New Year’s Day, 2023

Let’s all do better than we did last year.

Here we are again with another brand new year. 2022 was…pretty rough, frankly, so arbitrary and socially-constructed though it is, I’m glad of a symbolic clean slate and fresh start.

My goals, at least as far as is relevant to this blog, for the coming year include:

  • Do my best to post at least weekly
  • Write about my projects as I work on them
  • Actually finish some projects
  • Research options for possibly moving off wordpress.com hosting

That last is because (unless I pay a considerable amount for a “business” account, which I won’t be doing) I can’t use most WP plugins on this blog, which means I can’t set it to auto-post to ActivityPub when I publish, the way it does to Twitter (the only reason my Twitter account still exists). I used to know my way around administering a server, so the right move might just be finding a hosting service that provides shell access so I can customize what’s running.

We’ll see. For now, it’s just about time to give my cat his morning pills, and then I have a New Year’s Day brunch to fix, and it’s sunny and mild here today, so after that I’m going for a walk.

Happy new year, everyone. Let’s all do better than we did last year.

You have to quit Twitter.

If you’re staying on Twitter because you don’t want to let go of the positive role it once played in your online life, you’re only prolonging your own suffering.

Sometimes a thing can’t be fixed.

Well, I fell off my “post every Friday” routine pretty quickly, huh. Let me try to get back on it. This one’s pretty straightforward!

It should, in my opinion, have been clear to everyone weeks, if not months, ago, that there was no saving Twitter — at least, no avenue available to users, not once the sale closed and Elon Musk owned the company. Surely it is undeniable now, as features continue to break, and accounts of leftists and journalists are purged despite never having broken any Twitter rules except the arbitrary, hastily-drafted post-facto ones the undoubtedly beleaguered skeleton crew remaining at the company had to come up with to pretend there was some principle at play other than “Elon doesn’t like them”. (“Elon likes them” is also, of course, the only real reason so many prominent neonazis have had their long-suspended accounts restored, in some cases after nearly a decade.)

Musk is a shallow, incurious, thin-skinned — indeed, perhaps the most thin-skinned, if not in all recorded history then at least of our century — right-wing authoritarian who believes that his inherited wealth and the “success,” such as it is, of companies he bought his way into (not to mention the abject sycophancy which was, up until very recently, the press’s default attitude toward him) prove that he is a world-historical genius destined to save humanity through his benevolent (well, benevolent toward some, at least) dictatorship of Mars or whatever. This means the only Twitter users who have any hope of influencing him are the masses of 4chan-brain-poisoned neonazis and other edgelords who lavishly praise his every shitpost and bark at every dogwhistle (such as when he carefully crafted a fourteen-word sentence warning of “civilizational suicide”, or “casually” tossed the number 88 into a tweet). Journalists, moderates, leftists, and regular people in general have no currency or leverage here: none other than ceasing to use the service at all.

You have to quit Twitter.

It’s done now, it’s over. There is no reason to believe it can be restored. It sucks that this is the case, it’s awful. Twitter always had a lot of problems, but it was also a really important medium for political discussions, for marginalized groups organizing all over the world, for people to make their livelihoods, for people to talk with friends, reconnect with old friends, make new friends. It is very bad that one rich asshole can simply buy and destroy such an important service because he feels like it! Nonetheless, that is what has happened. There is nothing any Twitter user individually, or Twitter users as a group, can do about it now.

You have to quit Twitter.

DM with your friends to make sure you have their email addresses, Fediverse or Cohost handles, Discord server invites. Go back to blogging. Try out web forums, or IRC. It’s entirely reasonable to be sad, to mourn the loss of an important mode of social interaction, but you do have to quit.

If you’re staying on Twitter because you don’t want to let go of the positive role it once played in your online life, you’re only prolonging your own suffering. Close the tab. Take the app off your phone. Download your archive, use Semiphemeral or Twitter Archive Eraser to delete your old tweets, and when you feel you’re ready, deactivate your account. It’s time. Sometimes a thing can’t be fixed, and this is one of those things. I understand not wanting to lose the connections you’ve made, wanting to keep a foot in Twitter in case it gets better again, but in this case that just isn’t going to happen. It’s too late for that, and you won’t be able to start learning how to feel at home on other social media sites until you accept that there’s no saving Twitter, and that you have to quit.

You have to quit Twitter.

Even Shorter Blog Friday: Whooooops! Edition

Damn. I knew there was something else I was planning to do today. This was going to be a big post about Mastodon/the fediverse, and related topics, but on the one had I kind of forgot about writing it for a lot of the day and on the other hand, well…you might say a lot has been going on in the social media world, especially with respect to the app from which a record number of people are decamping to Mastodon.

There was also a bit of rather significant politics news, in that Nancy Pelosi announced she won’t seek another term as Democratic Leader in the House, but I don’t have anything much to say about that, I think she’s been a very effective leader but I think her decision makes plenty of sense.

Really going to try to get that Mastodon post written before next Friday though, I promise. And maybe next Friday I’ll just talk about guitars or something.

Not with a bang but a shitpost

Elon Musk, a strong contender for Worst Living Human, now owns Twitter, has fired the CEO, CFO, and head of Trust & Safety, and has promised to lay off some three-quarters of the staff, making the site unusable.

The results of the ownership change have already had extremely predictable consequences, so continuing to use the service is untenable. The only counter to Musk’s determination to make Twitter a platform for neonazi propaganda, coordination of harassment and stochastic terrorism, and widespread dissemination of disinformation on everything from elections to public health, is for a mass exodus of users to simultaneously render Twitter irrelevant. I can’t cause such an exodus, but at least I can leave, and say why I left.

Yes, moderately observant readers will note that a I did a big public “I’m quitting Twitter” thing before, but that was only because I hit the arbitrary milestone of ten years on the site, and I thought a change would be good for me personally. The stakes this time are rather higher.

I’ll discuss my thoughts on the various alternative social media services I think have some promise, but first, in case you got to this post from a pinned tweet on my now-dormant Twitter account, here are all the places I’ve at least parked my username. Aside from this blog, which is my primary web presence, you can find me on:

I only actively use Cohost and Mastodon right now, but I suppose one never knows which site will pick up more users in the future.

There isn’t going to be a “replacement for Twitter”, of course. For better (largely) and (to some extent) for worse, no other social media service works exactly the same as Twitter. The only case I can think of where a new service had even a little bit of success just by providing exactly the same features as an existing one is Dreamwidth, and “fanfic authors and readers who don’t want a Russian-owned company controlling their works” is not a large enough user base to form a critical mass for a new social media site in 2022.

Are.na and Ello are interesting in that they’re specifically focused on art, while the rest of the list are more general social sites. However, I rarely even glance at them. I don’t think I know anyone there and I haven’t taken the time to get a feel for using them.

Dreamwidth is exactly like LiveJournal, if LiveJournal had been taken over by a dedicated collective of developers who deeply valued the kinds of communities people built there, instead of by Russian spammers. If you ever used LiveJournal, you already know whether you’d like using Dreamwidth, so the only question is whether you know enough people there, or are willing to actively engage in finding communities, to make it socially valuable to you. If you never used LiveJournal, Dreamwidth will feel hopelessly Web 1.0 to you.

Pillowfort and Cohost are similar approaches (though with different results) to the question “what would a new, modern social media site be like?”. Pillowfort ended up a little more Twitter-meets-LiveJournal, while Cohost ended up a little more Twitter-meets-Tumblr. Pillowfort was Kickstarted, while Cohost is a project of a not-for-profit company founded by a group of leftist developers who are Very Online.

Mastodon, which has been around longer than most of the above, is also sort of the odd one out, in that it’s the only decentralized service. In all the other cases, the social network resides on a single site owned and operated by a single organization. In fact, even calling this social media service “Mastodon” is misleading. This one will take more than a short paragraph, I guess.

There are many email services, and at a lower level, many different email server programs, and many different email clients; and there are many different web server programs and many different web browsers. But someone using Microsoft Outlook at work, where their email address is username@job.com, can exchange emails with their friend who uses gmail, and their nerdy friend who uses mutt in a Linux terminal window to interact with their university’s IMAP server. It’s all just email, and instead of knowing only someone’s username, you have to know their username and their server. Similarly, whether a web page is being served by IIS or Apache or nginx or lighttpd, and whether you’re using Firefox or Safari or Opera, it’s all just HTML data transmitted over HTTP.

“Mastodon” is like “Apache” or “sendmail”. It’s one server program — to be sure, the best known — among many that are all basically compatible because they use the same protocol. Mastodon.social is also the home server (or “instance”) for the Mastodon server software, and one of the biggest servers in the federated network of social media servers (often colloquially called the “Fediverse”) using the ActivityPub protocol. “ActivityPub” is an awkward name, but so were “email” and “http” once upon a time. Another popular ActivityPub server is Darius Kazemi’s Hometown, which offers some features Mastodon doesn’t, which is another thing that happens a lot with decentralized protocols. Imagine you had an email account at fancyemail.com, and while you could exchange regular, plain text emails with anyone who had an email account anywhere on the internet, if you were emailing with someone else who also had their account on fancyemail.com, you could change the text colors and add little animted GIFs to your message. (People at least as old as I am will remember that this kind of feature differentiation with email services was not uncommon, for a time.)

The technical details of how federation works for ActivityPub servers aren’t really all that important for the purposes of this post, but the key is that you can have your account on almost any server, and still follow and talk to people on almost any other server.

In theory decentralization is a great strength (once users become accustomed to the idea), but in practice it has some drawbacks. It’s very hard to imagine Twitter or Facebook shutting down completely, but while the Fediverse continues to exist regardless of any particular server staying in operation, individual servers do shut down, and there have been a few (relatively) high-profile cases of a larger instance shutting down with little or no warning. Most servers in the Fediverse are run by just one or a few volunteer administrators, who can’t always shoulder all the work of keeping the server up, updated, and well moderated. Tools do exist to ease migrating an account from one server to another, but they’re not as easy to use as they could be. As a user, you also have to put some trust in the administrators of the server you choose — this is of course true with all the centralized services as well, but they generally at least have some kind of LLC formed to operate them, while any given Mastodon or Hometown (or, god forbid, Pleroma) server is most likely just being run on a hobby basis by a single individual. Different people will have different levels of comfort with that idea, but many simply assume that communications on a social media service are inherently not secure in the first place, and discussions of highly sensitive information should be avoided. If you want, of course, you can always run a single-user instance of Mastodon or Hometown for just yourself: then you know you can trust the admins, and due to the federated nature of the network, you can still follow and interact with people on any other server.

I would like the future of the social web to look a little more like the Fediverse — decentralized, federated, mutually-interoperable networks where people can control their own spaces and footprints. All the technology to do this exists, but it has a steeper learning curve and requires more overhead work from the end users, on top of not being profitable, so without a very large critical mass it’s a model that necessarily loses out to centralized, capitalist, for-profit services. Still, the IndieWeb folks have the right idea. That’s part of why I’m trying to return to blogging here: it’s currently hosted by wordpress.com but I still have more control over this site than I do over my Twitter timeline, and I could migrate the blog to another hosting service if I needed to. I think here in late 2022, we can probably all see pretty clearly why the less we’re at the whims of enormous, for-profit megacorporations and/or their right-wing oligarch owners, the better.

Happy New Year

Well, it’s 2021. 2020 was pretty bad! it’s gonna take a lot of work to make 2021 good, but maybe we’ll all manage it together.

One positive change I’m making is that I’ve quit Twitter. I don’t currently plan to delete my account — it’s useful to have posts here automatically linked over there, and there are a lot of people there I’d hate to lose touch with, so if the account stays accessible they can at least find out why I’m not tweeting anymore — but a couple of weeks ago Twitter notified me that it was my tenth anniversary on the site and asked if I wouldn’t like to make a commemorative tweet with a special “10” graphic they’d prepared, and I thought, well, ten years is definitely too long to be here.

I have more thoughts about the ways in which “social media” as it currently exists, and Twitter in particular (I quit Facebook about ten years ago, so I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of its current state), is bad for us as individual people and as a society, and why, and what might be better; and maybe at some point I’ll organize those into a post here. I want to work on, and write about, more software projects first, though, so look for more on that soon.

Anyway although time is largely fake, there’s something nice about choosing to mark the new year a few weeks after the solstice — it’s about when we start to actually notice that the days are getting longer. It’s been a few months of it getting darker and colder, and it will stay cold, and even get a little colder yet, for another couple, but we can see it’s starting to get a little lighter, and we know it’ll get warm again, we just have to get through the hard depths of winter.

A metaphor, if you like. Happy new year, wear a mask, don’t go to restaurants or weddings or bars or generally spend time indoors with or near people you don’t live with, get the COVID vaccine as soon as you can, don’t vote for Republicans, tip servers and delivery people extra, do what you can to help other people.