From Twitter to Mastodon
For this first post on this fediblog, I just thought I’d share the epic story of my move from Twitter to Mastodon.
The Early Days of Twitter
I got on Twitter in 2008 with no specific idea of what I wanted to do with the platform. But being there early enough, I got the handle I wanted. I had the vague notion to use Twitter to connect with other sociologists. At the time, I had an edublogs blog (based on Wordpress), so I thought I’d share my writing there as well. Blogging progressively got less of a thing and I stopped as well a bit later.
But I started following quite a few sociologists and some other people I was interested in. In these early days, Alyssa Milano and Ellen Degeneres were the most active celebrities there. Those were the days before the Kardashians, Instagrams, influencers and all that jazz.
Finding sociologists was not hard as the socbloggers joined the platforms as well and it became more common for academics to get on the service. In addition, at the beginning of each semester, you’d get an influx of new followings based on instructors making following sociologists an assignment. Usually, those periodic follows never engaged.
As time went on, I accumulated a decent following for a non-celebrity, low-level academic, non-hotshot sociologist, with about 6,000 follower, mostly other sociologists from around the world. As Twitter expanded functions, I gathered a pretty decent list of sociologists to follow, and that turned out to be invaluable for my work, keeping track of what was going on in the discipline. I was always on the lookout for a new sociology book (as opposed to textbook), accessible to undergraduates, that I could assign in my intro classes.
Over the years, I have assigned multiple books discovered through Twitter: Gang Leader for a Day, Blowin’ Up, Ballad of the Bullet, Bandage, Sort, and Hustle, just to name a few. I have populated my classes with research articles from people on my Twitter sociology list. So, it’s fair to say that soctwitter played a major part in my work, far more than my field’s professional association, whose membership I ended up not renewing because Twitter was a far better resource.
This was facilitating by the listing tool on Twitter, where you don’t need to follow people to list them so that your regular timeline and your list feed are non-verlapping (unless you followed the people you listed). That functionality allowed me to keep track of my home feed and lists (I later created an rstats list) in Tweetdeck by having them side by side.
Tweetdeck was by far my favorite Twitter client and I have to say that when Twitter bought it and then stopped updating it, that worked just well for me because there were no ads.
In addition, I curated intensely. I blocked profusely. I even got a browser extension that allowed me to block some people and their followers with one click. Those were the days before Megablock.
Lastly, I always used the chronological view for my feed, as opposed to whatever the regular algorithm would otherwise push to my TL.
So all in all, Twitter life was good and productive. I never saw an ad unless I used the mobile app. Trolls and Nazis were never an issue. I had Twitter set up pretty much the way I wanted it. And yes, I had put in a lot of work in terms of listing, curation, etc, but it was very well worth it.
A Quick Detour by Facebook
As an aside, I joined Facebook even earlier than Twitter. And as with Twitter, I patted myself on the back for my savvy. I used add-ons that allowed me to (almost) never see an ad, along with the usual (for me) long block list to avoid trolls and Nazis. I never clicked on an ad. I never played a game. I never got my news from there (I’m a long time RSS user. When Google zapped its Reader, I switched to Feedly).
After the 2016 presidential election and all that we heard about the role Facebook played in that fiasco, along with the Rohingya genocide, I decided that I could no longer be on that platform so I left.
Before doing so, I downloaded my data only to discover that I was not as smart as I thought I was. The amount of data Facebook had on me was horrifying, which made my departure even easier. I parked myself on Mewe for a while. The platform was nice enough but there was nobody there, really, so I closed my account there as well.
And then came Elon…
While I only used Facebook for personal connections, I had used Twitter extensively for professional work. Leaving Facebook was not that hard. I could still reach the people to which I had connected (such as family) by other means. I thought leaving Twitter would be harder because I only “knew” my Twitter follows and followers via Twitter. But ultimately, it was a question of principle.
Once I had decided to no longer use Twitter, then, the issues were:
- whether to just go inactive or fully delete my Twitter account (and lose my early adopter handle);
- what to do about my tweets;
- where to go.
Let me start with that last one. I had tried Mastodon a few years back but with zero understanding of the fediverse and servers and whatnot. I gave up. So I tried counter.social (which is based on Mastodon) but despite the very large number of people on the firehose, I had a hard time actually finding people to follow though everyone seemed very nice.
Then, I don’t remember how it happened but someone posted a link to mastodon.social, one of the main instances run by the Mastodon creator, and since it was during the first large Twitter to Mastodon migration, I found quite a few people I was following on Twitter were there, especially journalists. By poaching their follows and followers lists, I started rebuilding my own network. When I found someone, I would stop following them on Twitter.
Meanwhile, I read about the fediverse, and this time, I got it (I think) and got enthused with the idea. Meanwhile, since most people migrated into the mastodon.social, I started seeing encouragement to move to smaller instances to spread the load of new users.
I initially moved to sciences.social, which seemed a good fit for a social scientist. Newbie mistake: always read the About section of the server you want to join to see if you can live with their rules. I didn’t read the sciences.social rules, got a warning. And since I don’t like to be told what to do, I moved again, this time, to masto.ai mostly because while on mastodon.social, I had come across posts from Stux, who runs a couple of instances, including masto.ai, and they seemed like a cool admin. This time, I read the rules before migrating. I’ve been on The Ai, as some of us call it ever since and have no intention of moving. And I also started chipping in a few $$ to Stux to run the servers.
I should note that migrating was super easy but I’m glad I did it (twice!) in my early Mastodon day when I didn’t have too many follows and followers. I am now firmly in Mastodon to stay.
Rebuilding on Mastodon
I have to say that once I was settled in an instance I liked, it didn’t take too long to get a nicely populated home feed. This was no doubt helped by the successive waves of Twitter emigration. It took a little work, but no more than what I did on Twitter, and it was faster on Mastodon.
As this point, I follow about 800 people and have about 800 followers. This makes for a very rich home feed, believe it or not. There is quite a bit of engagement on Mastodon. People boost, like, and reply.
There is no QT / RT functionality. There has been a lot of (digital) ink spilled on this issue. I thought I was going to miss it but not really. Sure, every once in a while, I’d like to be able to add a quick comment as to why I’m boosting something (the main way I’ve used QTs / RTs in the past) but frankly, I can live without it. I know other disagree.
Mastodon also offers a lot of functionalities to take control of your home feed, with the usual mute, block, filter options. I also use the functionality to have my toots deleted after a certain period of time. So it’s easy to have your home feed just the way you like it.
How much vaporware on the Bird Site?
I have seen quite a few people argue that they can’t really leave Twitter because they have thousands of followers there. But how much of that is actually something? For those who have those numbers, with how many people have they actually engaged? How many have engaged with them?
As I mentioned earlier, I had about 6k followers. This is where it stands now:
That’s right. I twitter-proofed myself by unfollowing everyone (I found a lot of my previous follows on Mastodon) and I removed all my previous followers. That wasn’t fun because I did it manually. I could not find a (free) way to do it automatically.
The point here is that as I went through my followers list, I realized much of it was vaporware, not real, inactive, and therefore meaningless.
I also ran TweetDelete and zapped my 35k tweets. Somehow, I still have 300 tweets that Twitter won’t show me so I can’t zap them manually.
So for those with large numbers of followers, how many are real? Active? Actually engaging?
Deeper into the Fediverse
After I settled on masto.ai, I read on the fediverse. A lot of mastodon users were kind enough to provide primers. In the end, I don’t think I want to get on services that are walled gardens, if I can avoid it. Mastodon is only one part of the fediverse. The fediverse services are not exact replacements for proprietary services like Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube. But they do provide some of the same functionalities, with interoperability across the fediverse.
This is why I am not remotely tempted to join any of the burgeoning walled gardens popping up in light of the gab-ification of Twitter, definitely not post, not spoutible (although I used to use Bot Sentinel instead of the mobile twitter app).
This is why I decided to close my Goodreads account and move to the fediverse equivalent, bookwyrm. The specific instance I settled on is bookrastinating.com. My handle is SocProf@bookrastinating.com. My posts from bookcrastinating are automatically posted on my mastodon feed (that’s the interoperability part). I was able to download my entire Goodreads library and easily upload it into bookrastinating.
And I am writing this post on write.as, which is also part of the fediverse.
I hope the fediverse is the future of the open web.