Social networking is exciting. Great apps make it easy for you to be heard and meet like-minded people Worldwide, in secure and privacy-respecting ways. Unfortunately, social apps today are way far from that reach, but I do believe the paradigm is about to change. Since Twitter was recently acquired by the wealthiest person on Earth, a 'decentralized' social network called Mastodon became especially popular amongst those willing to replace Twitter by a more sustainable app.
This article aims to describe why I strongly believe that
Mastodon (as it is today) wont ever be a sustainable and popular (100 M+ daily active users) alternative to social media.
Apps based on the groundbreaking Authenticated Transfer (AT) Protocol (e.g, Bluesky) might be the solution we need.
Bluesky and the AT protocol
The Authenticated Transfer Protocol (ATP) is an open-source (publicly available) software for large-scale distributed social applications, created by the company Bluesky, PBLLC, a fully independent company founded in late 2021. However, the bluesky project started in 2019 following Twitter co-founder and ex-CEO’s announcement that Twitter would be funding a small team to develop an open protocol for decentralized social media.
The founders and owners of Bluesky, PBLLC are:
Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter (resigned from Twitter in late 2021).
Jeremie Miller, inventor of XMPP.
Jay Graber, its first CEO.
The Bluesky community/team started by researching the state of art of decentralized social protocols, and concluded that none of them fully met the goals they had for a network that enables long-term public conversations at scale.
The ATP is based on a hybrid federated architecture, because it borrows features from peer-to-peer networks. Some of its most important features are (ref):
Portability - when people can switch app providers without losing their identity and social graph (posts, followers, following, account settings)
With email, if you change your provider then your email address has to change too. This is a common problem for federated social protocols, including ActivityPub (the one that powers Mastodon).
We want users to have an easy path to switching servers.
Trust - Algorithms dictate what we see and who we can reach. We must have control over our algorithms if we're going to trust in our online spaces. The ATP includes an open algorithms mode so users are able to adjust their experience.
Our premise is to work towards a transparent and verifiable system from the bottom up by giving users ways to audit the performance of services and the ability to switch if they are dissatisfied.
Scale - Great social networking platforms seamlessly bring 100s of millions of people together in a global conversation, and that requires engineering for scale.
Bluesky, PBLLC will soon launch its social app powered by the ATP. It will be called Bluesky Social and if you wish you can register for a waitlist to test the app in its private beta stage, i.e. before being launched to the public.
Mastodon (as it is) won't ever succeed
If it wasn't true you wouldn't find so many online tutorials on "how to use Mastodon" - see References B down the page, and note they range from 2017 to 2022 (Mastodon programmers had about 5 years to solve a simple problem and they couldn't).
Lack of privacy
Direct messages are not private (i.e. end-to-end encrypted) - server admins are watching you!
Server downtime on Mastodon network isn’t a new issue. Raman’s research looked at downtime on Mastodon in 2019 and found servers had been inaccessible about 10% of the time. Even in Twitter’s early days, Raman says, it went offline only about 1.25% of the time. The nature of a volunteer-driven network means Mastodon can’t respond to crises like Big Tech companies do (ref).
If a user moves to a new instance, they can redirect or migrate their old account. Redirection sets up a redirect notice on the old profile which tells users to follow the new account. Migration forces all followers to unfollow the old account and follow the new, if the software on their instance supports this functionality. Your posts will not be moved, due to technical limitations (ref).
Mastodon’s model comes with its own risks. If the server you join disappears, you could lose everything, just like if your email provider shuts down (ref).
Hard to build up a network
Isnt it meant to be a social app?!
Uncatchy and unoriginal name
Mastodon is also an animal that was extinct thousands of years ago.
Mastodon also happens to be the name of a popular heavy metal band.
Imposed long usernames
Mastodon usernames are made up of the account name you choose followed by the domain name of the server your account is on. This means there could be a user @firstname.lastname@example.org who is not the same one as @email@example.com.
The owner/administrator of the Mastodon server your account is hosted on, has ultimate control over everything you do: if for some reason the admin of kpop.social doesn’t like that you boosted a toot (how posts are called on Mastodon) from dolphin.town, she/he could remove it, delete your account, or even “defederate” that server (i.e block all dolphin.town posts on kpop.social) (ref).
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