Tag: Mastodon

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?

Mastodon as Reference Design

The official “Mastodon” is a bundle of reference designs – The reference Web FrontEnd (WebFE), a reference BackEnd (MastoBE), and a pair of reference mobile apps (iOS/Android) – All third-party clients, forks, clones, and Mastodon-compatible “ActivityPub” servers (including Cloudflare’s Wildebeest) are all based on the core teams approved concepts, designs, limitations and APIs.

Context: The status quo for 99% of the mainstream social networks is for its ‘users’ to access their accounts directly via the approved front doors – using official means – into dedicated spaces controlled and regulated by the social network. Most social networks remove all autonomy from their users and regularly refresh the UX regardless of the wishes of their users.

As a response to this, I’d like to see Mastodon embrace allowing people to change from the reference WebFE as easily as changing from light/dark mode. This would truly make the reference WebFE less of the default, and more of an option.

This could start with enabling theming (as supported by Glitch), or adding toggles to enable preview features such as Quote toots to A/B test, and end with allowing instance administrators to upload full FE replacements for them to tweak as suits them.

This freedom of choice is well understood by people accessing their Mastodon instance from their phones. Every month comes a new iOS client with a slightly different take on UI/UX design.

I foresee a future where features are nurtured and evolve in these third-party clients and after gaining enough traction can be bought back upstream into the reference (as an official feature).

and the Mastodon developer team should find no shame if Mastodon reaches a point where fewer and fewer people use the official WebFE and mobile apps, and see it as a badge of honour because it means the ecosystem around community development is thriving.

The official reference WebFE doesn’t really allow for any kind of customisation out of the box, and I’d like to see a future where every part of the WebFE can be tweaked to create unique instance theming allowing all features to be fully customisable – Custom Assets, Colours, Fonts, Icons, Sizes, etc – Mastodon’s reference WebFE design should become a CSS Zen garden, but in reality, I foresee this kind of unique personal and community focused environments being driven by community developed WebFEs.

As I write this there are multiple replacement community WebFEs (Perfectly compatible but unofficial clients) in development. Elk is the current best example of a user-centric replacement for the reference WebFE, and is very suitable for those coming over directly from Twitter.

Eventually, I’d imagine with similar interest that community members might work to replace the Ruby-based Mastodon Backend as well, and the Mastodon – as we know it – will slowly mirror the “ship of Theseus”, and change piece by piece while still remaining just similar enough to keep the toots rolling.

There is a long history of clients growing so large that their users shape and influence the product itself regardless of the original team’s intent.


My request to the Mastodon core developers is to enable a culture of growth and playfulness by continuing to enhance the openness of your platform, but also adding the ability for Mastodon instances to run custom enhancement modules (similar to plugins).

I’d personally love to see complex markdown standard for my instances toots, as others would like quote toots…. being able to code these features as a plugin outside of the core mastodon is a step towards innovation without having to force people to create (and maintain) forks for single features – as a playground – before they get merged into the core mastodon repo.

“It’s all capitalism’s fault” Mastodon Interview Questions 2022

The following are the answers I gave to a journalist during the second or third major burst of members coming from Twitter.

Obviously, the journalist only took one sentence and didn’t capture my mood.

1: How many people have joined Mastodon in Australia since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter? Do you have figures or rough estimates/percentages? International figures?

Globally Mastodon saw an uptick of around 1 million people joining in the last month. https://fediverse.observer/stats

My instance saw more than 12,000 people joining over the last weekend, and this only slowed down due to closing signups because my servers could not handle the flood of people. I plan on opening up again soon, and there have been other Australian instances opening recently to share the load. We’re more than able to support hundreds of thousands of people on my instance now if we see another flood of people leaving Twitter.

2: Were you prepared for the sort of interest your site is now getting and are changes being made to accommodate ex-Twitter users?

a) Aus.Social has been around for 3+ years, and we’re slowly been growing from word of mouth during that period. I expected to see growth over time but not for the thousands of signups over a 48-hour period. From both a technical and a moderation perspective. Our volunteer staff had problems dealing with the increased time and mental stress of users’ reports.

As the administrator, I was able to handle the technical side, but I’m currently working on building the policies and political side to be able to maintain a safe environment.

A lot of people flooded to Mastodon instances that were unable to handle the load had a negative experience and left… hopefully they try again now that administrators have had time to prepare to handle the waves of people.

b) Twitter and Mastodon share a lot in common which makes Twitter users quickly adapt, but there are a lot of differences that cause some confusion. Twitter is a machine built for user engagement, and Mastodon is built with a slightly more personal direction. For example, there is no search function. You cannot search for “Melbourne coffee” and find local or like-minded people to follow. This is to stop people from discovering people who they disagree with and start a fight. This choice is good for building a safer culture but makes discoverability harder.

Mastodon is slowly planning to roll out features that will hopefully resolve these problems and make the hardcore Twitter users happier on the platform, but these changes will take time.

3: Why are people seeing Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter and how is it different/better? What will new users notice?

Mastodon is best compared to Twitter by talking about what it’s missing. Mastodon has no ads, no tracking, no algorithms or aggressive pushes for negative engagement. The feed is in real-time and honest, it doesn’t push topics or trends. It encourages the use of “content warnings” to allow people to choose the content they see, and filters allow people to restrict content they dislike.

Mastodon’s developers have an aim to make an alternative to Twitter by taking the best parts and hopefully slowly changing over time. I can imagine Mastodon changing faster than Twitter has over the next few years.

Because of this increased interest, the main developers are hopefully going to listen to the community and drive innovation based on the needs and wants of the users, instead of the needs of the shareholders. Community-driven vs profit-driven development is not something that people are used to in social networks.

4: Will you be seeking out ex-Twitter staff?

I haven’t spoken to any Twitter staff, but they are all free to join the Fediverse. Mastodon is free and open source, and any of them can make an instance, or join the development team to share their insights.

5: With the turmoil at Twitter and Meta laying off thousands of workers too, are we seeing the end of the mass-use social media era, at least as we’ve known it over the last 15 years? What do you think social media will look like in the future?

The dot net booms are no new to the tech economy, but I’ve always stressed the classic “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” line. Twitter/Meta are publically listed companies with shareholders who demands infinite growth and ever-increasing returns for their investment. There is a preserve incentive for those social media companies to drive their user bases up and have entire teams of people dedicated to tricking people into using their products. Mastodon will hopefully never sell any users’ data. There will hopefully not be advertisers which need to be kept happy.

I hope to see a future where all of the positive parts of social media can exist but without the profit motive. I have a patreon that is currently sitting at more than my operating costs and this will enable to me

We’re building new community infrastructure. I need to maintain the instance for my users, but we also need to work to keep the instances moderated. We need to make them safe for my users. The best part of having thousands of different instances is you can choose the style of moderation that fits your needs.

There are a lot of technical people who think they can solve social problems with technology, but in reality, we need the people who use these services to nurture a safe culture that gives them the ability to be creative and hopefully get something positive out of these new online social services.

6: Can you give a brief description of Mastodon and how it works, its structure and how it’s different to Twitter?

Mastodon is part of something called the Fediverse, which is powered by “ActivityPub”. This is a free and open-source concept that enables anybody to make a social network and have it communicate openly with others. This will enable people to build a replacement Instagram, and people can like and comment on their friend’s “Fediverse Instagram” photos from inside mastodon.

This kind of cross-product integration doesn’t exist today. Twitter doesn’t talk to Instagram, and Instagram doesn’t talk to Reddit. This is the point and future of Mastodon and the Fediverse.

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