience rarely works) or create a new login on theirs, which defeats the purpose. But with a bit of trial and error, I’ve discovered the solution. Just copy the full user name (like @username@instance) and paste it into your own page’s “seach”Search of Paste” box, and it will usually pop up a window where you can easily follow them:
I am hopeful that they will make this a bit easier in days to come, and also introduce an account switching option to more easily toggle between our various accounts. They just added this to the iOS app, so I am crossing my fingers that it comes to the browser version soon too.
Many folks aren’t on Mastodon yet, but a surprising number our, and our followers grow steadily every day. And while our total followers are still far fewer than they were on the Birdsite (2600 on Mastodon vs. 10400 there), we’re already getting far more engagement than we ever did on New Owner’s site.
Wanna follow us?
J. Scott Coatsworth, Author
Other Worlds Ink:
Queer Sci Fi
So come on over, and let’s social like it’s 2004 (or maybe January 20th, 2009). 🙂
To my reader and writer friends… are you on Mastodon yet? If not, what are you waiting for?