Friends, teachers, life long learners, I come to bury Twitter, not to praise it.
OK, with apologies to Shakespeare, I don’t mean to imply that I’ve found a “Twitter killer” service. I’ve thought that before, and I’ve been wrong. Instead, I think I’ve found a service that can fill some niches that currently are occupied by Twitter (albeit poorly) and some other social networks. It’s called Mastodon, and I like it a lot.
On to my reasoning, in convenient list form:
- Getting started is easy.
You don’t need to be an expert, know how to manage server databases, or understand the first thing about PHP scripts. There are enough Mastodon instances (I suggest mastodon.cloud, see #2 below) out there for you to find one, start an account, and jump in with the same level of effort it takes to get started on Twitter. At first glance, it looks a lot like the so-called “bird site.” The vocabulary is different, but the imagery is similar to that used in both Twitter and its better and lesser-known subsidiary, TweetDeck. Tweets are called “Toots,” and retweets are called “boosts,” but if I blurred all the words you’d know those functionalities based on the icons alone.
- Communities can be compartmentalized.
Mastodon is what’s known as a federated social network. It runs on a collection of independent servers known as “instances.” This is good for a couple of reasons. First, there are some instances that are dedicated to specific communities. I have an account on elekk.xyz, for example, where members mostly talk about video games. (An elekk is a fictional animal found in the game World of Warcraft.) Don’t want to be in a small box? There are several larger instances as well. My non-gaming account is on a different instance called mastodon.cloud. I’m in good company, as Wesley Fryer also calls that instance home. He even wrote his own post about it. Regardless of which instance you pick, you can still talk to Mastodon users on other servers. The main exceptions to this are when server administrators choose to suspend federation with other instances. This might be because they want the conversation to be more heavily sandboxed, or in some cases its done because they feel another instance is not adequately dealing with members that chose to harass others.And if enough teachers are interested in the creation of a teacher-centric Mastodon instance… I might know a guy who can set one up.
- Content Warnings
Mastodon’s Content Warnings are like subject lines. By pressing the button that says “CW,” you get an additional text field. When you post your tweet – I mean, your toot, the only thing your followers will see will be the text you wrote for your content warning. If they decide they’re OK with reading said content, they can click to see the rest of it. If they decide that subject isn’t for them, they can scroll past and go about their day. Currently the most common content warning notice I see is for politics, for which I’m actively grateful. Those who know me on Twitter and elsewhere know that I am VERY opinionated on subjects that some would call political, but I do not always have the mental energy to read, let alone talk about those things. On Twitter I can set up filters to mute certain key words, but it’s a bit clunky and I have to remember to turn off the mutes manually. on Mastodon, there’s more of a social taboo about tooting high-stress subjects without a warning. In short, it’s a safer space for your mental health.
- I would write 500 characters, and I would write 500 more…
That’s right, where Twitter gives just 140 characters, Mastodon gives you 500. Threaded conversations on Twitter are a workaround to broadcast thoughts too long for a single tweet while at the same time too short for a blog post, but 500 characters is enough for me, personally, to combine all but my longest diatribes into a single posting. Mastodon isn’t about to replace this blog, but it might actually replace my Tumblr account.
- It’s new.
Mastodon, for all its similarities to Twitter, is something new and interesting. Even if you decide you don’t like it, this is a chance to try out something you haven’t done before.(Oh, and if you happen to work in one of those districts where they tend to block everything, there’s a half-decent chance they haven’t blocked one or more Mastodon instances – meaning you might actually be able to build a PLN that you can contact while you’re at school.)
- It’s not TOO new.
New stuff has bugs. New stuff breaks. Mastodon has been around long enough (It’s based on previous services that have been hammered on by developers for a while…) for most of the glaring deficits to have been worked out. Currently the main stickler is that private messages might not be 100% private to server administrators. This doesn’t bother me so much since I don’t send DMs on Twitter, but it might bother you, so just be aware that they’re still working on that.
- Yes, there are mobile apps.
I can’t speak for the iOS side of things since I don’t use many Apple products these days, but the Google Play store has several Android apps. I’ve tried and liked Tusky, though since I’m on two different instances I’ve since switched to one with an odder name called Subway Tooter. Most apps I’ve tried only handle one Mastodon instance at a time, but Subway Tooter allows you to be logged into more than one simultaneously.
- Two-Factor Authentication
This might be more geeky than some enjoy, but it’s getting increasingly more important for people to secure their accounts with more than just a password. I’m not just talking about Mastodon here, but about accounts in general. If you have a Gmail account and you HAVEN’T activated two-factor authentication, you’re at risk for all kinds of ways for someone to get into your account and take everything. Securing it with SMS can work, but it isn’t as secure as having an authentication app on a mobile device.As it turns out, Mastodon instances are compatible with the Google Authenticator. To enable it, all you have to do is point the app at a bar code that Mastodon will generate for you in the settings menu. Once it’s activated, your account is much less likely to be compromised by someone trying to guess your password.
That’s about it for now, so how about you try Mastodon out for yourself? When you make an account, be sure to follow me so I know there’s another teacher on the network. I’m actively looking for new people to follow.