Orbifx's logarion 🌙

From Mastodon to News-Groups

| | | topics: social information processing
id: bbf72b1c-861d-4bac-b7bc-3048bc290ca6

Back in 2017, I met folk on the so-called Fediverse via Mastodon and had fulfilling interactions. A stark contrast to my brief Twitter experience; in fact when I was deleting the messages on my long abandonded account, I noticed how little response there was to them.. I had been talking to the void.

As Mastodon grew in popularity & diversity, it became a candidate to lure people otherwise stuck on Facebook, Twitter, et al. Around mid 2018 I was promoting Mastodon and got some friends over, but my timeline was growing more and more noisy. The people I was following began to shift wildly through topics, making the timeline an endless scroll of irrelevant messages for me to read. Mastodon offered little in the way of filtering and hashtags are not used effectively even as I'm writing this.

Come to think about this, it was inevitable. Mastodon adopted and expanded a model founded on:

'a short burst of inconsequential information,' and 'chirps from birds'

as stated on Twitter's Wikipedia page. If only timelines had the same value as listening to chirps from birds.

Diffusing energy rather than concentrating it on something. My observation is that sooner or later most people I followed stopped posting status messages and developed a habit of blurting opinion and witty statements, most likely to stand out in their followers bloated timelines -- to catch their attention. That game caught me for a while too. I can understand Twitter Inc desiring this behaviour to boost their attention harvesting, but why are we, the open community, trying to replicate this model?

Parellel to all this, I had been running discussion lists since 2016 and studying the email system. The protocols and ecosystem of internet message format have immense functionality and potential. Messages can be pushed to list of recipients, or pulled based on topics. Federation was there from birth as simple necessity, plain functionality, so simple that calling it something like "Fediverse" would have been superfluous. What it does lack is love from developers; I have many speculations about why that is, but they are for another writing.

I channelled my growing frustration to installing the last bit of e-mail machinery I had been avoiding, a news server. News servers have hierarchies of groups (topics) where messages are posted to. Members of a server, instance if you prefer, subsribe to topics of interest. Messages can also be pushed & pulled from other servers, thus forming networks. The killer feature for me though, are conversation threads as I can quickly scan, prioritise or filter messages based on their subject.

Before setting out, I gauged interest on Mastodon whose user base & format works well this kind of broadcast. Various people had considered installing their own, were keen to join and helped promote it.

As I'm writing this, with only a few weeks and hardly any promotion, there are 29 accounts and tens of messages a week. Matthew Graybosch shared one of his books as a series of episodes. My experiment with creating user timelines hasn't really taken off, but not pushing them hard either. I'm more interested in gathering people around topics and creating conversation.

There aren't any mobile clients for NNTP as I'm writing this. Did this stop NNTP in its heyday when people would dial-up to pull the messages only a few times a week? This can be a detox from the fast, noisy and binge web. Waiting for something can be a good thing at times.

I feel I've got enough understanding and interest to start transforming these services and making modern clients.