That sounds like a rather critical UX bug.
Just give me the instance I should sign up on in the "sign up" area of mastodon.social. Use what you think is the most suitable algorithm to cycle through a list of "appropriate" instances, where you-- the people with domain experience-- define "appropriate" for the potential user.
Otherwise you end up with this passive-aggressive situation where everybody does the obvious thing of signing up on mastodon.social, but your devs and fans take it on themselves to "teach" people not to do that because federation.
Case in point: the very first step of signing up is described as "very difficult" in this newbie guide.
the official one: https://joinmastodon.org/
and the alternative: https://instances.social/
Email does show us a greater need in Mastodon to emphasize trust-relationships over ill-defined "social groups" as better ways to form relationships. In the early days of email, the ISP was an easily formed trust relationship, and in today's arena a lot of people have preferred trust relationships to hosts like Google (Gmail) or Microsoft (Hotmail/Outlook), etc. The "people interested in Topic X" that most of the instance lists are focused on doesn't give you any information towards trust relationships, and is possibly in the way of forming them.
The immediate problem is that those large companies like Google or Microsoft with lots established trust relationships aren't expected to play in Mastodon/ActivityPub, so you need to bootstrap new ones. Luckily, there's a lot of room for trying to bootstrap new trust relationships. Some instances have already been playing with ownership models, and companies are easy enough to form if people want to place those ownership models into transparently accountable units/liability-protected units that are recognized by larger governing bodies than just themselves.
A friend I follow, Darius (@email@example.com), has also been ruminating on this quirk in Mastodon adoption lately and trying to find ways to establish trust relationships with instances, though so far his solution is to stick to a smaller scope and start with the idea of "you trust me, so let me host your instance" among friends. That idea might scale if there were enough folks like Darius doing that, and I've sent very simple invites to possibly add friends to my instance that I control, and have been looking to come up with governance documents based on that idea, but haven't yet had anyone take me up on that invite, so I keep procrastinating it.
If it's the former, then I don't understand the problem you're describing. Why can't trust simply be a hierarchy from the Mastodon devs-- who you have to trust anyway-- down to a small, diverse set of the largest and most performant instances (as defined by those devs themselves)? That would cover the vast majority of users and still obviously leave room for anyone who wants to run their own instance.
Even if the vast majority of users/devs think it's unethical to have a hierarchy/centralization, as you point out there isn't any known alternative at present. So the only practical alternative is to punt, which inhibits adoption and hardens the implicit social group hierarchies which you point out are problematic.
Most instances today advertise an interest in a topic, which is fine, but it doesn't answer a lot of questions. When the average person is looking for a trust relationship, they often aren't topic oriented, but reliability/stability-oriented. They want indicators of reliability: what's the governance model? How long is this instance expected to last/be stable? Etc.
Businesses in the real world already have a lot of that bootstrapping accomplished (because they are required so by governments, tax bodies, trading platforms, etc), so I made the suggestion that that's one way to make instance declarations towards governance models/stability/etc.
In that way, too, businesses as a model are still mostly decentralized in the way that users expect ("can take their business elsewhere"). Even if they are prone to monopolistic intents (when a profit model) and tend to accidentally centralize things.
A business model isn't the only approach of course, just one easy answer to how do you square the circle and solve the "which instance do I choose?" bootstrapping problem for a larger number of people more quickly. Even if formal businesses aren't the preferred option (though maybe they should be), the means of business government should still apply: what is the instance's constitution/bylaws/governing documents? Who holds the instance responsible in disputes? What is the cash flow and who holds that accountable?
A lot of these same business rules apply to so many organizations in one's life (your home owners' association, for one example) for good reasons of responsibility/accountability/stability.
Yes, almost all of these concerns are entirely orthogonal to the software itself and can't just be solved in software, as much as we might wish that to be the case as software developers. Running a community of almost any sort has these same needs. Brokering those community trust relationships is tough, but a deeper focus on that for Mastodon would help with adoption problems.
The only difference is that e-mail is "obvious" and Mastodon is new.
Not in my experience. Mastodon doesn't really have any (good) cross-instance discovery mechanisms aside from just watching the global fire-hose, so your initial experience is formed by the other users on your instance. And the experience varies wildly from "This instance is very quiet" to "This instance is full of furries".
The sign-up form during the first experience with the service is not the point to educate the newcomer about those issues, beyond maybe a friendly reminder of who is the one providing service to them at that point.
The sign-up process should be streamlined to make sure users arrive to a server that provides a good experience based on their interest; not on educating them about the technicalities of the service.
> Mastodon is a newcomer social media platform that is a lot like Twitter—short messages, followers, hashtags, all that. But Mastodon is much better than Twitter, and not just because being totally ad-free and keeping chronological timelines make it far more enjoyable to use (though that certainly helps!).
All that is nice, but the real advantage Mastodon has over Twitter is that Mastodon is not an outrage machine that's corroding our ability to view our politic opponents as real humans, deserving of sympathy and understanding.
To explain how much better Mastodon is, I'm going to give you three examples of how Mastodon is better, and then I'll step back and talk about why Mastodon is better.
The first wave was people with left wing identities who were tired of being harassed on mainstream platforms like Twitter.
The second wave was Japanese lolicon enthusiasts (without diving too deep down this rabbit hole, lolicon is a popular but weird and nerdy thing to be into in Japan).
The third wave was sex workers in response to SESTA/FOSTA eliminating platforms they used in the past.
All these waves set up their own instances, and they don't communicate much with the other waves.
If you look at what these waves all have in common (aside from using the software), there's just one thing. They were all posting stuff that didn't fit in on a mainstream platform. In the first case it was due to harassment, in the second it was embarrassment, in the third it was legality.
The users are already bifurcating the network, admins routinely share blocklists of sites that they don't want included in their version of the fediverse. Being able to block instances and people you don't like is one of Mastodon's killer features.
I don't think it will become the next outrage machine, people will just block and bifurcate. I do think users will keep setting up Mastodon instances in waves similar to the first three. I'd be surprised if Mastodon ever powered a better version of the commons we currently have on FB, Twitter etc.  The feature Mastodon added to federation (and that made it more popular than similar software) is the ability to not federate with people who are different from you.
 The "fediverse" at large has some potential to do this if it receives mass adoption. Think of a scenario like WordPress integrating federation features into the Core. This would bring federation to the mainstream.
I ate a burrito
I've since disabled content warnings, because I think it gets in the way.. But then it fails the second and third waves, because they post childporn and sex ads..
So I've ended up blocking pawoo.net and switter.at
Which is kinda the problem on mastodon, there's nothing in between silly content warnings written by people that are offended by the slightest thing, and content warnings for childporn drawings
Perhaps they'd need to implement a summary tag or something, so that people can configure their clients to only show the summaries for those who want to, and allows you to always expand them and still hide everything behind a CW.
Unless everyone is running instances on their mobile phones using a giant global mesh, it is perfectly within the capabilities of modern nation states to shutdown these networks.
Does this even matter? I mean, if you really wanted to stop people with weird views from grouping and then getting extremist through evaporative cooling, you'd have to roll the world back to preindustrial times (and even then you wouldn't stop it completely). Mastodon is but one platform; fringe groups will happily keep relocating when their old meeting places want them no longer, or they'll even set up their own platforms. Now that physical proximity is no longer a limiting factor, people of like beliefs will always find each other (if they bother to look).
(I think a good analogy is this: a Mastodon community is in the same relation to the Internet as Facebook Groups are to Facebook, or subreddits are to Reddit - a federated system inside a larger whole. The way fringe groups use subreddits/Facebook groups is analogous to how they will use Mastodon.)
If you're worried about extremists getting endangering public safety, I feel it's the job of the police to infiltrate such groups and stop individuals as they cross from talking to doing. If you're worried about large chunk of population catching some insane beliefs; I offer no remedy for that.
 - https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/ZQG9cwKbct2LtmL3p/evaporativ...
And honestly I'd rather have that than the current state of social media where everyone is on the same platform and yelling at each other and using retweets to shame one another. My experience is anecdotal of course but whenever I see people trying to engage in discourse with the other side, everyone just doubles down on their opinion and the conversation goes nowhere.
Depending on the world view that can be perceived as a bug or a feature.
As far as I'm aware, "being an accurate source of voting intention" is not a prime requirement for social networks, nor is "making life easier for lazy journalists/pollsters". At least, not for any where the users are the customers. For those, where the users are the product, requirements might be different. Personally, I view this is a positive for Mastodon.
I suppose you could stay in your own mastodon instance to avoid it.
I remember being on mastodon when the second wave of users hit (pawoo.net). Suddenly overnight we had to worry about what was on our servers cache.. suddenly there was lolicon porn, which might be legal in japan, but outside it could be illegal.
So naturally blocklist's appeared, blocking all the new wave of Japanese servers.
I remember there was a disagreement between those in favor of block list's and the creator of Mastodon. Who didn't want any form of blocking, back at that time the tools to do any form of blocking was either non-existent or very raw. I had an instance at this stage, and the thought about having some kind of childporn drawings in my servers cache scared the living shit out of me. Enough to shut it down.
But the blocklists weren't vetted back then, and I don't think there was a central list that I can remember.
I'm bought in to the idea of Mastodon, but getting started is like being handed an atlas of the US and being told, "Please pick a neighborhood to live in."
No. Mastadon and other compatible servers like GNUSocial do have single-user environments. 
2. Am I shutting myself out of an experience by creating, say, a Mastodon instance for my family?
No. The entire thing is federated, users from all servers can speak to each other.
Well that's the easy answer.
I run my own instance and it's near impossible to find interesting people to follow. I started making alternate accounts on various other servers and it was immediately much better.
Also, (from my experience) people actually do pay attention to the local feed. People are more likely to find about (and talk to) you when they see you on their local feed. It's very hard for people to find you when you have your own instance.
So for Mastodon, at least, you most likely will want a community server - not a single user one.
It may be harder to find you on your own, unless you're reaching out to others... And frankly that just sounds like network effects.
People are more likely to 'discover' you if you interact with celebrities on other social sites.
Mastodon instance admin have the power to block entire other instances. So if you care deeply about who is blocked or whether other instances are blocked at all, that might help to guide your decision.
I want to be able to find other people in the fediverse, and I also want people to find me. Having your own server excludes you from other people's local timelines (and vice versa), making discovery in both directions very challenging.
For the most part, if you are running your own email server for you family, it might make sense to run your own mastodon server. You can have control over your file storage, etc.
Another point I would've liked to see is on encryption and privacy — who, other than the people I choose as an audience, can see my Toots (the admins of the instances, someone sniffing the network, etc.).
If these platforms are being sold as "awesome", there need to be more reasons than just "no adverts and no tracking" (the latter claim is not provable without talking about encryption in a little more detail). No ads doesn't mean someone can't sell your information to someone else outside this platform. It's one thing that the owners/maintainers of many instances wouldn't sell information because of their own moral convictions that led them to get out of centralized, single company social networks. But asking to trust on that basis alone is not enough.
I checked out Mastodon quite sometime ago, but stopped using it after one or two Toots. Network effect — not knowing anyone else is a big barrier. On chat platforms, I could at least persuade one or two people I know to use them for direct chats, but these ar harder to deal with when you're looking for people who are not only local but also are working on similar causes as oneself. Like the author says, finding some interesting people on Mastodon and creating new connections could work, but it also depends on one's areas of interest. I personally also find Twitter very noisy (not in the sense of signal to noise ratio, but the amount of content). At least on Facebook I can join certain groups, avoid the news feed, etc. Somehow the topic wise discussion format seems suitable to me than a chat format (without some amount of conversation threading) with many users.
Account migration is not a thing yet, and conceptually requires a new namespace for referencing accounts (such as public keys). There is a multi-year-long actively-discussed open issue thread about this problem.
Move to a different account
If you wish to redirect this account to a different one, you can configure it here.
In that situation you can't log into the old site to edit your profile to have it redirect people to a new account, and even if you could the redirect will still go down with the server.
Mastodon can't fix these problems alone because the whole fediverse protocol needs to be rethought. Hubzilla saw this as the fundamental issue facing federated social media and so it was designed around a solution they call "nomadic identity" - you can shift your Hubzilla identity across many servers, keeping all your posts and subscriptions, and all the Hubzilla stuff updates and points to the new place, but subscriptions to you from Mastodon/fediverse will still break.
Perhaps Mastodon can lead the work on a newer protocol for the fediverse.
Is that a meaningful analogy?
Edit: But missing a key issue, perhaps.
> Because Mastodon uses a collection of Instances, you’re not at the beck and call of one site owner. If you don’t like the direction an Instance is taking, you can pack your virtual bags and go. Mastodon even has an import/export tool that allows you to migrate the people you follow from one account/instance to another.
That sounds great. But if you do "pack your virtual bags and go", is there any way to map firstname.lastname@example.org to email@example.com? In the email analogy, there's clearly not. You need to tell all correspondents.
This concept of digital identity mobility is important to ensure that one's digital life is not tied to a single service provider. XMPP provides this capability as well, through SRV records. Bizarrely, given its aim to free users from walled gardens, Mastodon does not support SRV records . The developers give some excuses about the WebFinger protocol, which basically means that if I want to own my own Mastodon identity, I must run my own server (either Mastodon or a WebFinger redirect).
Apparently Diaspora made the same shortsighted decision . I'm surprised and saddened that the concept of identity mobility is seemingly not well understood by those developing decentralized social platforms.
Whereas, adding an SRV record to my existing DNS server? That's trivial, comes at no marginal cost to me, and doesn't leave me with the constant mental burden of worrying whether my Mastodon or WebFinger server is available, secure, etc.
Owning my own digital identity should be easy. Simplicity encourages adoption, and widespread self-ownership of one's digital identity is key to hindering the growth of walled gardens. Mastodon does not make ownership of one's digital identity simple.
Some of those other issues were contentious exactly because there was insufficient prior discussion, so the question of account migration is taking its time. As I say, it's hard, so it won't be happening in the immediate future.
But it is happening.
I interpreted some comments on that ticket as dismissing account migration as almost frivolous. But maybe that's because it's an old and difficult challenge, and I didn't have the context to understand the comments.
Of course, this (and SRV records, for that matter) would preclude pure web clients from being able to look up IDs, but that's not a problem an HTTP DNS proxy couldn't solve.
From the other direction is tougher, because you have a many-to-many relationship to try to consider. It's a variation of the problems of OG OpenID and/or Mozilla Persona (RIP to both). If I want to use firstname.lastname@example.org, how do you map that to a "main" instance if you can't ask gmail.com because Google doesn't currently care about WebFinger or ActivityPub? Do you use a central database somewhere? Does that defeat the goals of decentralization you were going for in the first place?
It seems possible!
But whatever, if users had control of their private keys, they could easily move. As long as routing depended on public key hash (as with Tor .onion sites) instead of user@instance. More of a web model, instead of an email model ;)
It aggregates known (proven) identities, allows all currently verified identities to prove ownership of your next new one.
But then there's https://keybase.io/kbpgp/ so ???
How well ingrained is the name? Is it as commonly used in the community as a tweet in twitter? As in do the users identify the messages they send as toots, and are likely to say as such?
Silly names that mean things in different places don't seem to deter Americans (I'm a Brit but I've never heard the slang "toot" before; I guess it might be very regional)
With regards to Twit, that's a great point - although in that instance it seemed like a more intentional slur, as I think I'd normally default to "tweeter".
Because it is a verb substitution it has this kind of wordbomb effect of corrupting every sentence it could be used in. Some examples!
-the latest release by the Jonas brothers made me so happy i just had to toot.
-these toots are a breath of fresh air.
-Welcome! Let's get you tooting!
For when Mastodon social gets it's first celebrity president:
-President Trump released another obnoxious toot in his seemingly never-ending tirade
-I toot, therefore I am.
I can't take the platform seriously if I have to be talking about toots all the time. Sorry. I doubt I'll ever get used to that one.
That said, I view it as a happy accident, since it keeps the tone a bit silly/irreverent and reminds users that their thoughts aren't that valuable.
It's something that I'm doing for years now when trying to show how Movim works (it's a federated social platform based on XMPP, https://movim.eu). I always have difficulties when showing how a social platform can work in a decentralized (or in those two cases federated) way.
The path that I'm taking for Movim at the moment is to start from the emails (in Movim the accounts and platforms are decoupled, you can connect using the same account on different instances and clients) and apply it to a social network and chat service (Movim is mixing social network and chat platform in the same UI) but I see often that it's not "easy" when people are used to centralized solutions.
>You can also Favourite a Toot. Which basically means that you support or agree with a Toot.
Are favourites toots private? Can someone else view them? Are they automatically shown up in timelines (as liked tweets do).
Also, does favourite really imply agreement? To me atleast, I favourited tweets that I didn’t agree with just because they pointed to a well constructed argument, or for future reference.
Since twitter changed terminology to like I’ve stopped doing that.
The canonical way is to retweet (boost) a toot which shows up in the timeline of your followers and your profile (the boosted tweet will also show up on the federated timeline but not associated with you).
edit: Found this one: https://github.com/tootsuite/mastodon/pull/7107
but please correct me if im wrong. i havent really dived too much into it.
I think the biggest problem for the app developers is an interface that lists a lot of instances that you can search for which you identify most with (I think some use a centralised list someone has created somewhere). But that's a bad UX to jump into as a new user.
How is a Twitter client developer going to actually make any money on this? How is anyone going to make money on this?
The problem with this kind of argument is that it also explains why nobody uses that neckbeard internet thing and everyone still uses telephones and TV.
And, in a way, that is true. But the internet still exists.
I don't know if it will be Mastodon, but I'll keep looking with interest until it happens. Mastodon seems to get a bunch of things right, and it may evolve into a more-open (and messier) Face-gram-ter-+ that gets enough traction to thrive.
People derive a lot of value from email. A protocol like this should be viewed as something like email.
When you first start out with Mastodon, you have to find a server on your own and hope it's not going to disappear on you in the distant future (pull)
The mainstream doesn't do pull. I haven't verified but I imagine sites such as Twitter didn't take off until they started pushing accounts through advertising and word of mouth suggestion (upload your contacts, invite your friends!). Facebook pushed accounts on people in by limiting who could sign up until a certain demand threshold was reached so that when the next wave of potential users look at it, they have an account pushed on them by peer pressure as their friends were already there
Leave the decentralised aspects to us nerds. To get it properly going you're gonna need a way to push accounts on people
Does it make more sense to host your own, so that you'll always be @email@example.com ?
How often open source projects shoot themselves in the foot this way. They come up with something marvelous that many ordinary users would love to use. But then they fail to make a friendly UI and write good user docs, so few people adopt it.
One example I struggled with is gpg. I wanted to use it, but found the user docs confusing. So I thought of helping improve them so it would be more widely adopted. So I dug into how it works, but I discovered it was so inherently hard to use that few would ever adopt it, no matter how good the user docs were, and so I just gave up.
One thing that is going to determine whether web decentralization succeeds and rescues us from Facebook et al is whether or not the developers can come up with user friendly software. One thing that means is that it is quite possible that a piece of decentralization software that is far from optimal will take over a segment simply because it is easier to use that others that are much superior.
It says the main reason for not joining / abandoning is lack of friends. And also hard to use which doesn't help pulling in more people, so no friends, then a downward spiral.
Is there a way out?
Pretty hard for Twitter to stop it if it were a client that scraped the list too.
The one timeline thing doesn't work for me too well... I prefer a few separate parallel timelines and tweetdeck is great to organize and follow such parallel timelines.
I mostly post publicly, but I used this feature to create a list of friends who live in Japan.
Shouldn't that be ActivityPub instead of Mastodon?
Seems like a bad design decision trying to force people to use the platform in an unnatural way. They will just take screenshots and add their own comments instead, making the "retoots with comments" inferior to what it could be with native comments.
We've seen that design can shape behavior in profound ways, and we have no obligation whatsoever to follow pressure toward a lowest common denominator if we think there are better designs that consciously resist that pressure.
If anyone is intersted in a German round-up of Mastodon:
> First attested 1813, from the New Latin genus name Mastodon (1806), coined by French naturalist Georges Cuvier, from Ancient Greek μαστός (mastós, “breast”) + ὀδούς (odoús, “tooth”), from the similarity of the mammilloid projections on the crowns of the extinct mammal's molars.
No one is thinking about the history of the word, in fact I personally was wondering why they chose an elephant as their mascot until I remembered what a Mastodon was.
Mastodon has a couple of key advantages, though.
* First, if the spammer is coming from a "good" instance, the admin of that instance can ban them—and the number of instances means that there are more mods to go around.
* Second, if the spammer is coming from a pure spam instance, other instances can ban/unfederate with the whole instance.
That said, it's an area that the community is focused on. Here's an issue discussing spam and additional tools that could help: https://github.com/tootsuite/mastodon/issues/8122
From the overview it seems like dedicated spam instances could be quickly spun up in the same way that email domains are?
I run an instance and the last 2-3 days I've been flooded with spam bots. Reading github issues and toot threads I've noticed it's a big issue and has been coming in waves on other instances this summer.
I like to draw parallels to e-mail because Mastodon's issues are very similar to the issues we had with email in the 90s.
So I've seen mastodon instance admins mention things like maintaining centralized blacklists. I've even seen people mention using spamassassin to train on mastodon toots instead of mails.
Sign-ups of spambots are likely automated yet reCaptcha is out of the question because Mastodon users tend to dislike big corporations like Google.
I hope VisualCaptcha is a viable option but we'll see.
Some claim that captcha is a waste of time altogether because they can be defeated but my opinion is that it would still protect against most less sophisticated bot networks.
Short answer; right now there is no real solution other than manually banning and adding server IPs to a 800+ strong list of banned IP subnets maintained on github. There is also the option of banning MX servers because the last wave of bot signups all used the same backend MX server. Even though they used a ton of e-mail domains.
And of course requiring confirmation of new accounts by admins.
I predict spam is going to be a very hot topic in the fediverse for a while still.
Mastodon is community driven, not backed by any one big corporation. Anything driven by the internet community is going to be wilder than a centralized solution. It will be the wild wild west of social media. There is no denying or escaping that fact.
Too much hate and virtue signalling. It was like what Twitter already was.
By doing that you can see only things said by, or boosted by, people who you have chosen to associate with. Then you get most of the benefits of social media without getting the crap from the uncontrolled firehose.
But sure, if you want it to be like Twitter, and then reject it because your experience is like Twitter, then by all means. I just don't understand your reaction.
Seeing feeds from both the old, somewhat bad and the new, better but still too small would ease migration woes. Is that possible?
My experience is that all platforms reward putting in a small amount of effort to curate those I follow and engage with. Unless you do that you end up with the shower of complete crap hiding the nuggets worth having. With a comparatively small amount of effort you can get a high-quality stream with very little crap, and then you can block or filter that.
Thanks for virtue signalling. Ironic.
> Thanks for virtue signalling. Ironic.
Go mastodon, go !
Then on each instance cull those you don't want to follow on this instance. Now each account has the flavour of the instance you're on.
You can do all that now, although it requires a little work.
Perhaps it could be used to define the next iteration of Mastodon, then.
I got into twitter and facebook when I was a university student who gave a crap about broadcasting myself to the world. Now I'm old and don't care anymore, and I'm not deluded enough to think that anyone else cares. Is there a use case that goes beyond teenagers chatting at the lockers?
My instance (https:/fosstodon.org) is mostly focused on free and open source software (hence the name). Conversations there tend to be a lot like conversations on HN, but with the benifit of a local community where you get to know the regulars.
(I'm not saying that there's no purely personal talk—but think "office water cooler" not "high school lockers")
(And it's my instance only in the "my country" sense—I'm a user there, but I don't run it or anything.)
Fun and russiophobia aside, there is an article by Eugen Rochko (maintainer of mastodon) somewhat covering that topic:
AFAIK they also utilize crowdsourced block lists to automate part of the sorting in the fediverse.
A false sense of reassurance.
GNU Social is made in PHP and Mastodon is made with Ruby and NodeJS. So two wildly different implementations.
Mastodon also looked more modern and followed more so called modern developing practices. Which is why I think it caught on more than GNU Social ever did.
I tried GNU Social a long time ago, but it was mostly technical people talking about technical stuff. Great if that's what you're into, but it's no basis for a general use social network. Niche networks are fine, but I don't get the impression that's what early federated social media proponents wanted.