My entire news feed is filled to the brim with thoughts, opinions and articles about a certain bird website and its very rich owner. I felt left out so I wanted to say something on my own.

I’m trying out the Mastodon network. The iPhone/iPad apps are really great! You can find me on the server mas.to, under @ajbourg. The only problem I have experienced so far is that none of my bird website or real-life friends have a Mastodon presence. So let’s fix that!

What it is. Mastodon isn’t a social media site, it’s a network of a bunch of servers. Think about email. You can have your email hosted at Gmail, somebody else who used to be cool in the 90s can have their email hosted at Hotmail, and there are a billion other email servers out there. They all talk with protocols and know how to route a message for bob @ random domain dot com.

Mastodon is basically that but for short form blog posts. I have my ‘presence’ on one server, but I can follow anybody on any server as long as that server speaks the Mastodon protocols. Just like email. And anybody can follow me back, no matter what server they use.

Why that’s sorta cool. Anybody can start a server. It truly is a ‘public square’ where anyone with a voice and an internet connection can speak into the void.

But what about creating a hell house of content moderation problems? Most people believe there should be some content moderation in any public square. Everyone disagrees where those lines should be drawn. Mastodon allows you a lot more control. I can pick a server with moderation policies I like. Maybe the server I like is a free for all. Maybe it’s moderated to the 9s. Up to me. I can still follow other people on other servers that have other moderation policies. And if it becomes a problem, I can block servers that are full of any content I don’t like. Moderation becomes decentralized.

What server should I pick? This is probably the hardest decision to make because every server is different and I have only had a Mastodon presence for like 37 hours so I can’t really say which ones are good and which ones are bad. Worse, you have to pick a server as your first act. Yikes. This is where I always stopped in the past. But after reading something about your account being portable between servers — you can literally pack your bags and move servers and all your followers and followings come with you (but not, interestingly, your post history) — I decided it is a low impact decision I can change later when I know more about the network. I picked Mas.to as it was one of the more popular options I was presented with. Maybe at some point I will create my own server. Maybe I’ll migrate later. Who knows.

How do I get started? Download the app, pick a server, and away you go. Then find me and follow me! 😁

Other benefits… I re-tooted (I think that’s the official terminology and I do not like it) a post about how there are so many fewer metrics and gimmicks trying to bait you into using the Mastodon apps (web or mobile).

The big social media companies have all kinds of tricks to get you to keep posting, keel clicking, keep refreshing. At first it’s fun, but over time it gets overwhelming and I just don’t think our brains were wired to get dopamine or serotonin or whatever chemical reward it is we get when we refresh and get that little ding. There are teams of dozens or hundreds of people in these apps that want you to keep coming back and they have all the metrics around whether you do or don’t, and they’re constantly looking to make the app that much more addictive.

I don’t know if Mastodon is literally a one man shop, but probably the whole sum of people working on Mastodon (including server admins) is less then just the people who are dedicated to juicing metrics at the big social platforms. That means Mastodon is not quite as sticky, there have been times I’ve opened it and nothing new has appeared since the last time I opened it — wonderful!

In some ways it feels like a return to the early 2000s when I used to surf message boards on niche topics just for fun. Nobody is here for money. Just the fun. And social media, at least on Mastodon, is starting to feel fun again.

But I’m only 37.5 hours in. We’ll see how it goes.