It is, by far, the fastest-growing social network in history, growing more than 20% in about a week.
And yet it didn’t stutter much.
How can this be?
It’s a network in the real internet sense of the word. It’s not just a network of users, it’s a network of servers as well. No one owns it. Like email, it’s a set of principles and rules, not a place. A federation is different than a corporation. It might not be as shiny, but it’s far more resilient.
It’s inconvenient. You can’t get started in ten seconds. This leads to less initial stickiness. It means that the people who get through the learning curve are more likely to be committed and perhaps generous. In the early days of email, of Compuserve, of AOL, of the web, of just about every network I’ve been part of, these early users created a different sort of magic. It never lasts, but it’s great to see.
I started one of the first internet companies in 1990, and the new frontiers tend to rhyme with each other. This might be one.
Part of the power of a network is its distributed nature. That’s a plus when it comes to tech and innovation. It’s a minus when it comes to the speed of central agreement as well as the potential for abuse. Email never quite recovered from the open nature of inputs, which meant that spammers, scammers and hustlers could do what they liked, and the defense was imperfect filters.
The intentional decentralization of the Mastodon federation seems designed to make those filters more natural and effective, at the expense of a super loud amplifier in the middle. You can discover new voices and ideas, but there isn’t a megaphone at work, just begging to be hacked by selfish behavior. It’s a bit more like life and a bit less like traditional social networks that create controversy to earn a profit.
And finally–the culture of this federation is still being created. A lot of the folks who just arrived will be the authors of that culture, and if they figure out how to be generous and kind, that’s what will get built. Alas, as is often the case, culture is up to us, particularly when the commercial bias is removed.
I’m reposting my daily blog here, and might dip in from time to time, and I’m eager to see how this peer to peer experiment unfolds.
If you’re a developer with chops in APIs, apps, and what’s happening in the Mastodon world, I’d love to hear from you for some future projects I’m noodling on. Simple form is here.