[sf-lug] Bozo-free social network (was: Whew...)

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Tue Dec 6 23:25:36 PST 2022

Quoting Ronald Barnes (ron at ronaldbarnes.ca):

> Now I need a shower after visiting that site.
> /end off-topic thread

Which is a wonderful segue into talking about the post-Twitter
world.  (Some folks continue to care about Twitter, and some 
think it will continue to last into 2023.  I wish those folks
luck, and am addressing everyone else.)

1.  Mastodon is cool.
1a.  How we got here.
1b.  Mistakes to avoid.
2.  Getting off Twitter.
2a.  Using Nitter as a Twitter proxy, how and why.

1. Mastodon is cool.

Mastodon is _not_ the same as Twitter.  It's microblogging done right --
distributed/federated, with zero ads, zero surveillance capitalism, 
no algorithmic feed trying to whip people up and make them angry,
worldwide, open source, not owned by any deranged billionaire (or 
by anyone else), and part of a larger interconnected world called
the Fediverse.

To participate as a contributor, you pick a Mastodon instance that is
accepting signups, an instance whose management and moderation policies
you are happy with, thereby getting an address.  (Mine, by the way, is
@unixmercenary@infosec.exchange .)

As with Twitter, I as a Mastodon user can "follow" other Mastodon
participants writing on just about _any_ Mastodon instance anywhere in
the Fediverse that communicate with each other using Mastodon's
ActivityPub protocol.  Things users post are called "toots".  
So, for example, I follow toots posted by my wife Deirdre Saoirse Moen, 
@deirdresm@hachyderm.io (among other people).

There are various smartphone apps (open source and proprietary) you 
can use to connect to the Mastodon network, or you can use its Web 
interface (on any instance).

No, everyone you might ever want to hear from is probably not on
Mastodon, and probably that will never be true.  But the growth of
participation has been staggering ever since Apartheid Clyde started
wrecking Twitter, _especially_ among worthwhile people, e.g., pretty
much the entire InfoSec community bailed on Twitter and moved to
Mastodon within the past month.

There's an equivalent of "retweeting":  It's called "boosting". 
There is also a separate "Favourites" feature, but it's private to the
user -- unlike on Twitter where what you "like" gets included into
feed algorithm that decides what appears in people's timeline and tends
to drive people crazy.

Oh, and toots are limited to 500 characters.  More than Twitter.

There is no global full-text search, and no "quote tweet", as both were
believed to support some of the worst behaviour on Twitter.
(Controversy over these omissions continues.)

As there's no algorithmic feed, Mastodon shows toots (in your home feed,
or your local timeline, or the Fediverse timeline, whichever you wish to
pay attention to -- explained further below), in reverse chronological
order.  Omission of an algorithm was (again) deliberate -- but at least
one person has coded a plugin to retrofit a show-things-first algorithm
of his preference, just to demonstrate that feed algorithms are not
inherently evil.

1a.  How we got here.

In 2008, my friend Evan Prodromou, then of San Francisco and now of
Montreal, wrote in PHP an open-source microblogging system called
Laconica, proving a similar service to sites like Twitter, Jaiku, and
Plurk, right down to the 140-character limit for posts.  His flagship
Laconica instance was identi.ca, communicating using Evan's
OpenMicroBlogging protocol.  Later, the Laconica PHP codebase got
renamed to StatusNet, and OpenMicroBlogging was further developed and
renamed to OStatus.  (StatusNet, the PHP codebase, later got renamed
again to GNU Social.)  In 2013, the flagship Identi.ca instance switched
to a protocol believed to be better and lighter, called ActivityPump 
(using the pump.io software engine).

Evan and others _offered_ Twitter, Inc. compatibility with the open
microblogging protocols,  The facilities have always been there to 
interconnect with Twitter.  Twitter, Inc. predictably ignored this
ability, because they've always been one of those proprietary
walled-garden efforts.

In 2014, a group at the Worldwide Web Consortium further developed
ActivityPump into ActivityPub, and it became a noted W3C standard.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ActivityPub  Then, starting 2016,
Russian-born German coder Eugen Rochko released as open source
(RubyOnRails and JavaScript) his now-famous Mastodon software,
implementing ActivityPub.  But there are also a number of other server
implementations.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastodon_(social_network) 
https://lwn.net/Articles/916154/  The instance I use, for example, 
uses a codebase fork named Glitch-soc.

Mastodon (the federated social network) is a _service_ of the Fediverse,
and by far the most famous.  But, for the record, there are others:

1b. Mistakes to avoid.

The biggest dumb thing people do is think "I'll just find the biggest,
most popular Mastodon instance, and join that."  This is dumb for
numerous reasons.  One, you don't need to do that to "go where the
people are".  You as a Mastodon user can interact with people on 
_all_ Mastodon instances (with a caveat I'll mention).  Two, the 
Mastodon network works best when participation is spread out across many
instances, so it's in your interest to pick a relatively small,
well-run, not overwhelmed instance.

Each instance has owners/management, who set its policies including the
moderation/filtering and accepted uses.  When I was looking to pick
one, I looked at a number to see who was running them, did their
policies look reasonable and compatible with what I would be doing,
there, whether they seemed overloaded, etc.  At that time, Deirdre 
(my wife) was tooting from mastodon.social, the very largest Mastodon
instance in Germany, run personally by German coder Eugen Rochko, who
reportedly was the entire moderation team.  At that time,
mastodon.social started being in the doghouse with many other Mastodon
instances, and started being blocked by some, because of its reportedly
erratic moderation practices, presumably because Rochko was too busy to
do that right.  That was when Deirdre moved to hachyderm.io, a much
smaller instance with a broader moderation/management team.

Another mistake is thus to be oblivious to who (which instance or 
instances) is blocking whom and why.  This being open source, nothing
whatsoever stops certain obnoxious and antisocial interest groups of
various persuasions from standing up Mastodon instances, including
without limitation extremist political interests, fans of
not-safe-for-work artwork, etc.  So, each instances has "moderated
servers" it declines to federate with, or federates only in cautiously
limited ways.  E.g., see the "Moderated servers" list on
https://infosec.exchange/about .  (Gab and Truth Social would 
count as Mastodon-compatible ActivityPub-using instances that
basically nobody else federates to because they are liked, by, well, 
I assume their moms like them.)

Your choice of server instance will determine not only what its accepted
use policies and moderation policies are, but also what will be shown in
your "local timeline", which is a display of all postings originating
from your server (in my case, infosec.exchange, which is predominantly
people in the information security industry).

Another error is to ignore the evolving etiquette culture.  A
distinctive feature of Mastodon is "Content Warning" (aka "Content
Wrapper") tagging, to let people decide (by clicking) whether they wish
to view details within your toot.  So, for example, if I wanted to toot
a political view, I would put a content warning around the comments and
precede it with "Politics:".  This is etiquette because it respects the
recipient's agency rather than just throwing something in his/her face.

A lot of the early Mastodon adopters were vulnerable communities,
including LGBTQ ones, which is one of the reasons why Content Wrapping
and respecting people's boundaries was built from early on.  Thus
another social norm:  It is expected that you will include a meaningful
ALT tag on any image you toot -- and you will be prompted specifically
-- because Mastodon made a particular effort to be friendly to the
visually impaired community.  Do _not_ fail to ALT-tag images.  You will
be chastised, or worse.  And deserve it.

Another error is to go light on hashtags.  Mastodon doesn't use any crazy-making
feed protocol to draw people's attention to thing that rile them up 
(unlke Twitter, Farcebook, NextDoor, etc.), so, it's in your interest to
include all reasonable hashtags that relate to what you're talking about, 

Another error is to excessively annoy the administrator of your instance --
which is why you pay careful attention to the accepted use policy and
who is running it.  Jamie Zawinski, noted Netscape (etc.) coder and SF
nightclub owner (DNA Lounge, in SOMA) made the hilarious mistake of
signing up with a Mastodon instance (octodon.social) run by a group of
avowed Communists, whose acceptable usage policy specifically banned
advertising, apparently ignored several warnings about toots advertising
DNA Lounge, and got his account "suspended" (banned).  And boy, he
wasn't happy about that.

As Jamie found out the hard way, getting "suspended" is the only way to 
get zeroed out on Mastodon, losing access to all your followers and
followeds, the list of people and hashtags you established, etc.  If
Jamie had heeded the admins' warnings about violating their policies, he
could have just moved to a _different_ Mastodon server whose policies 
allowed his advertising toots.  (Mastodon does not -itself- shove ads
at users, unlike Twitter/Farcebook/NextDoor, etc.  Nothing, however, 
inherently blocks a Mastodon-user from tooting commercial speech as 
long as the instance's moderation / acceptable use policies allow.)  As
it was, Jamie had to restart from scratch following getting his slapdown.

One useful place to browse instances to pick among:
https://instances.social/   (Last I heard, there were about 7,500 
known instances.)  Many instances, at any given time, may be _closed_ to 
new signups.  This is A Good Thing.  It's a sign that the instance 
admins have a reasonable grasp of what sort of growth they can 
reasonably accomodate, unlike, say, what happened with Rochko's

(Addendum:  I hear https://joinmastodon.org/ is better than instances.local.)

2. Getting off Twitter.

People have written tools to make it easy, such as Debirdify.
https://debirdify.pruvisto.org/ and Fedifinder,
https://fedifinder.glitch.me/ .  Movetodon is another,
https://www.movetodon.org/ .  Twitodon is another,
https://twitodon.com/ .

All of these things will find Fediverse/Mastodon addresses for 
all the people you follow / who follow you on Twitter, so that you can 
without difficulty, and without losing those, move over.

One thing _no_ tool will do is migrate all the tweets you ever posted to
Twitter, and toot them out onto Mastodon.  Sorry, not going to happen.
Twitter, Inc.'s site does let you export your past activity into some
sort of archive, which various software tools then permit you to pull
things out of.  Certainly, as Apartheid Clyde has been blundering about
and destroying the company, countless Twitter users have given that
feature a workout.

If you think about it, "migrate all my past tweets and toot them" would
never work, because all of those new toots would need to go through your
instance's moderation process, and would at best torture your local
administrative team.

2a.  Using Nitter as a Twitter proxy, how and why.

Nitter isn't a place or site (as _such_).  It's a clever piece of
open-source software, available (if you hypothetically wished to spin
one up) here:  https://github.com/zedeus/nitter 

Nitter is "a free and open source alternative Twitter front-end focused
on privacy and performance".  I think it's brilliant.  There are _only_ two
remaining people I still follow on the Twitter service, because they 
have not yet migrated to Mastodon, Peter Zeihan and Malcolm Nance.
As you will see on https://github.com/zedeus/nitter (scroll down), I 
can use any of a large number of Nitter instances around the world to 
do so.

Why?  No ads.  No JavaScript.  No tracking and spying on me by Twitter,
Inc.  Attractive.  Lightweight presentation.  Supports theming and RSS
(if I want them).  Open source.  Mobile-friendly.  And I don't provide
any form of revenue to Apartheid Clyde.

At the moment, I'm using nitter.hostux.net, so:

Nitter allows me to _entirely_ avoid either funding Apartheid Clyde's
Hellsite or driving traffic to it.  I can hand out URLs pointing to 
interesting content on a Nitter instance rather than to the Musk
Hellsite.  The gotcha:  A Nitter instance is _just_ a proxy.  If the 
Musk Hellsite goes down, then the Nitter instances of this world will
cease to have any data to show.

Which reminds me.  I was miffed at Apartheid Clyde enough that I went
through every single twitter.com link in the Linuxmafia.com
Knowledgebase and the linuxmafia.com front page, grabbed the linked
content from Twitter, and manually crafted local HTML pages on
linuxmafia.com.  There ended up being 11 of them.  If interested, you
can see them as the *.html files in here:

For each of them, you'll notice that I state where (on Twitter) I
archived it from, _but_ the live link goes not to twitter.com but rather
to the proxy link at nitter.hostux.net .

No avoidable money to Apartheid Clyde, say I.  

Which (belatedly) brings me to my final point:  Q:  Who pays for
Mastodon?  A:  Each instance admin pays for his/her own instance.  

So, because I know There's No Such Thing As a Free Lunch (TANSTAAFL), 
when I joined, I went to https://liberapay.com/Infosec.exchange/ and set 
up automatic payment of $20/year to help support "my" instance.  Which is
pretty much the polite and respectful thing to do.  _Not_ obligatory, 
but the decent thing to do.

For people seeking a free lunch, there's always(?) the Hellsite (or
Farcebook, etc.).  E.g., volunteer to be the product rather than the

See you on Mastodon.  (Leave the Hellsite behind.)

More about Mastodon:


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