What is it about Mastodon?

Mastodon Social Network Logo

Keen-eyed observers will note that this blog has been fairly inactive for a very long time. It’s been my little corner of the web for many years. I bought the domain in 2004, though I didn’t start posting here until 2007. The archives go back to about 2000, with many posts imported from earlier online spaces of mine (Blogger, anyone?).

For years though, this website has languished, with tiny spurts of activity and long bouts of silence.

So what is it that’s gotten me inspired to start writing here again? With two posts this past week on Mastodon, obviously that’s been a bit of an inspiration, but what is it about Mastodon that has me wanting to revive this little old blog of mine?

In short, it’s something I touched on in a previous post – the way Mastodon reminds me of the early days of the internet.

Back before private equity and corporations took over and started building walled gardens to keep us trapped us inside.

Before advertisers started throwing mountains of money at anyone who could deliver eyeballs and mountains of personal data in return.

Before the great algorithm that rules all, and tells us what we want to see, as it peels back our eyelids and force-feeds us the content that will maximize “engagement”.

Before rage farming and viral tweets and celebrity meltdowns and election misinformation and covid disinformation and the endless battle against spam and bots and nazis.

The internet in its early days was a place made by the users of the internet, for each other. People had their own spaces, loosely connected over technologies like RSS and Atom.

The very foundation of the internet is openness. The free exchange of ideas and information. With open standards and protocols to tie it all together.

The modern social web is the antithesis of the open web. It is all walled gardens with anemic APIs and private apps. It does not want you to move around and explore the open web, it wants you to stay seated and receive the content that will keep you engaged while it siphons off your personal data to sell to advertisers.

Mastodon and the Fediverse feel like a return to that earlier internet. Without advertising, it feels unblemished by corporate greed. Without the algorithm constantly elevating the latest trends and viral messages above even the people you choose to follow, Mastodon feels more conversational. Engagement takes on a new/renewed meaning.

When you find a Mastodon community aligned with your interests, your local timeline is a treasure trove of new connections and conversations. Your home timeline is your own, made up of who and what you follow, with the newest stuff up top.

There are no tracking cookies, no link proxies, no advertisements, and no data harvesting. Mastodon doesn’t know where you’ve been and it doesn’t try to follow you around the internet.

And Mastodon is built on an open protocol, ActivityPub. More broadly, the Fediverse is made up of many different services that implement ActivityPub, and all of these disparate services are connected to each other.

The Fediverse is distributed and decentralized, but not in a bullshit web3 marketing kinda way. It is small pieces loosely joined.

But I digress.

So what does all that have to do with this blog? I mean, aside from inspiring a few posts? Well it’s gotten me thinking about my presence on the web and data ownership.

This is my home on the internet. Over the years, I’ve struggled with how it fits into the broader ecosystem of the modern internet and social media.

It languished while I built up my presence in other spaces, sharing my thoughts and stories elsewhere.

But Mastodon has reminded me of what was, and can be again. We don’t have to give over the entire public square to private ownership by a few.

We can build our own communities, and we can own our data and self-publish, and still find human connection on the internet.

And we don’t have to sell ourselves to do it.

So, is this just another spurt of activity, soon to be followed by a long silence? I don’t know.

But as I dig further into Mastodon and the Fediverse, I find myself inspired to write about it, and this is where I will do that.