Remember needing several email accounts back in the day?
Yes, like all my geeky tech brethren I’ve opened a Mastodon account. I picked mastodon.cloud and I’m my usual @trishussey there if you care to follow me.
But that’s not the point here. I’m not going to hype Mastodon as a David to Twitter’s Goliath. Or how it’s so great to have a social network that is “pure” without brands and crap. That’s all bullshit. It’s tech echo chamber nonsense we and all know it.
Let’s cut the shit now and look at Mastodon as what it could turn out to be: Making Twitter relevant again.
It’s not the savior of the world, just Twitter
I caught Scoble dismissing the hype of the Pleistocene mega fauna arriving on the scene. And he’s right. Mastodon isn’t going to be a Twitter killer. Mastodon is going to save Twitter’s bacon because we’ll finally get something like email, but not email. Remember email? The dead, but not, technology that’s over 40 and pretty damn useful when you need to get some info across to someone. Now do you remember when having three or four email accounts was normal? Not work and personal and only-for-friend accounts, but active accounts on different systems because email systems didn’t talk to each other at first.
Yeah, AOL didn’t talk to Compuserv. Various academic networks didn’t talk to each other. I remember profs having to check email on a couple different accounts to keep up to date. Heck I had my undergrad account, UMaine account, and an account on my adviser’s SPARK server for kicks. This is all email on the command line, of course.
Then came POP and SMTP.
Then you just had email. One account you could use to email anyone anywhere. It was bliss. Fine sometimes you had a bunch of accounts to juggle. And early email apps didn’t handle multiple accounts well. But you didn’t have those accounts just to talk to people on those networks. You had them for work or convenience or you thought using the free address from your ISP was a good idea.
This is when email took off. It was the early 1990s. Before that email was hard. After anyone could set up a server and relay messages around the internet email was easy and useful.
Mastodon is SMTP for short messages
If Twitter is smart, they’ll watch Mastodon, see that it’s a unifying communications tool, and work with it. Twitter should have the same “ah ha!” moment I had. I’m on mastodon.cloud. My cooler and quicker to the punch friends are on mastodon.social. Does it matter? Nope. We can message each other there. Is it hard to find them? Yeah. But, just like email, connecting with people is a matter of asking them “so where should I toot you?” (I really don’t like toot as a term…) just like you ask “what’s the best email or cell number?”
Email became awesome when it wasn’t tied to one company’s vision of what it could or should be. Twitter is a 140 character monopoly on that form of communication. Short bits of stuff to share.
Now imagine what we could do when a single company isn’t controlling that kind of messaging?
Imagine what interesting things could come from Mastodon? Let’s face it, Twitter hasn’t innovated much on its own. At replies and the hashtag came from users. And since then what?
Not a whole heck of a lot. Now we have another chance. A clean slate to innovate.
Let’s not blow it.
Let’s ditch the hype and give this new tool a chance
There is real potential here. We get critical mass and then we can figure out where to go next. We get people to create new features. Start communicating and seeing what this semi-new channel can do.
Because once Twitter joins the Mastodon family (I bet it will within a year), then it’s email 2.0 people.
Update Apr 7:
First thanks to all of you who recommended and shared this missive. In truth, I had 30 minutes free to write it. And like Mark Twain said, I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time. In my case I had a lot more thinking going on that I didn’t get out, but in hindsight I’m glad I kept it simple.
Since I wrote this I’ve come across Chris Brogan’s post on Mastodon, which highlights in no uncertain terms that this is near bleeding-edge stuff here. Maybe not so bleeding as when Mastodon started in September 2016, but this isn’t a polished product or ecosystem yet. And, folks, that’s okay. Let’s not rush this.
I also enjoyed Megan Farokhmanesh’s beginners guide on The Verge, which I wish I had seen before I asked the noob question of “what’s with the green checks?”
The community was gracious and not mocking at all. So that’s cool.
Nicole Lee hits the nail on the head in her post on Engadget that Twitter needs to watch Mastodon.
Even if Mastodon doesn’t make it to the big leagues, however, it still sends an important message that the big networks need to stop copying each other and start listening to users. Instead of doing what investors and advertisers want, perhaps Twitter and Facebook should do what their communities want.
Maybe more importantly what Mastodon will do is make this communications channel generic. Something outside one company’s control. And then, like email before it, the cool stuff can happen.