Have you herd about the new space for Australasian GLAM?

8 July 2018

In May, I finally snapped.

I've been a Twitter user for a bit over nine years, and for a lot of that time I was a bit of a Twitter evangelist. For a long time, I found Twitter hugely valuable: it allowed me to connect with other librarians, inluding some 'big names', that I would otherwise never have had a chance to converse with or, in many cases, even have heard of. I also lurked around or engaged in a lot of other conversations and communities: JavaScript developers, First Nations activists, Archivists, and more. But in recent years, Twitter slowly turned from an enjoyable, relaxed online space, to a pretty toxic, incessantly negative addiction. I found myself unconsiously opening Twitter whenever I had a spare nanosecond, and becoming more angry, anxious, and negative as a result.

I've also been aware of Twitter's impending changes to their API, which will render many third party apps (including a couple of my own bots) unusuable or severely degraded. This, on top of the Twitter company's clear lack of interest in making the product a safe and enjoyable place for marginalised people, got me actively thinking about what to do next. There's been plenty of advice to 'switch off', 'block the trolls' and even the drastic 'delete your account' for as long as modern social media has existed, but it was Amy Walduck's post on Pineapple GLAM that finally tipped me into action:

You may be wondering what on earth a Mastodon instance is. It's slightly tricky to explain because the tendency is to compare it to existing services, but it's not quite like anything else. The best quick description I can come up with is that it feels like (early days) Twitter, but it works like email. The key to Mastodon is that it is both decentralised and federated. This is why it's sometimes explained as being like email: your email is processed by a mail server in your workplace, or Google's server farm, or wherever, but there is no global 'email dot com' controlling everyone's email. You can still send email to and receive email from someone registered to a different server and name space (hugh@hughrundle.net) using your own server and namespace (hello@newcardigan.org). The same applied with Mastodon, except that in extreme cases the person or organisation controlling 'your' mastodon server can block an entire mastodon instance from communicating with it. This is one of several safety mechanisms built in to enable users and administrators to control trolls and prevent 'pile ons'. Other really nice features are a built-in 'trigger warning/spoiler alert' system where you can hide your post until other users click to say they're happy to see it (often used when people are ranting about politics) and a Facebook-style privacy-per-post setting. And if you decide you don't like the way your instance is being run? There is some (limited) facility to export your account data and simply migrate to another instance without having to rebuild your followers list. Best of all: posts are always displayed in reverse-chronological order with no 'sponsored posts' šŸŽ‰

So which instance did I join? Naturally, I decided to just make my own:

Initially, I used a special Mastodon hosting service, but that closed down a week later (it turned out it was actually run by one person, and got a bit bigger than she expected), so now I'm running it on my own Digital Ocean VPS, which is a bit more expensive but runs a lot faster. Barring a small issue (now fixed) with federated images due to me being an idiot, it's been a pretty straightforward thing to manage. The community docs and forum for administrators are really good, and everyone seems pretty nice.

So far, using Mastodon mostly has the 'ye olde Twitter' feel I was hoping for. It's relaxing, fun and informative again. You can even bring your Twitter friends with you. You should join us!