About a year ago, as I realized that Twitter was no longer going to be the public space for conversations and connecting to communities and ideas, I set a goal of writing more on my blog. I failed.
I planned out a series of posts linking to creators independently making great writing, criticism, podcasts, recipes, videos, and other online multimedia. A few days into the year, my web host’s security scans informed me that malware invaded my Wordpress installation. I cleaned it up, looked into alternatives, and migrated my blog over to Hugo hosted on Firebase. The Hugo site is very fast, but publishing the site relied on Github actions. I looked into using Orbit, which I had setup to work well enough with Git on my own computer, but spent a little time trying to figure out how to run it as a Cloud Function to add a way to post from MarsEdit, but didn’t get far. After another malware infection, I deleted my Wordpress installation, but never fully set up an alternative and did nothing.
Eventually, I learned that Micro.blog is not just a way to aggregate hosted feeds into a social experience, but a complete solution aligned exactly towards how I think about blogging. It’s simple, straightforward, and offered at a fair price. It offers all of the blogging features that I need (a place to host a blog and post from MarsEdit or a mobile device). But even more importantly, Micro.blog is designed around the concept of owning one’s own social posts and being part of the broader community. And it works with its own app and MarsEdit so that I can post from any computer, iPad or phone (even though most would still be on my computer).
Hopefully, ActivityPub can be the basis for more of the internet to be able to interact with more of the internet. At The Verge, David Pierce elaborates why it could be a net good: 2023 in social media: the case for the fediverse: “It doesn’t make sense that we have a dozen usernames, a dozen profiles, a dozen sets of fans and friends. All that stuff should belong to me, and I should be able to access it and interact with it anywhere and everywhere.”
Anil Dash is optimistic that the internet is about to get weird and become more creative and less centralized.
I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how we use new technology and the internet to create and communicate. Professionally, my work is based at the intersection of the arts, technology, intellectual property, and privacy. But, I realize that not everyone cares as much. They put their mental energy into other things, and I want to learn about those things from them. Social media has been a great force at democratizing access to a publishing platform to make that easy. And not everyone cares so much about that.
Using three platforms to try to connect to the same networks of people I was plugged into on Twitter is a lot more work. Since I like aspects of each of my connections on these networks, I try to use all three, which means I use them all less and the experience is worse, because it’s more disjointed, and not in an easily divisible way – how my Twitter community overlapped across many different communities was what I appreciated the most. None of the successor platforms are individually as complete as pre-sale Twitter.
Bluesky is currently the experience that’s most like early Twitter. Early Twitter was great because the universe of people who wanted to participate was small enough that it didn’t yet have all of the problems that come with scale. Bluesky has this great clubby feeling, and its webapp is super-fast and simple. There are a few things that Bluesky does very well, like the ability to design and share custom algorithmic feeds and its use of domain names for identity.
Mastodon is where the people who care most about the ownership and control of their online social experience. Unfortunately, this leads to far too much mansplaining and demands on how to use the Fediverse correctly. While the app ecosystem around Mastodon is very good (Ivory, elk.zone, Mammoth), it also has the worst out-of-the-box experience. At least signing up on the Mastodon website or app now defaults users to Mastodon.social instead of requiring users to pick a survey. The Mastodon web and mobile apps are just fine, they’re not great, but the third-party client experience is first-rate.
Threads is by far the easiest sell for most people who are plugged in enough to online community to want to participate, but not so concerned about the methods. It has the scale and the ability to acquire users through Meta’s other enormous mainstream platforms, Facebook and Instagram. This is going to be the easiest place for most people to write publicly on the internet. And frankly, that’s enough for most people. And there are people from that group of the most who I want to connect with.
People who are attentive to the world are aware that Meta does not have the best track record. Erin Kissane, Untangling Threads: “I think it’s a common misconception that Meta just kinda didn’t handle content moderation well. What Meta’s leadership actually did was so multifaceted, callous, and avaricious that it was honestly difficult for even me to believe.”
As much as many Fediverse denizens want to stay insulated from corporate social media, it seems likely that there will be a Fediverse equivalent of Gmail – a very large service provider that is easy and reliable enough for the mass market. If Threads does go all in with ActivityPub and fully join the Fediverse, it will dwarf the rest of the network in scale.
While it might seem that the best case scenario is to be able to interact with people who want to use Meta’s tools without having to directly use Meta’s services, Meta already collects information about people who do not use their products. In a federated world, content moderation becomes a federated challenge requiring collaboration between the connected platforms. Mastodon server administrators – some of whom are old enough to remember AOL joining the internet back in the 90’s and starting the eternal September – are not unjustified in fearing the amount of work that a federated Threads may make difficult.
So I am hopeful that the next phase of the internet makes it possible to have a single feed with posts from the people and publications I want to read and a way to post my mediocre thoughts out into the world, to wherever a person or two wants to read them.