Is new and shiny enough to change things?

Does it matter if it isn’t?

Photo by Gary Ullah.

Lots of folks are talking about Mastodon, yes myself included, and over the past 24 hours I’ve seen more than a few people dismiss Mastodon already. It’s not going to last. The shine will wear off soon.

FFS people it’s only been a week and a bit since Mastodon exploded onto the scene. Sure, it’s been around since September 2106, but that was the bleeding edge crowd. The early adopters have got a hold of it now.

Will it take off? Will it keep going? Who knows and, frankly, who cares?

There is value in just trying to get new ideas

I try to find and explore at least a few new apps a month. I’m a little hampered by the fact that a lot of the cool stuff I want to try is Mac-centric and day-to-day work is on a PC, but a lot is web based and that stuff I try and…

Yeah I abandon most of the new apps I find. A few stick around. I’m the geek who will try almost anything guy in the office, so people are used to my crazy “Hey look at this I can take Facebook spam and put it into a Slack bot to send us all an email!” hacks and experiments.

Cause that’s just who I am.

So what does this have to do with Mastodon and it’s looming death? Everything.

We know stuff is broken, this is how we find the way to fix it

I don’t know a single person in my tech enclave/bubble/echo chamber who loves Twitter anymore. Sure, most of I us still use it. Heck I just posted something on Twitter (and Mastodon too) and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’d like to break 10,000 followers and get to 40,000 tweets (the first is hard, the second is just a matter of time). However, do we like Twitter? Is it the world wide water cooler it once was? Not for me it isn’t. Maybe I followed too many people (oh I certainly did). Maybe I spend time there so intermittently that my former audience misses my brief moments there (very likely the case).

No. I’m not going to wax nostalgic about the Twitter that once was and how we should go back there. Remember the near-daily fail whales? Nor am I going to go rhapsodic about how amazing the community at Mastodon is. How so much more real and authentic it is. Folks, Mastodon is new and shiny and techies are spending a lot of time there right now to kick the tires and chat with folks. It seems so much better because there are fewer people, it’s easier to pay attention (though man my Federated timeline on mastodon.cloud freakin’ flies by), and those of us interested in an alternative to Twitter want to see how this pans out.

Simple as that.

And it’s through this attention and the work of people running their own servers, contributing to the knowledge base, and just using it we’ll see if this is a path worth sticking on. We won’t know until we try and we have to give it time to see where the chips fall.

Folks it’s the platform play that counts

Yeah, I’m going to harp on it again. The web was made possible because HTTP could be implemented by anyone. Fine, Apache has rising to the top as the leading server, but in the late 1990s I was working with a bunch of different web servers that didn’t run Apache. They all talked together just fine. They all served web pages the same way. Email that does SMTP and/or IMAP can talk to any other server speaking the same. It’s a standard and it works.

I’m not saying that Mastodon is as important as HTTP or SMTP or IMAP or POP, but maybe it could be. Maybe we could get to a point where I’ll toot you becomes as common as I’ll email you. But here’s what has to happen next.

The app ecosystem needs to emerge

I’m using Amaroq on my iPhone and the web client on my desktop machines, but I’d really dig a Windows or Mac desktop client. I’d love something with more columns and pinned search and discovery built in. That’s the next step. I think it’s interesting that when POP and SMTP came out Eudora (one of the first and best POP clients) came out at the same time. Of course the web had literally just been invented and web-based email would be years away. Now apps are web first and “traditional app” second. Better? Probably so. Easier to scale and easier to roll out new features.

But for Mastodon to start taking off we need the server to become stable and manageable. The native web clients need to start improving. And then an ecosystem of web, desktop, and mobile apps need to start to emerge to test the possibilities of what’s next.

But what if we’re wrong and Mastodon goes the was of, well, Mastodons?

It won’t matter. I believe that once the server software is out there, it will live on no matter what. Might it become a strange niche thing in odd corners of the web for private groups? Sure. Why not? What’s so bad about that? But I also believe that the genie is out of the bottle. People have tasted what a non-Twitter, Twitter-like experience can be and I think people like it. No matter what there’s no going back.

Twitter, there’s a competitor coming. Oh it’s way far on the horizon, but it’s coming. And it’s coming like a herd of Pleistocene elephants.