Debunking the Top 10 Myths About Mastodon

Hey there! Figured I’d share here since my main instance, Lemmy.ml, seems to be really broken right now. I published an article today focusing on some of the myths and misconceptions Mastodon users have spread over the last few years, with some critical analysis and debunking.

Let me know if you like it!

1Transient,

You forgot censorship. The top default instance social is heavily censored.

Thisfox,

Yep. When I tried Mastodon, I gave up again super fast, and I think I see why now. Thankyou, very interesting.

FabledAepitaph,

Aw, I thought this was about actual Mastodons.

A_A,
@A_A@lemmy.world avatar

Same here, as the picture led us to believe.

Geek_King,

Meee tooo, hard disappoint. I was thrilled there were a whopping 10 misconceptions about the extinct animal!

nexguy,
@nexguy@lemmy.world avatar

One misconception is that mastodons sharpened their tusk points with a nail file while giving their enemy the evil eye. Never happened.

Geek_King,

There’s a sweet misconception being cleared up, that’s the stuff, thank you stranger!

elbarto777,

Why would you expect that from a fediverse community post?

I blame the thumbnail, though.

Edit: or maybe I can’t take a joke…

kool_newt,

I came ready to learn about prehistoric animals, what’s going on here.

JadenSmith,

I’m glad I’m not the only one disappointed.

We want real mastodon facts, damn it.

asdfasdfasdf,

Strong disagree about the email thing. When people say that, they aren’t talking about low level implementation details like this article goes into. They’re talking about the ability for Gmail to talk to AOL.

Non-technical users have no idea about implementation details of email anyway, so I highly doubt anyone has ever interpreted it that way.

NOFF,

As someone who struggled to understand what the fediverse even was, the email analogy was what made it finally click for me.

For me, it was pretty clear that the analogy was only about how different servers could talk to each other, and that the underlying technology wasn’t equivalent. I never even considered that people might use the analogy that way until this article.

machinin,

Ahh! So that is why users are user@instance.name. it is basically like public email threads that are structured to promote discussion!

MudMan,
MudMan avatar

A few of these are interesting and accurate (email comparisons), a few are pretty obvious and widely distributed already (privacy challenges), a few are a bit of a straw man argument (not sure "algorithms are bad" is a thing) and a few I'd caveat a little bit (quote tweets).

Going through all that would mean a whole response piece, though, so I'm more than happy to vaguely nod and move on.

DroneRights,

I’ve seen people say algorithms are bad. Algorithms are the chemicals of the internet.

0x1C3B00DA,
0x1C3B00DA avatar

It's gotten diluted over time with each wave, but algorithms are bad was a strong stance on mastodon servers since its inception. It was one of the first "big" things touted about mastodon. Each wave brought more people from twitter that didn't care about that or actively disagreed with it so you don't see the argument as much

MudMan,
MudMan avatar

Well, the idea of the original post is that ALL algorithms used for any reason are bad, and the retort is to explain that a chonological feed is still a (simple) algorithm and use that to "well actually" a distinction with proprietary algorithms.

Which is fine, but nitpicky. I'd think most Masto users get that, or at least take no issue with the obvious explanation. For all I saw the majority of the response to BlueSky's idea of an algorithm marketplace where you pick and tune how your feeds are sorted was relatively well received.

But as always around here I don't doubt that with a different set of follows and even usage times the pushback on principle may be more frequent or obvious. It just hasn't been my experience and I think the "what algorithm actually means" bit is a bit deceptive.

scytale,

I agree with the email metaphor being a bad example. If you’re talking to a twitter user, it’s easier to describe it as a platform where anyone can set up their own twitter website and you can sign up with any of them and see content from the other sites. Then just switch it up to whatever they’re familiar with (i.e. reddit, discord, etc.). I don’t know why people like using email as an example.

biddy,

Email is the only federated social platform that every normal person is familiar with. It doesn’t matter that the technical specifications are completely different. The metaphor goes as far as “in the fediverse anyone signed up with any instance can communicate with anyone on any other instance, like email”. For that purpose, it’s a good metaphor.

Valmond,

It’s a good metaphor for tech savvy users IMO, not for people who don’t know the difference between sending information over email vs sending the same information over an FB account to someone (for example).

I understand the email analogy now, but it didn’t help me in the beginning, like what part of email is the important part (I know, I might be the only one who didn’t get it 😊)?

biddy,

Maybe I’m optimistic here, but I feel like most users of email and Facebook understand that you can send email from Gmail to Outlook and that those are different services, but you can’t send a Facebook(message? story? idk I don’t use Facebook) to a Twitter user.

I can’t think of a better way to explain that activitypub is an open and cross-compatible protocol. The only other big cross-compatible protocol is the web(HTML etc), but that’s hopeless, half of people don’t seem to understand what a browser is.

Valmond,

Why be so technically about it? I send SMS with signal, it’s just sending information.

The best description I have heard of Lemmy, Mastodon, … is that anyone can spin up an instance (so no central control). That’s it, anyone can make a Reddit or Twitter with this tech!

I don’t get it why you have to annoy non-tech savvy people with email server tech and activitypub protocols, I also think you might grossly overestimate peoples knowledge (and interest) in those techs. I bet most social media user don’t know or care about the underlying tech like at all.

I find it truly fascinating, but I think most people don’t.

Bebo,

For non tech savvy people it would be better to explain how a Fediverse platform functionally compares with the platform they are familiar with, rather than focusing on how the Fediverse platform works because most of them would be least interested in that.

aaaa,

Hell, I’m technically-minded and I do understand it, and I still don’t consider decentralization a particularly helpful feature of social media (yet).

Federation is technically interesting, but it introduces a lot of new complications that the software is still too new to have solved. The problems it does address, it doesn’t really solve very well yet. And I’ve always been willing to leave a social media network when it doesn’t suit me anymore, so centralization has never really bothered me.

What drew me here was the growing community. I would still be here if it was just one centralized service

Valmond,

Well you seems to not have understood the problem (if there is one, to each their own eh) decentralisation solves.

If you’re fine on Reddit, Twitter, FB etc ok, but I’m not, and decentralisation is whats going to/are solve/ing that for me.

I’m having a hard time understanding what you think decentralising is supposed to solv, but doesn’t? It’s not that complicated, if you are ‘technically-minded’ right?

aaaa,

It’s a lot like my feelings on cryptocurrency. The dencentralized idea was interesting but it led to mostly discovering several reasons why it wasn’t as good as they thought. Some of the problems were solvable with future iterations, but overall it led to private exchanges that could just take all your money if they wanted, high transaction costs, etc.

With social media, federation addresses one thing: If an instance goes away, the content has already been federated elsewhere. For starters, this has never been a concern for me. I don’t treat any social media network as a long term data archive. If there’s something I need to refer back to, I will save the conversation myself or I am prepared for it to be deleted when I look away. Even on Lemmy, I don’t assume anything I post will stay, because moderator actions are federated, which will delete content from other instances anyway (when that federation is working correctly, at least)

On the other hand, we’ve already seen some of the negative sides of this:

First, users spam offensive/illegal content, which gets federated to all the other instances, leading to admins scrambling to a) stem the flow of this content and b) remove what is there. Ultimately they had to solve this with temporary defederation and user-created tools to help purge some of the content.

Second, federation is a (relatively) complex process, and there are multiple situations that can cause federation to an instance to fail. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen cases where if one instance’s keys are lost and certificates need to be regenerated, any instance that has seen that instance will be unable to federate with it anymore.

Now like I said before, these aren’t unsolvable problems, it’s just a case of the software and concept being relatively new, and needs to mature more.

Now when I switched to Lemmy, the complaints I saw about Reddit had absolutely nothing to do with federation and data availability. All I ever saw people complaining about was:

  • Algorithms pushing content to benefit advertisers rather than the best end user experience
  • Forcing UIs designed to satisfy advertisers rather than UIs end users want
  • Admins/moderators making moderation decisions that users disagree with

These are significant issues, and are worth leaving a service over. However, federation doesn’t address them at all. Lemmy certainly addresses the first two, but that has nothing to do with federation, that’s just it being open source and community-developed software.

So that’s what I meant. The one thing federation addresses is questionable, and the added complexity has brought about new problems that need to be solved still. I’m not against it, but it was never what drew me to this platform. It’s just a “Huh, that’s neat” kind of feature.

biddy,

Because it matters to the end user that all the instances are cross compatible, that’s the federated part. When I first heard of Lemmy and Mastadon as “self hosted social media”, I assumed that all the instances were isolated, and dismissed it as pointless. Once I learned what federation was, possibly through the email analogy, I was instantly onboard.

We’re not at a stage where you can make full use of these platforms without having a basic understanding of how they work. A disinterested idiot is going to go " WTF is an instance, why is [whatever instance they landed on] so empty" and give up. The email analogy is useful for the interested skeptic and they’re the people that are most likely to stick around.

In this thread the email analogy has been criticized for being not technically accurate enough and too technically accurate. That suggests it’s about right.

Valmond,

Wrong again IMO, I said spin up your own stuff right? Like spin up a twitter. Or a Reddit.

I didn’t say spin up your local twitter only you can use and only you. I mean who would think that would be a good idea? Nobody, right?

Maybe you are too tech savvy and reads between the lines so you’re the person figuring out all these things we’ll need to fix in the future, and that’s super cool, but for grandma, I persist and signs, spin up your own FB is most probably meaning just have the power of it for her.

Anyway, It seems it’s quite complicated to explain easily, we all have so different ways to see what it is.

Cheers

Kaldo,
Kaldo avatar

Except it's basically impossible to host your own mail server and have it work reliably, especially for a casual user. Mail space is dominated by Gmail, Hotmail, Protonmail and other giants.

Even if it might be a good comparison underneath for the technical side, it is not a favorable comparison for an user looking to get into the fediverse.

biddy,

The same thing is true here. A novice shouldn’t be hosting their own instance, heck a experienced user shouldn’t host their own instance unless they want a hobby.

Kaldo,
Kaldo avatar

I hope these kinks get ironed out as the software matures. I see no reason why people wouldn't be able to just rent a cloud server, run a few docker commands and have their own instance running one day. Maybe not for kbin or lemmy, but at least mastodon.

As long as we all continue to federate with each other instead of relying on some corporation to say whose messages go through and whose don't, there's a chance.

Serinus,

That will likely happen to the Fediverse as well, for the same reasons.

Kaldo,
Kaldo avatar

Not necessarily, email had to work well because businesses depended on it and (lots of) money was involved. Fediverse is a much more hobbyist endeavor and attracts groups of people who are not profit driven.

That could change of course but that's why it's important to stick to these (FOSS) principles from the start. It's why it was important to reject threads in the fediverse and not let it overtake everything, which it luckily doesn't seem like it's gonna any time soon.

MudMan,
MudMan avatar

Yep. Terrible analogy, a bad fit for both the tech and the use cases, tells nothing to anybody, and federation is not the biggest feature most people care about going into Mastodon anyway.

sour,
sour avatar

is comparing to real country better

mateomaui,

A staggering amount of honesty that will likely make a bunch of idealistic blowhards really mad. Good job.

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