Wild Instance Abandon (Part 1)

At the time of writing, there are two Mastodon instances called mstdn.party and mstdn.plus, run by the same person… There are currently over 15 thousand active accounts shared between the two, and the instance appears to have been abandoned.

I have tried to contact the administrator, as several other instance admins have offered to take over if necessary, but I have yet to hear back.

This is not an original story, and it will happen again and again as instance admins find themselves with a heavy mental, financial, operational (and moderation) burden.

The pattern goes like this: Thousands of happy little instance admins register a snappy domain, fire up a VM on a cloud provider and install their own Mastodon instance. They share the Mastodon instance with their friends and other communities, people start signing up, and over time as Twitter continues its decline. The admins find themselves with more and more users joining their instances.

They take pride and personal pleasure in the success of the Mastodon project as a whole, and accept that the success of their own instances requires them to devote more and more of themselves to keeping the instance stable and secure. More servers, more money, more time, more mental energy, more burnout.

You may start a Patreon to cover these costs and hopefully break even.

The first thing that happens as the instance grows is the technical problems of scaling. VMs require additional compute, additional storage, and additional services like CDNs. All of these resources need to be monitored, patched and upgraded.

Hopefully you’ve done your backups. Email providers can block you, S3 buckets can go down, and software can have bugs. Unexpected outages are stressful, and any technical problems are your responsibility, regardless of the cause.

The second thing that happens as the instance grows is moderation scaling issues. More and more reports will come in, and how quickly you respond to them will depend on your personal political ideology.

You may start to find volunteer moderators, and hopefully they get along…and hopefully you agree with their decisions.

The third thing that happens as the instance grows is community problems. There are bad actors roaming around, running other bad instances full of people with no good intentions, and so you start trying to block, silence and secure your instance against these bad actors.

Maybe you don’t see the worst of these bad actors, and the negative mental energy is something you can handle.

On top of that, you find yourself dealing with general technical support. Password resets, MFA resets… sometimes you find bugs, and sometimes it’s a false alarm that’s just wasting time.

And so on and so on. The problems never stop… but at least hopefully you’ve got thousands and thousands of people who find value in your instance, and while you’re just one of tens of thousands of other admins – you feel isolated and alone, because you don’t share the responsibility – we’re all in this together, but you’re the only admin of your instance.

(There are a few co-op servers with multiple admins, and I’m very impressed).

What happens if an instance admin cannot handle the pressure?

1 Comment

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