Mastodon won’t save us

By the end of this week, Twitter will (maybe?) be owned by Elon Musk. And as much as the past leadership hasn’t understood the site, the future doesn’t understand it even more. Some users are publicly contemplating leaving the site, perhaps much in the same way that people say they’ll move to Canada after an election. In any case, people are talking about Mastodon a lot more than they have in a while.

I’m not convinced that Mastodon is the answer. Social media success isn’t about being technically or morally better; it’s about the network. Almost everyone I’d interact with on Mastodon is already on Twitter. Where’s the incentive to move? I get to maintain two parallel accounts instead? It’s a Catch-22 that helps the big players stay entrenched. Will the average person get mad enough at Twitter to switch to something else? I’m not betting on that.

If people do switch, the decentralized nature of Mastodon is an anti-feature for the average person. There’s no one Mastodon service like there is with Twitter. How does the average person pick an instance? How do small instance maintainers keep going?

In some ways, Mastodon is more like email than Twitter. The federated nature makes moderation and safety more complex. Detecting ban evasion is hard enough on a single server, never mind dozens of servers. Despite its ubiquity, no one loves email and spam continues to be a fact of life.

Centralization is inevitable-ish, at least for a successful service. At which point, we’ve just shifted the problem.