Bloggerating

I normally don’t do the self-analysis, why are we here thing, and certainly no self-promotion or “personal braaaaaaand”. The joke’s only funny until you die, then you leave a stink-bomb corpse and it’s really funny, and then they shovel dirt in your face. Until then, I mostly do things I find fun and maybe post them for others.

But what is blogging for?

Social media in the form that Twitter and Facebook have produced, is now clearly seen a mistake; it used to be fun, and is easily addictive, and I’m the next-to-last guy who could say with a straight face “don’t do things that are fun but possibly dangerous to your body or mind”, but the toxic side-effects have gone from heroin, to a cocktail of PCP, bath salts, and krokodil. It has turned and is eating your face. Get out while you still can.

Reading blogs is quieter. It can happen when you want, a pull request from a bunch of servers instead of a constantly pushing firehose. I can pick thru categories, since I organize feeds into a score of folders. Not everyone has a useful feed anymore, and there are times when a blog or comic stops updating the RSS and I don’t notice until an annual sweep of stale feeds. I don’t read everything, I read what I want and clear the rest.

My current OPML export has something like 1200 feeds, which is ridiculous, but with my organization it’s not that bad. If I want to read comics, SF blogs, Mac news, dev blogs, etc., it all adds up pretty quick. Many only update a few times a year, which is probably not enough; I only keep a few “Tech Bullshit” blogs that spam more than a couple posts a day.

I used NetNewsWire back when Brent Simmons made it, but switched to various others when iPad came out. The NNW iOS rewrite and the years-delayed Black Pixel re-rewrite were unacceptable, but the Google Reader-pocalypse forced me to finally do something, so ever since I’ve been using FeedBin; apparently not the most popular since it costs $5/month (paying for the things you use! What a bizarre idea!), but a near-desktop quality interface with great keyboard controls, that works well in Safari, is more useful to me.

In the Dark Ages, Before Computers, you’d read, hear, or think of something, and then spend the next week telling everyone you met a distorted version of it, jabber jabber jabber. Some would write letters and then copy them for different correspondents, and the real maniacs would write letters or columns for newspapers or magazines; the Dragon Magazine Waldorf letters are archetypical.

Now we have the unlimited reach to annoy everyone with the noise in our heads. Many people use Twitter as a stream of consciousness of their food 🍔 and bathroom 💩 habits. It’s too easy to type in a box and hit send. And if you “like” that person, and want to see anything halfway smart they write while distracted by everyone else’s firehose, you also have to take their bathroom posts. UGH. You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, that you didn’t stop to think if you should..

Take my music posts (please!). On Twitter, I’d sometimes spam a music link every hour or more. Now, I typically have one song in mind, link the album, then use my amnesiac-encylopediac memory of the last 50 years of blues/rock/metal/electronica (a bit more for blues) to find a day’s worth of similar albums. Then I keep the post open and hit links for iTunes. It reminds me of my teenage years, pulling a few vinyl or tape albums from my small library and spinning them in between bursts of radio; whole albums, every track unless something annoying was at the start or end of a side; I can’t stand the random train-wreck of commercial radio. And my 20s DJing at http://kuoi.org/ with my playlist, I did a lot of deep cuts or half-albums. It’s nice if someone else likes my music, but that’s not why I post.

This post has been building for a day or two. I write a little, leave it in drafts, change the title, rewrite parts, find le mot juste, a few coherent thoughts, or Suck-like links to emphasize or subvert meanings. When I think it’s worth reading, I’ll hit Publish. Thinking and writing at any depth is simply impossible in the social media engines.

Mastodon

For the last few weeks, I’ve been getting into Mastodon, and last week I closed my Twitter account.

Begin personal history with Twitter:

Twitter used to be a good outlet for my humor, and I met a lot of people I like there, but it’s always had a dark, abusive side. If you run into a clique of jerks, you may have a hard time ever avoiding them.

When App.net came out in 2012, I left Twitter and went there, and met many more, much nicer people; the voluntary community, longer posts, and the secondary tools like Patter chat rooms (App.net was “app” because it made it easy to build other services using the same identity) all made it more pleasant. Sadly ADN was never funded well enough to keep growing, the originally very dynamic app community fell apart (raise a toast to Bill Kunz’s Felix) by last year it was a ghost town, and this year it shut down.

I had a second run at Twitter, being much more careful to prune my followees (political whiners, rude punk-asses, and marketing douchebags got booted) and mainly lived in an isolated bubble of a few dozen friends, only dipping into the main timeline when I was very bored. Not perfect, but I wasn’t too unhappy. Until the election season and the months since.

Now Twitter is just hate; even non-political posts all seem to be people having massive personal problems and snapping at each other, nothing but raw exposed nerves lashing out. There’s no fun or laughter, I don’t want to live in a place where everyone is screaming or crying all the time. The uncertainty of Twitter’s future and their seemingly random engineering changes, certainly doesn’t help.

So when Mastodon got its first major publicity, I tried it out, on the Mastodon.social instance. The load of users on there flooding Local and Federated timelines quickly drove me to try smaller instances, so I’m now @mdhughes@cybre.space (a cyberpunk-themed instance) as well as @mdhughes@mastodon.weaponvsac.space (an OSR RPG instance). Within a week it was obvious that Twitter was done for me.

End personal history.

So what’s the draw?

  1. Longer messages. It’s hard for me to write anything meaningful without multiple tweets, but a 500-char Mastodon post (“toot” on standard instances, but “ping” on cybre.space) is pretty good. I live-pinged watching Arrival and Rogue One which would’ve taken a dozen tweets or a screenshot of a Notes page, and still left out detail or snark. I still need a blog for longer thoughts like this, but the intermediate space is covered.

  2. Home timeline can be kept small, just people you want to follow.

  3. Local timeline of people with common interests, everyone on your instance. This is why you go to a smaller instance rather than Mastodon.social or other giant user spaces.

  4. Federated timeline of everyone that anyone on your instance follows, which after a while is like the old Twitter firehose or App.net global timeline, just madness scrolling by. Federated is useful for finding people you’d never meet otherwise, and following them.

  5. Culturally, people put politics, spiders, clowns, memes, and other horrible subjects (as well as nice things the anti-fun people hate, like pornography) under Content Warning, so you have to click a button to see it… Or choose not to.

What’s not so great yet?

  1. Not as many users. Yet. Mastodon’s been growing at hockey-stick rates, currently nearly a half million users on Mastodon instances. Some of my friends have made it over, but not everyone believes yet, and probably some won’t get out of the burning house of Twitter.
  2. Politics could still wreck it. There are some far-left-wing and far-right-wing factions out there, and little contact between them, but they’re both intolerant and ready for war. I urge everyone to follow my philosophy:
    Be the STFU you wish to see in the world.

  3. Client apps aren’t that great. I’m using a browser on desktop, and Amaroq on iPhone (where it’s adequate) and iPad (where it’s an iPhone app). But this is a far cry from Twitterrific, it’s like 2008 all over again. The lack of mute filters other than a regular expression on home timeline is crippling when memes spread.

See also: Sarah Jeong’s Vice article