The grain is in a leaky silo that's on fireby Ben Kitia
Twitter’s recent reckoning has caused, among a subset of nerds, some existential concern that a silo as entrenched as Twitter can dilapidate at such a comical rate. As the nerd community clamors for a new home for their weblogging needs, I must implore some considerations.
We’re doing it again
A federated silo might be even worse in a few key ways. Based on my experience as a moderator for 7-figure subreddits from the ages of ~12-14, the psychological archetype of someone drawn to the idea of volunteering to run and be responsible for a large online community is not one with a healthy relationship with power or one to be trusted with consequential decision-making.
The profit incentive to keep a platform relatively safe and enjoyable for normal people, or be advertiser-friendly, is logically stronger than the incentives to run a “good” Mastodon instance, presumably being personal principles, values, and enjoyment. While Mastodon might be a more clean, fun place right now, it’s worth thinking about how it’ll hold up in the next decade if its eventual divergence in relevance from Twitter is favorable.
A profit incentive also keeps the servers running and the thing existing. The main Mastodon instance has already faced slowdowns and paused signups indefinitely. And regardless of which instance you choose, all it takes is one guy to click a bunch of buttons and delete a ton of history.
All of this microblogging makes really good historical records, not only for people alive right now and for our descendants to look back on. We, early humans, are detailing our own lives in a way that will feed the fascination of historians and nerds in the distant future. One might think that a large silo is advantageous to archival because all the important stuff is more consolidated, making archive.org’s job easier. But, my humble blog that’s read about a dozen times a month is crawled by the service at least every few months, and its archive is way less broken than any Twitter thread archive I’ve visited in the past.
My blog is not subject to algorithms, moderation, or the ego of a white South African. Its existence and content are no more or less permanent than I decide. As long as it is up to me, no link beginning in kitia.net/ will ever break. Not because I necessarily think that anyone in any number of decades will care about anything I publish here, but because on principle, history is important and cool, and we should act like it by treating our collective whimsical writings as the sacred records that they are.
The water cooler and the bulletin board
Here’s where I address that despite having a blog at my own domain and an RSS reader where I’ve curated a list of my favorite publications, I am not only an active Twitter user but very much want Twitter to continue to exist as it exists today. It’s the same reason why I post links to these posts on Twitter automatically; there’s immense value in being a place where people are. There isn’t anyone hanging out on my blog and refreshing periodically, so I share it where people exist. In an office, when there’s no one to gossip to in your cubicle, so you meet others at the water cooler. You wouldn’t post a flyer on your desk but on the bulletin board. The more relevant equivalent might be talking to Slackbot instead of #lounge.
The purpose of being a place where people exists is one that Twitter serves exceptionally well and shouldn’t be undermined. There’s still a need for it within many circles, and it isn’t, in general, going to be served sufficiently by anything else that exists right now. Many might find that place in Mastodon, but right now it will never be able to compare to Twitter as a “town hall” or even a decent place to meet people because discovery just doesn’t work well enough when everyone is fragmented across hundreds of servers. The sentiment on Mastodon is that they don’t want to be the next Twitter, though, and weariness is advised towards those who do, like those annoying journalists or whoever.
Twitter still exists in its role as the place where specific types of professionals and mentally ill folks convene and break news. It will next year, and it might be in five. Ten sounds unlikely.
There’s always a flowchart
If I only cared to interact with my current Twitter mutuals, I’d move to Mastodon. If I wanted to grow an audience/meet new people, I’d stay on Twitter. If I cared about the permanence of my writing, I’d buy a domain and start a blog. In half a century, so long as we and the modern web exist, you can type this web address into a browser and hope the CSS rendered correctly enough for you to read this sentence. If I didn’t know what any of this stuff meant, I’d be able to know peace and happiness.
These platforms and protocols will serve us best when we are honest about their roles. Twitter might be the best we’ve got for what it does, but for the longer-form, more important stuff, put your faith in the web and write and read blogs (especially ones served statically on one’s own domain).