Principles Over Growth

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