Fediverse: It’s creaking in many corners, but really worse than Twitter?

It’s still crunching and creaking in many corners. I’m writing about Mastodon and the Fediverse, which is currently bogging down a lot of social media enthusiasts. Some who have been around for a long time are complaining about those who are #NewHere, made over from Twitter because they don’t want to watch the goings-on of Elon Musk and further radicalization there. And the newcomers bring their own tone, perhaps a discussion-unculture. They scare off those who have been used to cuddly. Or as Anne Roth pointedly puts it, “Some want living rooms, others want the street.”

There’s a technical crunch: setup, user experience, scaling.

But there’s a technical crunch, too. Setup and use aren’t exactly “smooth.” Here, the experts and nerds have to keep in mind that users are now snooping in, expecting the easiest experience and, of course, comparing Mastodon and other Fediverse clients to the Twitter or Facebook user experience. This is not offered.

Also, many things are unfamiliar. You have to find your own instance to log in to. This decentralized structure is still opaque for many people. And then it has happened that the very instance where you wanted to register was unable and unwilling to accept new accounts, precisely because of the heavy rush of new users, because its capacity was simply exhausted. Many instances had to be upgraded at short notice and additional computing and storage power had to be purchased, which also cost money. But more on that later.

It’s a grind: More opaque structures and princely behavior

Maria and John Normal-User are used to being able to at least follow everyone on a conventional platform (as long as they are not blocked). Now it gets more complicated, because more decentralized. Actually, all instances and servers should “talk” to each other. Technically they can, but even in the Fediverse people don’t always like each other. So which instance talks to which other instance? What or whom do I see?

There is not one central instance, there are many servers, which could communicate with each other via a standardized protocol (Activity Pub) – similar to e-mail. A Gmail user can receive an email from Mailbox.Org and reply, comment. You can’t do that with Facebook, LinkedIn or WhatsApp, and you just can’t do that in the everyday use of Twitter. You are trapped on the platform and do not communicate with users of other platforms, you simply cannot.

In the Fediverse, there is now a very confusing number of more or less large instances, but they can talk to each other technically. But there is also humanity in this “social realm of many decentralized instances” and there is petty bickering, local rulers, bitching, vanity and mutual blocking. By the way, I have not noticed this yet. But in Fediverse, as on Twitter, bubbles, echo chambers and principalities are created. That seems to be a characteristic of social media and human communication patterns,

It grates: The more users, the more necessary moderation becomes.

Certainly, the topic of moderation is still massively underestimated by many operators. The more users, the more discussion, the more must be looked at and moderated. This challenge is coming, perhaps it is already here. The issue will have to be addressed, and perhaps it will be possible to define a code that is as generally accepted as possible – similar to Creative Commons for copyright – and to which operators and moderators of instances can orient themselves and to which they can commit themselves. Moderation is and remains important to keep an eye on radical nutcases who question basic democratic and humanistic values or incite violence – and to block them, because in these cases it is appropriate.

Twitter has been my social home since 2008

Twitter has been my “social media home” for a long, long time – since 2008 – despite all the prophecies of doom. I’ve felt comfortable there, in part because I’ve blocked weirdos and mostly gotten my information from lists I maintain by hand. Hate speech mostly didn’t get through to me. In my lists, I sorted Twitter users on specific topics from my Fohlenelf list to “My Bubble.” Through these lists and the use of hashtags, targeted information came to me. An algorithm and advertising had little chance as a result.

I still miss this rich flow of information on Mastodon, but it’s latently getting better. And here, too, I’m working with lists, or rather with more consciously following or unfollowing people, so that my newsfeed contains (largely) relevant posts. The flow of information is building, even if I’m still missing some relevant sources, publications and Twitter users in the Fediverse.

I’m experimenting with Mastodon

Despite gaps, hooks, and loopholes, I currently tumble around regularly on Mastodon (and neglect my Twitter account, which I haven’t deleted yet, though). Yes, the future of the Fediverse is very uncertain and there are many question marks, some of which Sascha Lobo lists. A global public is probably not yet present in the Fediverse, but many small publics (or may we call it bubbles) seem to be emerging instead. Yes, it is all, as I wrote above, very nerdy or as Hendrik Wieduwilt writes in his Mastodon review in the well-known German daily FAZ perhaps “plush, activist and communal”.

I’m certainly an idealist (and also digitally naive) and I like the decentralized approach, which not only reminds me of my first years on the net. But it needs stable pillars and also some well-known operators so that Fediverse, with all its welcome dynamism, becomes the social network for those who want constructive exchange and a lively culture of discussion. The future of democracy will be decided on the Internet, Renate Künast said, hitting the nail on the head.

Operators must relentlessly ask themselves the question: How can they, he or the organization finance their instance? Goodwill is not the only way to run servers and pay moderators. So one can justifiably have question marks in one’s eyes as to whether the Fediverse will be successful. Without moss and said stable players and pillars, there will be nothing going on in the Fediverse.

The Fediverse needs stable, relevant players – and money.

In order to create more relevance and stability, it would make sense, for example, if the public broadcasters were to open up to the Fediverse , and the media libraries of ARD and ZDF were to be “socialized” with the help of the Fediverse. I log in with my Mastodon account, can comment and discuss. And let’s remember that about half of the Germans use these libraries. This is certainly just one idea and many more are needed. Such relevant players need to support the Fediverse, need not only to be present, but also to invest.

And yes, also a subscription model, a payment of the own Mastodon account must be self-evident for everyone who can afford it, so that the operators can finance themselves. I make my small contribution at mastodon.social. More sensible support models and amounts must not be taboo, because this is not about a blue or gold checkmark. This is about the existence of the instances.

“When Twitter collapses, the global brain breaks down into provinces of thought”.

But is Mastodon worse than Twitter? I find this statement very “over the top”. All these small platforms can’t be regulated. The legislation is not suitable for this. And the Fediverse is also nothing for the advertising industry. Despite all the points that can be criticized about the Fediverse or EU legislation on digital topics, the glorification of Twitter as a global digital think tank by some journalists is clearly going too far for me. Hopefully, this will change now that Elon Musk has locked out critical American journalists.

I do wonder whether we should simply continue with the billionaires’ platforms or whether we should breathe life into the idea of decentralized, interwoven networks and support them with money. Most importantly, what would be the alternative? A new, commercial social network, fed by advertising revenue? Maybe Google will get Google+ out again …

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