My First Year on Mastodon and the Future of Social Media

This Week In Writing, we look back at how social media fractured and why it’s a good thing for us all.

My First Year on Mastodon and the Future of Social Media
Photo by Fauzan Ardhi / Unsplash

It's been a year since Twitter died. Yes, I know the entity formerly known as Twitter is still hobbling along, but the spirit of a once wonderful community was killed a year ago when Elon Musk started banning accounts that were critical of him.

In the year since, new destinations have arisen, trying to become the "next big thing." Substack launched (and then forgot about) Notes. Bluesky launched and claimed to be decentralized despite having only one corporately owned server. Meta launched Threads, which is basically Instagram without the images. T2 launched and then rebranded to Pebble and then became a Mastodon instance. There was also Hive and Post and a slew of other would-be startups that more or less died on the vine.

I put my stock into Mastodon, the nearly six-year-old truly decentralized service. As Jason Koebler put it on 404media a few weeks back, Mastodon is the good one.

Over the last year, I bounced around a few instances before diving into the self-hosted world of Mastodon. Thankfully, since it is decentralized, I brought my followers along for the ride each time. If Threads ever adds this functionality, it will be a game-changer for the greater internet. But, more on that in a minute.

The service is laid back, and people are (for the most part) friendly and welcoming. I've conversed with folks all around the globe about Star Wars, technology, and writing. That global connectivity is the magic of social media and, when done right, really works. It works with Mastodon.

The last year wasn't just difficult for social media; it was difficult for most large platforms. Reddit nearly crumbled, Substack begged users for money, and now Tumblr's staff is largely being reallocated to other projects. It's a reminder that while everything on the internet is permanent, platforms are not.

In yesterday's Garbage Day, Ryan Broderick shared his current publicity strategy:

On Monday’s and Wednesday’s, I write Garbage Day as I normally would and promote it by sharing a screenshot of what I think is the juiciest section on X, Threads, Bluesky, and Tumblr. Then, on Tuesday’s and/or Thursday’s, I do the same thing, but with a short video of me talking through what’s in that juicy section. Then I put those videos on X, Threads, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.

While I love Garbage Day (one of the sites I now recommend), Ryan's strategy just sounds horrible. Granted, Garbage Day is his full-time job, but this fractured posting schedule seems like a never-ending hassle.

The hassle Ryan describes is necessary because none of the social platforms talk to each other. They're all closed systems designed to keep people in them. The future of social media (and the internet in general) is interconnected.

At this point, I'd like to say Mastodon has staying power. It certainly feels like it. But the real story here is ActivityPub. It's the protocol Mastodon is built upon and, if you believe Meta, what Threads will eventually integrate with. When accounts are connected via ActivityPub, they can be followed by all different platforms.

For example, if Threads actually connects with ActivityPub, Ryan could post on Threads, and it would be instantly viewable across every Mastodon instance. My Mastodon account could respond and share the post with my followers. There wouldn't be a need for all of the cross-posting because platforms would all be connected via the ActivityPub protocol. If Ryan were to build an audience on Threads and then choose to open his own self-hosted Mastodon instance, he'd easily bring those followers with him without any issue.

This is the future of social media, a future where users have the choice to manage their own audiences. It's a big deal for us creators. It does, of course, hinge on promises right now. Meta has said it will integrate with ActivityPub. When? Who knows. Before last week's announcement about reallocating staff, Tumblr's parent company said the same thing. Whether that happens now is anyone's guess.

One of the hardest things about creating online is building an audience. When you move platforms, you often start all over again. So many people realized that after Twitter died last year. With an ActivityPub-backed future, that will be a thing of the past. Audience portability is something all writers and creators should want. It's possible with email, and now it's possible with social media, too.

You can find me on Mastodon at @justin or on Threads (as a placeholder) at @justincox.

Last Week’s Responses

Last week, I detailed the cost of a self-hosted newsletter. You all came through with the responses, and I greatly appreciate it! A few of you had a really good point about opportunity costs, which is worth further diving into.

While there are monetary cost savings in running a self-hosted version of Ghost and paying for emails via Mailgun, I have to dedicate my time and energy to uptime, upgrades, and maintenance. That time has value, and, in essence, I'm forgoing something else by spending my time on the project. As some of you asked, is that opportunity cost worth the monetary difference in moving to Ghost(Pro)?

Right now, yes. I think the opportunity cost is worth the effort. The economics do not currently support moving toward Ghost(Pro). Though, as it is with my lawncare, the hassle may someday completely justify me hiring out the work.

When you're considering any platform or service, considering opportunity cost is an important part of the equation. Thank you to everyone who reminded me.

Book Giveaway

Speaking of evaluating costs, who wants some free books? It's a pretty lame transition, I know. But work with me here.

I get Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of books all the time. They're typically books from previous or future Write Now interviewees, and there's no way I'll ever be able to read them all. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to pass these books along to people who want them.

Starting today, the list of books is posted in My Writing Community on Discord. Request the copy you want and, with the power of a random number generator, will select people to receive copies next week.

Not a member of My Writing Community? Join today!

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!