Jesse Lawson

buy me a coffee ☕ / GitHub / Mastodon

Nov 3, 2022

Notes on Mastodon and account portability

#Mastodon #Account Portability #Fediverse

There’s no true account portability in Mastodon, which means I can’t pull all of my data and then also upload all of my data somewhere. So maybe the whole “we need to store our data on other people’s computers” thing doesn’t make sense in a distributed future where we’re sharing stories with people on starships and distant planets. It feels like what we need is a community model for data storage among federated systems – or stronger self-storage education.

When a Mastodon instance goes down, where do you go? You were mid-conversation and then poof, the server is out. When’s the last time you backed up your data? And remember how there’s no true account portability in Mastodon? That’s a lot of content that you suddenly lost. Are you in a good headspace to be hit with that right now?

There’s really two paths forward:

The first path is to tell people that sometimes servers don’t work. Let them know that, hey, we’re not all giant multi-billion dollar companies and we don’t have the resources to harden and maintain these infrastructures. I don’t like this path because we’re implying that we can’t engineer a solution that the general public can rely on. I think if we put our heads together we can produce a more resilient public option for social media.

The second path is to make servers more fault-tolerant. There are several avenues to explore down this path, like replicability, node balancing, and content delivery networks that are designed to be public relays for data that abides by fediverse protocols. Another thing to consider is how we can better educate people on existing in the fediverse as digital citizens. For example, caps on server sizes, which is incongruent with what users have come to expect with centralized walled gardens like Twitter that want as many people in one instance ( as possible, reduce the dimensionality of any network or infrastructure problem because it’s virtually limited to a maximum number of accounts, allowing us to study and distribute educational material about managing fediverse servers at this size and scale that can be replicated and iterated on as community education material (think: free fediverse administration ebook library).

Here’s what I see happening at Twitter:

  1. Some people created a public park, called it a public park, and told advertisers it was a public park.
  2. The people got other people to give them money to actively grow park membership.
  3. So many people are using the park now and many of them have great ideas for how we can improve this public space that we all use and enjoy.
  4. Corporate decision-makers wrestle with the fact that disinformation yields greater engagement (PDF), greater engagement translates to increased revenue, and corporations need more stable forms of revenue if they’re going to continue growing into infinity.
  5. Corporate decision-makers get the ideas implemented, but gate them behind a subscription fee, essentially saying if you want to participate in the improvements to this community space that so many have come to rely on, then you need to pay a fee.

What we’re seeing is a private company providing a means of connectedness to other humans with zero community oversight, which is a moral and ethical catastrophe.

When you create a public space for people to gather, you have an ethical obligation to that space and the people entering and existing in that space to be kind and responsible.

Social media is something that must be classified in our heads as a public utility. Human connectedness and social interaction is as important to our survival as our need for water, food, housing, and education.