Brian Johnson

Although I have always loved the idea of social networks, I had withdrawn from pretty much all of them because I felt the decisions made by each to maximize their revenue resulted in a worse and worse experience for the users of those networks.

As I was following the news of all the problems at Twitter since Elon Musk bought it, I became aware of a microblogging platform named Mastodon. The more I read, the more I thought that this has the best promise of becoming what I think a social network should be.

Apparently, I am not alone. Although Mastodon launched in 2016, by October 2022 it had acquired only a few hundred thousand accounts. But with the chaos at Twitter and subsequent news coverage, it has since grown to over 15 million accounts across thousands of independently run instances since then. And Mastodon is just part of a larger community which is usually identified by the term Fediverse containing platforms for not just microblogging, but full blogging, picture sharing, video sharing, friend/community networking, and more.

What makes Mastodon (and the Fediverse) different, and why does it hold promise? Most social networks are single instances managed by for-profit entities. By single instance, I mean that you have exactly one address to enter, such as or Because these entities want to make lots and lots of money, they do things that work well for them, but not necessarily for you. The two most noticeable are paid placement (ads) and engagement algorithms.

Paid placement is what you think it is. Much of the money is made by selling ad space. An advertiser decides what audiences they want to target (which may or may not be things you are interested in) and pays money to force their posts into your feed or stream. Not all ads are for goods and services either – they may be political ads targeting you because of your religion, race, gender, or other aspect of your life that the platform has collected and categorized about you, with some platforms bragging to have hundreds of thousands of data categories they can tag you with.

The other big thing (and in my opinion, the most dangerous) is the engagement algorithms. A platform can't collect data about you and show you ads if you aren't there. These platforms have massive AI engines that try to determine what you are most likely to engage in, and force those posts into your feed and at a higher placement.

Notice I said “what you are most likely to engage in,” not “what you like to read.” These two things may overlap, but they are not the same. It is well known that it is easier to get people acting if they are scared, angry, incensed, or offended, then if they are happy. These algorithms only learn what works – they have no morals. (Sometimes a platform will temporarily dampen posts about a hot issue, but this isn't learning, it's more of a topical whack-a-mole.) Study after study shows that continued exposure to this information flow correlates to increased likelihood of depression, anxiety, poor self-image, and even violence and suicide. Yet these algorithms do so much to bolster the bottom line, they persist.

(For more information on the engagement algorithms, I recommend the book The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World by Max Fisher)

So how is Mastodon (and other parts of the Fediverse) different? There is not one owner of the network, it is comprised of thousands of independently owned and managed servers. Similar to email, your identity consists of a user name and an instance name. With no single owner, there is no single entity that can decide how the whole Fediverse operates. Don't like the way your Mastodon server is managed? There is a process to move your account to one you like better.

Mastodon has no ads, and does not collect/harvest personal information to use or to sell. Of course, it costs money to run these servers. Many (most) servers ask for donations, either one time or on a subscription basis. Others may charge for usage if they want. Again, if you don't like the way your server gets money to keep things running, just move to another one.

If you are interested in learning more about Mastodon, there is a really good article at

Mastodon and the Fediverse really are different from the for-profit behemoths we are used to. They look different, they feel different, and to find your way around, you will need to think different.

It’s about time.

Find me on Mastodon

As Fediverse platforms such as Mastodon get more attention, there are suggestions that companies, governments, organizations should “join Mastodon” or even create their own “Mastodon instance.”

Yeah, that would be good, but think bigger – much bigger. Add ActivityPub support to your existing web site. This provides endless opportunities.

Many sites today still support RSS (Really Simple Syndication). With an RSS feed reader, you can subscribe to the organization's web site and when a new article is published, you see it in your RSS feed reader. Why not use ActivityPub in the same way? With ActivityPub support, someone on Mastodon or Frendica could “Follow” your organization. If you are a news site, a post would appear in Mastodon whenever a new article appears on your web site. If you support feedback, a Mastodon “reply” would show up as a comment.

Are you a local government? You may have RSS enabled articles today for meetings, police reports, fire reports, emergency notifications, etc. Permit someone on Mastodon to “follow” those reports the same way you would for RSS.

Of course, you can also include full blogging, microbloging, image and video support so that your staff can interact with the Fediverse just as they would with Mastodon, Pixelfed, PeerTube, and more.

And by doing it this way, all of the data is on your own server, under your control. You can block malicious fediverse instances or users, identify and block bots, etc.

Yes, ActivityPub is great for building Twitter alternatives, Facebook alternatives, and Snapchat alternatives. But you don't have to limit yourself – you can offer the precise combination of publish/subscribe services that meets your organization's needs, all under your control.

It's time to think outside the box.

#Fediverse #Mastodon #ActivityPub

Find me on Mastodon

I have seen more than one conversation or post that goes something like this:

As Mastodon gains in popularity, it will (soon) reach the point at which a user will not be able to keep up with all the posts appearing in their feed. They will get frustrated and leave unless Mastodon develops some sort of curation algorithm that is more than chronological.

No. Please, just – no. A key principle within Mastodon is that posts will appear in (reverse) chronological order. Algorithmic curation is not the way to manage a busy feed.

First, there are already a number of ways that I can manage my incoming info: – I choose which accounts and hashtags to follow. My home feed will contain only that. – I can set notifications for accounts for which I want up to the minute info. – I can create lists to sort my account follows into interest categories and choose to look at only one list. – I can look at only one hashtag (with or without following it) – I can exclude what I don’t want through mutes, blocks, and filters.

Second, the “cost” of turning such curation over to someone else can be high. The most obvious is that there is no guarantee that someone else’s algorithm truly serves me, even if it is well intended. Do a quick Google search on “feed algorithm” and near the top of that list (which is itself curated) are links to numerous web sites telling you how get your message prioritized in others’ feeds. Advertisers, malware agents, disinformation spreaders, and criminal entities exploit this all day, every day.

There are less obvious costs as well. Search the iPhone App Store for “Facebook” to see all the Facebook client apps. I only found the official app. There are likely multiple reasons for this, but if your curation algorithm includes watching each and every action you take while reading your feed, you can’t expect third party apps to collect and provide this, so this becomes another reason to prohibit third party apps. Twitter is shutting down or severely limiting third party apps in order to reduce or eliminate the ability to bypass whatever Twitter is putting in place to manage what you read.

Personally, I like third party apps and services. I see a thriving development community as an asset, not a liability.

And let’s face up to it – a centrally curated feed at a profit driven site will benefit profits. Benefits to the users, if any, are entirely coincidental.

Finally, I’ll state the obvious. If you are receiving more posts that you can read, then you will end up not reading some of them. There is no way around that. I’m already there. But I would much prefer to manage posts using tools I control, and accept the fact that I will miss some posts, than turn that duty over to someone else and have them decide what posts I will miss.

That may mean accepting slower growth as new members find there is a learning curve to managing information. But I can accept that. And offer to help them learn.

Tags: #Mastodon #timeline

Find me on Mastodon

Just setting up an account on this blogging site. I haven't blogged before, and don't really have anything in particular in mind, so why set up the site, and why this one?

Well, to put it simply, I have long been fascinated by the potential and promise of social media, but have been repeatedly disappointed in how it has developed. I have had accounts on a number of social media sites, and pretty much stopped using every one of them. Some of the sites folded on their own, on some I closed out my account. A few have been left to languish.

When Elon Musk purchased Twitter and started making all of those changes, it got a lot of media attention. That is where I started to learn about the Fediverse and Mastodon, and as I read more, it appeared that Mastodon was deliberately set up to avoid or minimize all the ways I had been disappointed in other networks, so I decided to give it a try.

Mastodon is a microblogging utility, and microblogging, by its nature, limits the size of each post. I am fine with that. But there are always the one-off times when I don't feel I can say what I need to within posting limit, and I personally feel that getting an account on a federated blog site is preferable to breaking up my thoughts into multiple threaded posts.

So here I am.

You can find me on Mastodon at

Tags: #Fediverse

Find me on Mastodon