Mastodon: Your Social Media Safe Haven?
We may be witnessing the origin of a radically new paradigm of social networking, one that is not centralized, walled-in, or driven by advertising. Instead, the new paradigm is FOSS – Free and Open Source Software. If you're growing fatigued of Facebook and Twitter, you need to know about Mastodon...
Mastodon and other FOSS social networks
The "F" in FOSS stands for "Free," as in you don't have to pay for it. The "OS" stands for "Open Source," as in Software that is freely available for inspection, and developed by a community of volunteers. The "Mastodon" moniker, I presume, is meant to make you think of something that once was.
By the time you understand what this means in a social media context, you may also realize you have seen it before, if you are old enough to recall the days of dial-up Bulletin Board Systems and FIDOnet.
FOSS is the stuff of which the new generation of social networks is made. FOSS is owned by no one, developed and maintained by ad hoc groups of collaborating programmers for the greater good. It costs nothing and comes with no rules other than “harm no one.” The FOSS philosophy is the stuff of which the most popular Web servers, such as Apache, and free apps such as LibreOffice are made. FOSS is good!
FOSS has been called into service to combat the worst trends afflicting Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other dominant social networking platforms. Those platforms are driven by greed for users’ personal data and by fights for control over how the platforms are used. But anyone can start a social network with FOSS and run it on his own server, even if it is as modest as an old laptop parked in the corner of a bedroom. If you start a Twitter alternative with FOSS, it is all yours to run as you please.
But other FOSS users are available to help you get started, fix problems, and extend the scope of your social network. Just as a large community of part-time support agents keep things running smoothly for Apache-driven Web sites or the LibreOffice alternative work productivity suite, so the geeks of FOSS take care of each other and the wider community of non-technical users.
The system operators – “sysops” in prehistoric BBS lingo – can voluntarily link their little domains to form wide-area networks that exchange information as FIDOmail once united tens of thousands of small, localized BBSes in a network that spanned the globe more than a decade before Tim Berners-Lee imagined the first HTML tag.
How Does Mastodon Work?
One of the largest and fastest-growing FOSS social networks is Mastodon. It sports over a million users and thousands of local servers called “instances” of Mastodon. Instances can link their users to each other with standard interoperability protocols and apps. But linking is optional, and the sysop of every instance is lord and master of his domain.
Within an instance, a sysop can organize a community according to his own principles, even develop apps for them to perform tasks such as sharing files, videos, chats, and messages. Those apps often are released to the larger community of Mastodon instances, and standardized to make them interoperable between all instances.
Again, the similarity to the vibrantly creative heyday of BBSland is striking; most BBS-related software started out on a single board and the best was adopted by other boards in the FIDOnet community. (There were competitors of FIDOnet, as well, e. g. PCboard BBSes).
The users of FOSS social networks have left Facebook, Twitter, and other walled gardens where users are tracked and exploited. One of the founding principles of Mastodon is that Mastodon is not a commercial network. There is to be no advertising, data mining, walled garden, or central authority. Mastondon users foreswear the dirty tricks that have turned public opinion against the centralized exploitative platforms that feed users’ personal data to the insatiable demons of marketing and advertising.
Censorship is no longer a problem when every silenced speaker can start his own instance of Mastodon and recruit an audience. Many Mastodon sysops were fed up with their favorite thought-leaders being muted or banished by the Silicon Valley overlords of Facebook, Twitter, et. al.
Having Choices is a Good Thing
Conventional wisdom says that it is far too late in the game for an upstart to challenge the market dominance of the major social networking platforms. But rather than challenge them, Mastodon and other open source social networks are defining their own games and playing by their own rules. They give users meaningful choices and let their works live or die on their own merits.
Of course, this libertarian philosophy permits evil as well as good. Conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and racists like Richard Spencer who have been banned from other social media venues will find their voices again on FOSS social networks. But nothing provides only good without bad, or vice versa.
To join a Mastodon instance and learn exactly how this old “new” paradigm works, visit JoinMastodon.org and create a free account. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 3 Sep 2018
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Mastodon: Your Social Media Safe Haven? (Posted: 3 Sep 2018)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved