All the perfect drugs and superheroes…

Don’t let the title fool you, this is a rambly post about social media1. Specifically, about the plague that has visited the house of Twitter and the diaspora (but not Diaspora) to Mastodon or elsewhere.

The title is from a song that’s been going through my head for the past week or so, every time I start thinking about poor failing whale that’s been harpooned by a feckless billionaire. Seems fitting and the lyrics speak to what’s happening, which means I’ve had this lovely earworm in my head for days and days.

Say you were split, you were split in fragmentsAnd none of the pieces would talk to youWouldn’t you want to be who you had beenWell baby I want that too
So better take the keys and drive foreverStaying won’t put these futures back togetherAll the perfect drugs and superherosWouldn’t be enough to bring me up to zero

The song is “Humpty Dumpty,” by Aimee Mann, off of the amazing Lost in Space. Wouldn’t we want Twitter to be what it had been? Baby, I want that too … but it doesn’t seem likely.

The longer Musk is at the helm, the worse the site gets, and the more people are seeking alternatives. Before long, it’s likely to reach a point of no return like other dying social media sites before it. Sure, some of them still exist but as sad shells of their former glory.

The pieces and superheroes

Despite simmering in the background for years, federated social media has never really taken off. I claimed way back in 2017. It’s never really garnered critical mass or attention before now, despite several pushes to encourage signups.

This time just might be different. Certainly, there’s been more activity on Mastodon than I’ve seen any of the other times. And, unlike other times, I see little evidence that the factors pushing people off Twitter are going to change and people seem to have shifted from “federated is going to fail again, like before” to “trusting in centralized sites has failed us again and again.”

Twitter’s imminent demise is going to cause a lot of pain for a number of groups. For instance, Leah McElrath has pointed out that Twitter has been “a primary community for many people who are socially isolated because of disability, abuse dynamics, and/or existing as a member of a marginalized population without local supports.” Twitter’s implosion is going to disrupt and fragment those communities as they find new homes on Mastodon or elsewhere. So I want people to keep that in mind when thinking about what the future looks like. We should try to create a world that minimizes pain! We should think about the people and not just shareholders!

What we’ve (I hope) learned

It sucks that this is happening. But I’m hoping we can avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made the past 20-some years of the Internet to build more intentional communities that work for us rather than us being the product.

As somebody who uses (or has used) social media personally and professionally, for myself and for other organizations, I have some guidelines/thoughts about moving to a more ideal future:

  • Social media can’t be “free” as in beer. It’s not sustainable. We need to invest in the communities we build, with time and with money.
  • We need to recalibrate our tolerance for a lot of things — the amount of commercial interest and content, the friction we’re willing to put up with on a platform.
    • I see various Mastodon instances taking a zero-tolerance policy hosts known to have white supremacists, for example. Good! More of this, please!
  • Companies are going to have to re-think their content marketing and community building strategies. You can’t “spray and pray” across dozens of Mastodon instances.
    • Since community building and content marketing are near and dear my heart, I’m actually optimistic about this. It’s going to be harder but also more likely that good content marketing and good community building will be effective and lousy content and lazy community building will sink to the bottom.
  • It’s about community, folks. Musk’s shenanigans aside, the value of Twitter has declined steadily for me for quite a while. The federated nature of Mastodon might foster better communities if we’re intentional about it.
  • Curation beats algorithms! Bring back RSS / feeds and centralize things around the user rather than sites.
  • Too much centralization is inherently bad. Putting all the eggs in one basket pretty much never works out well.

As I said… this is a rambly post. Mostly I’m putting my thoughts down “on paper” to get them out of my own head and organize them a little, and maybe see if I can divest myself of this earworm. While I dearly love the song, after a week or so, I really feel a need to move it along. (Even though I know another earworm is likely to take up residence soon…)

[1] Because, you know, there’s not enough other voices on this topic.


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