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Why Mastodon and the fediverse are “doomed to fail”

-> a small rant about how the profit lens distorts our understanding of success vs. failure:

write.as/eloquence/why-mastodo

@eloquence Agree with most of these aspects, yet: Then and now, to some point, I do a bit miss the idea of making technology for *human beings* - not for corporations but also not for people skilled in or enthusiastic about technology. If there's one thing the corporate players are really good at, then it's catering to an untrained crowd, providing solutions and "product" with a very low entry bareer and a wide "reach" (like WhatsApp where these days Jane Doe, once she managed to install, ...

@eloquence ... is able to reach most of her contacts out of the box without further ado). I fiercely dislike the fact that WhatsApp/Facebook are behind that, and I dislike their funding model, but I applaud *how* they do it from a user point of view. How can we get technology to a similar level of accessibility and usability without people having to sell their souls to shady corporations? 😉

@z428

You're absolutely right. In my current day job (working on SecureDrop), and my previous one (Wikimedia), I've been lucky enough to work with large enough budgets to pay for UX contributions.

The good news is that folks like Eugen (Mastodon) and Dansup (Pixelfed) have good UX instincts, but in the long run we have to scale up our ability to pay for more contributors with that background. Not making folks rich -- just paying them to make a living contributing to awesome projects.

@eloquence Fully agree - we need to pay more for contributors building these applications, but I still think we really need to, too, think more about how to *provide* these services in a reliable and sustainable manner, 24x7, backed-up and somewhat scalable. *Running* services often falls out of these considerations or is a by-product assuming that people "run their own instances of <whatever>" - which *definitely* won't help spreading the word, at least for now. 😟

@z428

For sure. I'm a proud contributor to "my" instance, which is run as a co-op and has been able to raise an annual OpenCollective budget estimated at ~$15K -- enough for us to vote on payouts for to team members beyond expenses alone.

@z428 @eloquence I think that Fediverse is first successful step into learning of FOSS communitites how to build such products. It is sad that it took too much time to do it, but it is so great that it is happening today and not later 😁

@alexcleac I *hope* so. My only fear, at some point, is that this still is too much tied to "spare-time work" done by hobbyists (which is not necessarily a bad thing in itself but makes it difficult to actually reach a defined goal beyond "doing something cool for the fun of it"). 😉

@eloquence

@eloquence @z428 thanks for mentioning us in the article :)

Naturally, we agree with the premise!

To try and address this shortfall of "user perspective" / UX, we're currently working on a "community design process" to try and bring more people (esp. non-tech) together to solve problems, adapting the Google design sprint to our kind of context. Stay tuned!

@karrot

Y'all are amazing - thanks for the wonderful work you do ❤️

@eloquence @z428 We have open source devs that volunteer because of the intrinsic urge of "this sucks, I want this to not suck".
I'd think UX designers could be interested in and driven by this too if the FOSS space was more welcoming. User experience is imo where many projects should start from.

@threed @z428

Absolutely, and there are some lovely groups of people who are doing kick-ass UX work as volunteers and/or with donations/grant support (e.g. opensourcedesign.net/, simplysecure.org/).

Once an open source project actively recognizes the importance of UX, and is giving folks ways to contribute in that capacity, in my experience people with that skillset start to take notice.

@eloquence @z428 Great resources, that deserves a boost :)

I'd encourage all devs to not just learn the newest framework or low level optimization, but to learn about and demand great UX.

@z428 @eloquence I agree to a certain extent with your point. Cherry picking on your examples, WhatsApp has not had a drastic UI change since its inception and main interface was made during its startup phase. Signal has a similar UI, but it is hard to onboard new users. Why - because inertia of communities.

FB/Twitter etc use algorithmic timelines produced by analytics. This way social networks grab more eyeballs and more users.

@ashwinvis Yeah, fully agree. I guess at the current point, there is no real difference function-wise; I see however these major "obstacles"(?) preventing arbitrary users from adopting FLOSS alternatives to these services:

(a) User base. Seriously. If you, like, have several dozens of users and groups in WhatsApp, you'll hardly convince all of these to move. And a lot of people don't get the effort to use "yet another" messenger while they could as well do everything in the one ...

@eloquence

@z428 @ashwinvis

In terms of network effects keeping users where they are, of course that's the number one issue. But Mastodon has had waves of users coming in, and many of those stick around. Usually these waves come whenever FB or Twitter do something especially egregious.

Incidents like Facebook running ads for white nationalism, as they just did the last few days ...

I try to speak up when I notice those things, in hopes that it'll help others make the jump.

@eloquence Yes, that's my approach (and experience) too, however I also see quite a rate of people quickly returning to where they came from once the current wave of rage has passed. In most cases I discussed this so far, it boiled down to the same things: Missing most of my contacts. Missing the ability to get "real" contacts here quickly. Missing, too, content and communication over here that go with my interests and topics (the #fediverse, these days, seems somewhat homogenous).

@ashwinvis

@z428

(I'm removing Ashwin to avoid spamming them)

The way I talk about it is that it's not just a place to talk to folks you already know, but a place to make new acquaintances in fields of interest. I'm pretty new to the co-op space, for example, and have learned a ton from the folks on this instance.

I love the niche topical instances that work hard to build those kinds of communities.

I've found plenty of people I know. It would be nice for the Twitter discovery bridge to come back :)

@eloquence Yes, I try this in a while as well, but I found that a vast load of people (at least in my circles outside the digital world) has no real interest in discovering "new" people, at least not by using software. Hard as it is, the way they get in touch with people is either talking to people they already know - or by entering a name of someone into a search bar and trying to find that particulra person on the platform they're using. Not sure, though, how much this is common or niche. 🙂

@z428

I get more traction when I frame it in terms of a concrete interest. "Oh, you're into ___? There's a really cool online community for that"

Folks who aren't pissed off about Twitter or Facebook already don't tend to care about "there's this cool new social network I'm going to talk your ear off about", for sure ;-)

@eloquence Maybe I'll try more of that again later. So far, it hasn't at least really worked for people I talked to, people who are into photography, art or architecture (not software). "Art" actually has been a rather bad experience when a person joined the #fediverse and was, like, "O gooosh, I immediately left after seeing an endless stream of poorly drawn green or purple bisexual aliens 'playing' with themselves". 😮 Still trying to widen my view and find more instances and communities ...

@eloquence ... for the interests I know my wider peer group out here follows. 🙂

@eloquence (Especially photography proves to be difficult too because a lot of more ambitious or professional photographers I know around here are on Instagram or Facebook despite not liking it very much but because their competitors are there, too, and they need to be around there for the simple sake of exposure - seems no one these days cares about web pages anymore. That's a real pain...)

@eloquence I don't really see unsolvable problems here - it's just that maybe we need more focus on attracting a wider range of people, possibly opposed to some considering it's better to keep this realm "small" to prevent it from degenerating into something we don't want. Seems quite a tight rope to me. 🙂

@ashwinvis

@ashwinvis ... they're already using.

(b) Decentralization, multiple instances and all the problems attached to that: Which instance to choose? What happens if my instance goes down? How to make sure my instance is trustworthy? My instance went down, how to reconnect to my contacts? ....? Not even talking about different approaches to moderation, instance-level blocking (in mastodon) preventing people from seeing each other, ... .

(c) Lack of "real" ...

@eloquence

@ashwinvis@mastodon.acc.sunet.

... contacts (which is a variant of (a)). Most of the folks I know have been socialized with WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, ... through people they know there, people they trust and that matter to them. If Jane Doe will connect to Mastodon or Signal, chances are she'll have no one to interact with, there. That's experience with my users after installing Conversations (XMPP) and adding an account. Lack of end-user features such as user discovery makes this worse.

se @eloquence

@ashwinvis Personally, I think a *lot* of things could have been done here with a bit of focus, strategy and involving real end-users with such a project / product, figuring out where they stumble and trying to fix it. 🙂

@eloquence

@z428 @ashwinvis

I've been on this instance since 8/2017. It's had its ups and downs but I'm optimistic it'll stay around, and I'll stay with it -- thanks to a co-op model that seems to be working well.

As with all new stuff, it'll take some time for the trusted provider orgs to become known, and for measures of trust to become familiar. I think we'll increasingly want to have measures of instance health (backups etc.) easily advertised along with the CoC.

@eloquence it is very well said. I think that the biggest achievement of fediverse is that it was made with such small amount of investments.

Business world now compares successes of startups or companies by amount of money they got as an investment and amount they have earned. But I think that the best measure should be "how much did they do with small amount of money".

@alexcleac @eloquence I would love that! I think we do very well at karrot with very limited funds, by practising resource saving ourselves as much as possible.

One of the karrot developers is living in a communal housing project where annual all-in (accommodation, food, repairs, travel, etc...) costs are in the order of a few thousand *per year* per person.

I'd love to see more housing + food projects team up with software projects to help keep living costs down, and community support up.

@karrot Definitely and very much so. Actually, I think it needs more "generalistic" approaches like this to be sustainable. FLOSS development backed and funded by large corporations (no matter whether directly by sponsoring or indirectly as a source of income and economic survival for developers) seems to be more and more difficult these days.

@alexcleac @eloquence

@eloquence nice. I'd like it if it was obvious who wrote that (if I hadn't followed your link there, and noted your handle, I wouldn't have had any idea).

@eloquence Years ago I wondered why social networks became a thing, what new they brang to a table in comparison with Internet forums? The answer is simple: social networks bring nothing new, the only difference is strict requirement of user's real identity for using it in ML models for generating targeted ads.
That's why FOSS social networks are doomed to fail: they're simply not needed. They are just a response to trends in the world of ad-based monetization models. Forums are totally enough.

@VikingKong

Interesting perspective -- to me microblogging does not replace forums or other ways to talk to each other, it can be used to amplify and boost perspectives in a network that's larger than, say, the community that belongs to a specific forum. And I think that has tremendous value, and will continue to do so. YMMV :)

@eloquence
I'm not sure mastodon will ever be big, but we can look to the example of dreamwidth which came out of livejournal. Ultimately if people want to keep the network going then funding needs to happen, it just depends on if you want no choice with VCs and the stock market or crowdfunding for each mastodon instance and to fund development. It's why Open APIs and protocols like Activity Pub are important. Dreamwidth is still alive, tiny but people still post on it.

@onepict

> I'm not sure mastodon will ever be big,

Hm, I find it pretty big already - at least a few hundred thousand people, possibly a million, buzzing around the fediverse, that's the population of a medium-sized city. More than I'm ever likely to meet.

> Ultimately if people want to keep the network going then funding needs to happen

Well, it _is_ happening, clearly at a level sufficient to sustain it at its current scale. I'd love to see it continue to grow in new, positive ways. :)

@eloquence
What keeps mastodon growing is the cluster of communities. Part of the challenge I think may be when mastodon instances need the money it can be hard to ask for money to maintain that instance. I don't think mastodon is going away. To some extent what Mastodon’s communities stand for will keep it going. Growth should be organic by community engagement. By each one of us encouraging others to take part. We live in a networked age but folks still like the personal connection.

@eloquence
It's slower growth, but I hope it's more sustainable.

@onepict @eloquence

I think the other hard struggle is moderation/access control. Maintaining healthy reliable federated communities in spite of hate groups, scrapers, profiteers, agencies, governments, etc. There have been some hard moments, but so far so good, it seems. The bees protect the hive.

@tagomago
Moderation is the hardest and we are lucky that we have the community we do. One of the developers of dreamwidth who I think is on Mastodon, spoke about just how draining it is to mod. I couldn't do it.
@eloquence

@onepict @tagomago @eloquence have done it, you grow callouses eventually. :blobcatpat: (it's kinda the same with police tbh. really trashes your outlook on things.)

@icedquinn
I feel like you need a hug. Having had to do a bit of investigation on a work PC on occasion for HR reasons that was bad enough. But with Moderation it's massively worse.
@tagomago @eloquence

@bekopharm @eloquence I know faxes are still in heavy use in certain industries, especially those who deal with government and shipping docks.

@polychrome @bekopharm

Fax -- man, I used to be so dependent on fax in a previous life as a journalist. People were responsive to the phone/fax combination in ways they will never be to email.

@eloquence I think you hit the nail right on the head, bottomline is: "It's not about money"

@eloquence Right. The Fediverse will be here, long after Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are dead and buried - that’s one of the advantages of an Open source-based platform.

@Enfors Let's wait and see. The last couple of years aren't short of "open source" social networks and protocols that died a slow death, remained ghost towns, aren't maintained anymore, are incompatible to where we are now. See Diaspora, identica, pump.io, gnusocial and a bunch of others. More gloomy outlook is: They fediverse will fall prey to fragmentation in protocols and implementation, too much tech cult, too little focus on people and users. @eloquence

@z428 @eloquence Hmm. Yeah, you might be right - we’ll see. But I think Mastodon will emerge to be the “standard”, so that everybody else strives to be “mastodon-compatible”. And even if only Mastodon survives, that would still be better than only having the commercial alternatives.

@Enfors Agreed. The point I still see, however: The commercial solutions aren't mainly about just "software" but rather about providing a working service to a large group of users on a decent level of quality over a long period of time. IMHO, FLOSS in this case all too often mistakenly assumes this problem can be solved by making source code available, but there's way more to it. @eloquence

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