It’s been. . .a while. It would take too long to review everything that’s happened since I posted last, so let’s start with a recent turn of events: the absolute implosion of Twitter. I’ve been on that site for about fifteen years, and for portions of that time, I barely looked at it. At others times it’s been a critical part of my professional work. Given my on-again, off-again relationship with the space, it feels weird to say that the recent events are terribly significant to me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I feel at a bit of a loss as I watch my community over there fracture.
Personally, I’ve scuttled away to Mastodon and set up a profile there, and I’m just dipping my toe in. (I still can’t figure out how to get my website verified which I find utterly annoying, but whatever.) On the one hand, I find the concept of the federate web very compelling, but I’m also sensitive to the argument that if we all leave Twitter we’re just turning it over to let the most toxic pockets of the internet flourish. Perhaps we need to make a stand:
I feel that the Twitter icon on city, county, state, and federal agency websites and the fact that they use it as a primary communication channel has elevated the platform to be more than just a private holding. I think that the 450+ million plus users that have adopted Twitter around the globe make the platform more than just a private holding-—it is also ours.Kin Lane, We Are Strengthening the Toxic Bros Playbook With Our Response to Twitter
I’m also fascinated and troubled by the complexity of a space like Mastodon as a safe refuge for those leaving Twitter, particularly historically marginalized groups and voices. While, in theory, it seems like a federated approach, with individual, granular instances able to offer moderation of postings would be ideal for combatting toxicity and offering safe harbor, in reality, we’re already seeing the approach getting weaponized–this is compounded by the fact that recreating a community in a new space takes a great deal of labor (and is an inherently imperfect practice). The outcome could eventually lead to a lot of lost or fractured communities that had found voice and power within Twitter.
And then there’s the fact that Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko is more than a little problematic. Can a project like this find a way to survive and thrive with that kind of shadow cast across it? Is this, on the whole, the “improvement” we’re looking for?
I don’t know the answer to any of this, and I’m not sure where I’m going to land. I will admit to a somewhat knee-jerk reaction at first when I heard people airing concerns about the complexity of Mastodon and how hard it is to find one’s people here. My first thought was that this is exactly how Twitter was back in 2007. There was no roadmap, and it took a long time to amass something that felt like a community. But, of course, this isn’t 2007. Twitter, as Kin points out, is almost a public utility at this point. Not only have communities amassed and connected there, but people earn their living in that space, some marginalized folks have found safe haven there, and it’s literally become a communication channel for issues of public health, safety, and services. Before we had Twitter, we had no space (online or in person) that provided this mix (and scale) of connection, community, fluidity, and representation, so we had nothing to lose as we figured out how it worked. Now there’s a lot to lose.
While I’m a fan of the way Twitter has allowed me to build professional connections and relationships, I don’t have a huge personal stake in its success or demise. So I’m doing a lot of reading and listening and thinking about what this all means and what comes next (for me, at least).
Wherever I end up, or most of us end up, or all of us end up, I feel pretty strongly that we need to learn a lesson from what’s going on. It was always foolish of us to believe that a business had our best interests at heart, even before Musk took over. And we should examine our relationships with other tech companies through this lens–more carefully than ever. Companies change, new owners arrive, new policies develop, and new business models emerge. Through all of this, the primary concern is always going to be financial, not moral. Values are not going to win the day. So we need to figure out how we either bulwark ourselves in these spaces and fight for our values within them, or we need to choose spaces where we have control over the choice and instantiation of values.
For me, I keep coming back to ownership and control and why it matters. Martin Weller muses that maybe we need to revisit the question of owning our own domains, and I would say there is no maybe about it. But, as always, I think it’s about more than the practicalities of ownership. It’s about wrestling with the beast that is the internet, pushing ourselves to understand its foundations (technical and philosophical), and making intentional choices about where and what we share (and what control we are or are not willing to give up). I’ve said before that Domain of One’s Own was never just about buying domains or building websites. It was always about these deeper considerations.
And, for me, perhaps most importantly we have to figure out how to build literacy and capacity around these considerations at our schools. When I left UMW a few years ago, I came to Plymouth State in part because it was another school with a Domains initiative. The pandemic has complicated the growth of that project in some ways, and I’m troubled to admit that I’ve had less time than I’d like to think about how it exists within the particular context of PSU.
As I watch and wait and ponder what my next steps are within and away from Twitter, I’m thinking hard about how I can use this moment to jumpstart a conversation about what it means to own the Web at my own school. Next semester we are running a module on Tech and Tools within the Design Forward program we’ve been building, and I want to make sure these questions ignite conversation there. Next week, I’m running a workshop on Mastodon and the federated web. And a library colleague and I are planning a program for the spring for faculty along the lines of “Everything You Don’t Know about the Web and Are Afraid to Ask.” (That’s a working title. lol.)
Meanwhile, we’re hearing rumblings that our larger system in New Hampshire is planning a bigger roll-out of Domain of One’s Own across all of our campuses. I’m delighted to hear there is renewed interest; I hope that as this project emerges we can focus not only on the technical infrastructure and possibilities but also on the fundamental questions surrounding what it means to live, work, think, teach, and learn (and create, govern, share, build, research, advocate, rebel) online.
For a while, it felt like I had said everything I had to say about this topic, and maybe it was time to shut up. In some ways, I think that’s still true. But…I think we all need to keep talking, keep teaching, and keep learning. I’m dusting off this site in large part because I need to walk the walk. I need to be sharing and writing and thinking about my work here, in a space that I control.
13 thoughts on “Is this thing on? (Also: Twitter, Mastodon, and the Fundamentals of DoOO)”
It’s always a good day when I see a blog post pop up in my feed from an old friend and this is awesome (and a reminder I probably need to dust off my own blog more often rather than just be a passive reader). I agree with much of what you’re saying here and while Mastodon is really interesting for me, I think it’s the underlying technologies I’m more excited about, the federated part rather than that particular software (and federation always seemed a nebulous concept to me prior). The ability to regain some of that control rather than trade one problematic CEO for another. I’m hearing that ActivityPub might be built into places like Tumblr and even Flickr and I think these are steps that are so important. To be able to safely migrate spaces without the danger of losing the communities you’ve built will continue to be important so we don’t repeatedly spend that labor in vein on the Next Big Thing. I want to understand more and while I wasn’t invested in Twitter as much these days and won’t mourn that loss, I also hope the moment can be used as a catalyst towards something better and more sustainable.
I’ve been looking into ActivityPub. It feels like, if done right, it would allow me to use my blog to publish across lots of different spaces (kind of like Known back in the day). In some ways, the implosion of Twitter is forcing me to go back to the roots of all of this, and I kind of like that. I don’t mind sharing/republishing in commercial spaces necessarily, but I’m more and more certain that I want the center of my online identity to be here in this lovely space hosted by Reclaim — with a 10yr old WP theme that I should really update. 😂
Oh, and when I decided to dust this space off I really debated whether I should use this or my short-lived Grav instance. While I basically hate Gutenberg and the new theme editor with the rage of 1000 dying suns, here I am.
The underlying technology excites me more than anything, as well.
I’m excited that Mastodon has demonstrated like a real use case of ActivityPub that feels tangible and understandable to me. The possibility of seeing it proliferate to more tools is exciting!
I’m also interested in seeing how owning your own domain might even allow folks to easily own their handle in mastodon and other similar tools, even if they don’t want to host their own instances. Like firstname.lastname@example.org instead of email@example.com
Maybe something like this: https://johnmu.com/2022-mastodon-for-your-domain/
I’m similarly wrestling with Twitter because of how invaluable it has been to connect to people and ideas I’m not sure I would encounter otherwise. There has still been a part of me though that has missed what felt like a community of thinkers in different way back in the early days of blogging. In fact some of my fondness for those early days is that the combination of twitter and people’s blogs felt like I had a richer sense of people who I hadn’t ever met. Both these tools encourage different kinds of interactions, but they help give a fuller picture of that person on the other side.
You keep writing and I’ll keep reading.
Oh, also, that Design Forward module sounds amazing and I need to hear more about it (I may riff on the title you are using for that program for something I’m working on). I’m a big fan of LM Sacasas’s writing on technology and I’m not sure if this is helpful for what your aims are for the module but I love this piece and the questions it asks at the end: https://theconvivialsociety.substack.com/p/the-questions-concerning-technology#details
Ooh thanks for the suggestion! Adding it to my ever-expanding DF Zotero collection!
Lots to think about here. First I believe we should recognize that there will be bad actors and they can weaponize almost any tool. Individually controlled sites, including single user fediverse instances, are probably the least difficult way for those who need them to create safe spaces.
I do wonder what DoOO means for virtual conversation spaces. Even as I type this comment, I feel like I’m making a “response” to your original post more than starting a dialog. Particularly what does this mean for brief thoughts. I’ve always sort of felt that these were too short for a blog post. Microblogging gives me a space to toss them into the wind without feeling I have to develop them into a mini essay.
You seem to have some concerns about Eugen Rochko, but I’m not sure precisely what they are.
Great point about conversation on blogs vs spaces like Twitter. To add to the complexity, your comment (and others) went straight into Trash in WordPress. I only realized it b/c Shannon mentioned she had commented and it didn’t appear. Hard to foster conversation when people’s comments disappear. 😂
I used to have a plugin here that showed not only comments and trackbacks but also mentions on Twitter, which I really liked. I wonder if something like that exists for Mastodon. I’m guessing not given the complexity of federation and the fact that you can’t really search across Mastodon instances for something like a URL’.
I like getting comments, but I think a lot about the original intent of trackbacks to connect blogs and build conversation across personal domains/spaces. For a while that was kind of flourishing, but when everyone (including me — but not Jim Groom!) moved to spaces like Twitter instead of using our own blogs, it sort of fell by the wayside.
I’m liking the idea of returning to my blog for more of my sharing right now. I have a lot of writing I need to do for various projects in my life, and now feels like the time to really try to develop a writing habit in this space. I’ll continue to share when I post on both Twitter and Mastodon, but I’m not sure if I’ll do much else at this point.
@martha I’m hearing a lot of similar experiences across the web like this. Thanks for your thoughts on it.Kathleen Fitzgerald recently asked about crossposting to Mastodon from her WordPress site and getting replies back. She’s documented some parts recently, and I’ve outlined a few pieces preliminarily including ways you can make your WordPress site look like it’s a Mastodon instance with a few plugins. I suspect Kathleen will have some further thoughts soon after she spends some time tinkering. If you had previously set up to syndicate to Twitter and get responses by via the Brid.gy service, that same sort of workflow will definitely work with Mastodon if you like. (Though it bears mentioning that some of the updates to Mastodon 4.0 this past week or so have introduced some bugs depending on which instance you’re on. I’m sure they’ll be sorted shortly.)If you’ve not puzzled it out yet, the adding of the requisite `rel="me"` class to your… https://boffosocko.com/?p=55812340
This is awesome! It looks like you’ve already got some of it set up already? 🙂
I’m hearing a lot of similar experiences across the web like this. Thanks for your thoughts on it.
Kathleen Fitzgerald recently asked about crossposting to Mastodon from her WordPress site and getting replies back. She’s documented some parts recently, and I’ve outlined a few pieces preliminarily including ways you can make your WordPress site look like it’s a Mastodon instance with a few plugins. I suspect Kathleen will have some further thoughts soon after she spends some time tinkering. If you had previously set up to syndicate to Twitter and get responses by via the Brid.gy service, that same sort of workflow will definitely work with Mastodon if you like. (Though it bears mentioning that some of the updates to Mastodon 4.0 this past week or so have introduced some bugs depending on which instance you’re on. I’m sure they’ll be sorted shortly.)
If you’ve not puzzled it out yet, the adding of the requisite rel=”me” class to your Mastodon URL link on your website (in the header, footer, via plugin, via menu item, other) is broadly described here (including some details for the classic editor): https://g13g.blog/2022/11/09/how-to-verify-your-wordpress-site-on-mastodon/. I’m personally using the IndieWeb Plugin to accomplish this and have added the URL for my mastodon instance into a field which gets added to my WordPress Profile at /wp-admin/profile.php. I’m happy to help if you need other ideas about how to do it as there are maybe too many potential options—it was all the different options and ways of doing it that confused me when I did it.
In addition to the broader Domain of One’s Own ideas that the “Twitter migration” is spurring, I’m always glad to see more people exploring ways we can have “A Twitter of our Own”.
(Click through to the original reply on my site for additional links.)
Where’s the fish? 😉
Sorry the Mastodon verification thing borked, though to me it’s really not verifying anything more except you own the web site associated with your tooting account.
Yeah, ActivityPub can knit stuff together well- John Johnston does it full on as well as Dan Cohen https://social.dancohen.org/ (and Clark Aldrich above in the comments). I tried it for a while, but to me, seeing a stream of likes and re-*****s coming in to the blog did not do much for me, I prefer the old fashioned style writing a note in the comment box. But it is workable.
Whether twitter implodes or not is not meaningful to me, I’ve always considered anything sent there is expendable and exhaust from my own domain and sources. I’ve tilted my head in wonder as many left their blogs, and their feeds, and their managed content and just gave their attention wholesale to twitter.
Sure there are these protocols to federate but I’m more keen on the human powered ones that operate between systems not within them.
Big fan! I mean we did coin it, right? 🙂