Goodbye Twitter, Hello Mastodon

I’m leaving Twitter, for obvious (to me) reasons, which I’ll explain. Essentially, I don’t like what’s happening to it.

Twitter, YouTube, personal blogs and Mastodon servers are full of accounts and opinions of the calamitous start to Elon Musk’s first weeks at the helm of what he hopes will become Twitter 2.0. I’ve listed some links at the bottom of this post to back up the tale of woe. I don’t like Musk, I don’t like the sound of his politics, I don’t like what he’s doing to ‘turn the company around’. I’m guessing he’ll fail sooner rather than later.

Twitter was bought with borrowed money and now has a debt of around $13bn costing $1bn a year to service. It’s revenues are plummeting as advertisers abandon the site. Half of the workforce of 7,500 has been fired (illegally), and whole departments have resigned, refusing to go ‘hardcore’ (including the HR payroll department, apparently). Of the 3750 or so of employees who were not fired, 75% did not respond to the ‘click to be hardcore or be fired’ email from Musk.

No one knows how many of the original 7,500 employees are still at the company. It could be just a few hundred who remain. It seems likely that many more people remain at the company because there’s no HR staff to terminate these employees. And so on.

What does this mean for Twitter?

The general view expressed by experts, Twitter-watchers and ex-employees is that when (not if) Twitter has some infrastructure failures, there may not be enough (or any) people with the skills required to restore the service. Twitter will always have had hackers trying to penetrate the site, but, given the vulnerability of the service they’ll be trying extra hard to bring it down. Forever.

It’s when they deploy larger software or infrastructure upgrades when the fun will really start.

Musk has also admitted, if Twitter can’t get it’s revenues up it may have to file for bankruptcy. It really is that bad.

So, I’m leaving (not leaving) Twitter

I won’t close my account because, you never know, maybe it’ll turn a corner or something and become both viable and an attractive, friendly place to be. But I’m not holding my breath.

Introducing Mastodon

Mastodon seems to be the main game in town for people wishing to change platforms. Compared to Twitter, it is still small – around 8million accounts according to https://bitcoinhackers.org/@mastodonusercount – but growing fast as most people leaving the ‘bird site’ need a new home and land on the federated, decentralised service named after the ancient ancestor of elephants.

Lots of blogs and YouTube videos explaining what Mastodon is and how you use it have appeared over the last few weeks. You must choose and register on a specific server (often called an instance), but that server is one of (today) about 3,500. At the time of writing, around 200 servers are being added per day. You can think of a Mastodon server a bit like an email server. You have to toot (or post) rather than Tweet through your home server, but it can connect with every other Mastodon user or server on the planet. (Unless they are blacklisted – and some are).

I have set up a Mastodon Server

It’s not as easy to find people you know, and of course, it’s early days and most people aren’t on Mastodon yet. But it’s growing steadily as people join, experiment and learn how to use the service.

Mastodon accounts are like Twitter except, like email, you have to specify a service that you are registered with. For example, my Mastodon account is @paul@tester.social – a bit like an email address. Click on my address to see my profile.

I’ve been using Mastodon for about a month now, and I’ve found and followed Mastodon accounts of 70-75 testing-involved people I follow on the bird site. That’s nearly a quarter of the 325 I follow (and I follow quite a few non-testing, jokey and celebrity accounts). So I’ll risk saying, 25% or more tech-savvy people have made the move already. If you look at who the people you know follow, you will see names you recognise. It’s not so hard to get started. And enthusiastic people who follow you on Twitter will be looking for you, when they join.

Why did I set up a Mastodon server?

Good question. On the one hand, I like to try new products and technologies – I have been running my own hardware at data centres since the early 2000s. At one point I had a half rack and eleven servers. Nowadays, I have three larger servers hosting about twenty virtual machines. If you want to know more about my set up, drop me a line or comment below.

I’ve hosted mail and web servers, Drupal and WordPress sites, and experimented with Python-based data science services, MQTT, lots of test tools, and for a while, I even ran a Bitcoin node to see what was involved. So I thought I’d have a play with Mastodon. I used this video to guide me through the installation process. A bit daunting but with open-source software, you have to invest time to figure things out that aren’t explained in documentation or videos.

tester.social is hosted on a 4 cpu, 16Gb memory, 1 Tb data virtual machine and uses Cloudflare R2 as a cloud-based object store for media uploads etc. From what I’ve seen of other site setups it would easily support 10,000 or more registered users. But, I’m going to monitor it closely to see how it copes of course.

It’s an experiment, but one we will support for the next year at least. If it takes off and we get lots of users, we may have to think carefully about hiring technical and moderation staff and/or limiting registrations. But that’s a long way off for now.

If you want to join tester.social, please do but…

Be aware that when you register, you will be asked to explain in a few words what you want to see on the site, and what you’ll be posting about. Your account will be reviewed and you’ll get an email providing a confirmation and welcome message. This is purely to dissuade and filter out phoney accounts and bots.

We will commit to the Mastodon Server Covenant and hopefully be registered with the Mastodon server community which today numbers just over 3,000. Nearly 2,000 servers have been set up since Musk took over the bird site. Mastodon is growing rapidly.

I don’t know anyone on Mastodon, how do I find people I know?

If you are on Twitter, keep an eye out for people you know announcing their move to Mastodon – follow them, and see who they follow. And follow them. And see who they follow that you know and follow them and…

If you are not on Twitter, follow me. See who I follow and follow those you know. You’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

I don’t want to leave twitter yet, but want to experiment

Firstly, you can join any Mastodon service and use a cross-poster to copy your toots to tweets and vice versa. All new post on either service will be mirrored to the other. I found this article useful to learn what help is out there to migrate from Twitter to Mastodon: https://www.ianbrown.tech/2022/11/03/the-great-twitter-migration/.

For example, there are tools to scan your Twitter follows and followers for Mastodon handles, and you can import these lists to get you started. I used Movetodon to follow all my Twitter follows who had Mastodon accounts. Over time, I’ll use it again and again to catch people who move in the future.

I registered with https://moa.party/ – it synchronises my posts on tester.social and Twitter in both directions – so I only have to post once. I post on tester.social and the tweet that appears on bird site isn’t marked as ‘posted by a bot’ – so that works for me.

I found Martin Fowler’s Exploring Mastodon blog posts on the subject very useful. He talks about his first month of using the service. Which is where I am at the moment. Sort of.

A few FAQs answered. Sort of

What if I don’t like the service I register with or prefer another service? You can always transfer your account to another Mastodon service. Your follows and followers will be transferred and your posts, blocks and so on. You have to create a new account on the target service and may have to change your account name if your current name is taken on the new service. A redirect from old to new account is part of the service.

I hate advertising – can I avoid it? Mastodon servers do not display advertisements. Of course, companies might post commercials, but if you complain, it might be taken down and the poster be advised to leave the service and blocked in extremis.

What are toots and boosts? A toot is equivalent to a Tweet, and a boost is the same as a Retweet.

Are there apps for Mastodon? Yes of course – you can see the IOS and Android apps here. there are also a number of 3rd party apps. Don’t ask me what they do – I haven’t explored.

Why is the web interface better than apps? If you use the web interface, you can turn on what is called Advanced Web Interface in your preferences. In this version, you can view and pin multiple columns at the same time – each column having your toot window, home timeline, local timeline, federated timeline in parallel. You can set up what appears in each column in your preferences.

What are toot window, home timeline, local timeline, federated timeline? The toot window is where you post new messages. The three timelines are:

Home: like on Twitter, it shows all the posts of all the people you follow on all Instances
Local: it shows all the posts of the members of your Instance
Federated: it shows all the posts of the members of your Instance and also the posts of people on other Instances that are followed by people of your Instance.

If you want more help – and I’m sure you do, try this site: https://mastodon.help/ – it seems to cover all of the basics and quite a lot of the advanced stuff too.

If you join tester.social and need help; have a question?

If you need help mention @questions in a post and it’ll reach us. We’ll try to answer as soon as we can.

References

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-elon-musks-twitter-faces-mountain-of-debt-falling-revenue-and-surging-costs-11669042132

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-11-10/musk-tells-twitter-staff-social-network-s-bankruptcy-is-possible

https://www.cipp.org.uk/resources/news/twitter-s-payroll-department-walks-out.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/18/technology/elon-musk-twitter-workers-quit.html

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/nov/17/elon-musk-twitter-closes-offices-loyalty-oath-resignations

https://social.network.europa.eu/@EU_Commission/109437986950114434 (Twitter does not meet EU laws)