The fragmentation of new media

by John Q on August 19, 2023

Today, I signed up for Bluesky and Threads, taking a brief look at each of them, and announced my final departure from Twitter, to take place when Musk removes the Block feature[1]. Meanwhile I’m still using Mastodon as my main microblog along with CT and my personal blog for long-form blogging. I’m trying to maintain a couple of Substack newsletters and commenting on Substack Notes. And I still post occasionally on Facebook.

This is clearly too much, but it reflects the transition from the Facebook-Twitter era of “social media” (with blogs as a holdover from a more optimistic past) to whatever comes next. I’m going to make the case for a combination of Mastodon and Substack as the way forward.

Mastodon isn’t perfect (clunky interface, and deliberately low-key), but the starting point of the Fediverse is the right one, in two crucial respects.

First, there is no owner and no advertising. We’ve seen the disastrous effects of advertising-driven management with FB and Twitter, and I can’t see any way to fix them.

Second, and probably more importantly, it’s the polar opposite of the assumption that everyone should be, and has a presumptive right to be, on the same platform. You join an instance you like, with confidence that anyone behaving badly will be thrown out. You can then link with other instances which follow the same rules. Instances that deviate too badly will be defederated. The result is that, whereas I use Twitter’s block all the time, I’ve never had to block anyone on Mastodon.

The result of these rules is that there is a lot less debate. I’m happy with that. I see no value in arguing with rightwingers, and not much with reply-guys in general. YMMV.

Turning to Substack, it is in many respects, a renewal of old-style long form blogging, but with email newsletters as a central feature. The big difference is the subscription model, under which only paying readers get unrestricted access to the newsletter and, often, to features like comments. That reduces the amount of interaction between writers and readers and, particularly among writers. The Notes feature is a step towards more interaction, but hasn’t yet taken off. A silver lining is that, at least for me, the existence of far-right substacks has barely impinged on the experience.

The subscription model is, I think, unavoidable. The starting point is the recognition, evident from the decline of the original blogging model, that most people don’t have the free time and energy to write regularly for no monetary return. As Dr Johnson put it (from memory) ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money’.[2] Once that’s recognised, it’s better to get a return from subscriptions than from advertising.

For the moment, I’m spreading myself far too thinly across lots of media, waiting to see what emerges from the current chaos. How about you?

fn1. Being Musk, he may not go through with it. And I’ve seen suggestions that some combination of EU laws and the requirements of the Apple store make a block option unavoidable.
fn2. Academics like me and (most of) the CT crew are a special case. Communicating with the public is part of the job, at least as I understand it.



Ingrid Robeyns 08.19.23 at 8:40 pm

I’m on FB (mainly for family/friends/fun), Twitter (for politics and arguments), on Mastodon (as first insurance against the implosion of Twitter) and since a few weeks on Bluesky (second insurance). And here, obviously.

I find the experience on Mastodon and Bluesky very different. Bluesky is heavily dominated by North-America; Mastodon is much more international. Also, a striking experience over the last week: I posted two climate (activism) related posts on Mastodon and Bluesky. Mastodon: many reposts. Bluesky: no interaction at all. I don’t think that is just because I have many more connections on M; my hypotheses are that this is because of the different compositions.

I have two questions on Substack: who ownes Substack, and what are the future risks of that ownership model? And if one has a succesful blog like ours, why would one go to Substack?

Also, agreed with you John that we might be in a period of transition; I cannot imagine being active on all those platforms in the future. It will be interesting to see how they evolve over the next months. I’m ready to leave Twitter at any moment, but so far it’s my main mode of communicating/arguing with Dutch politicians and about Dutch politics, and with elections in November I’m not yet ready to give that up.


Cranky Observer 08.19.23 at 9:21 pm

For those converting from the birdsite to Mastodon I recommend trying the 3rd-party app Ivory from the team that did the Tweetbot app – it is a little smoother and easier to use than the base Mastodon GMBH app and to my eye the fonts and layout are easier to read. Very similar experience to using Tweetbot on the birdsite. The standard Mastodon desktop web interface is good when you want a larger view of images and when you want to dip into your instances Local or Federated feeds to scan for interesting people to follow.

(note that if you are on a larger or general purpose instance the Federated feed can include a lot of posts you may not want to see)


Raven Onthill 08.19.23 at 11:27 pm

I regret to say that Substack has a Nazi problem, see, for instance, here: (While I was looking that piece up, I stumbled across a piece of Holocaust denialism on Substack so, yes, the problem is real.) Medium reportedly is better on this.


engels 08.19.23 at 11:28 pm

Unpopular opinion: the block button was a power trip for high-profile accounts that encouraged narcissism and infantile behaviour, and I don’t see how it could be legally or ethically mandatory. People said they needed it to prevent abuse but that’s what the reporting system was for. Blocking people without proper grounds was itself a form of bullying/abuse imho.


Paul Davis 08.19.23 at 11:36 pm

You join an instance you like, with confidence that anyone behaving badly will be thrown out. You can then link with other instances which follow the same rules.

This is not really accurate. Linking is done by the instances, not by you.

More broadly, unless you dwell at the edge of some ideological divide and like to toot about it, I’m so far unclear of the significance of one Mastodon instance over another. For example, I’m on, mostly because my day job is developing free open source (FOSS) software. But looking at my (modest) list of following & followed, they’re all over the place. There is some suggestion that you join an instance that represents “your community”, but the reality is that for most purposes, “your community” will be spread out across Mastodon (and maybe, eventually, all of ActivityPub).

The only reasons why this matters:

you like to look at the “explore” feed for your instance, in which case you will see whatever is “trending” on your instance. This is likely to reflect the interests of the instance, if such a thing exists. It will definitely expose you to the wider world of your instance, which may or may not be a good thing.
if your instance opts not to link to one where there is someone you wish to follow, my understanding is that you’re out of luck. So if you pick an instance that tends to be more rigorous about enforcing its own policies, it could be that parts of Mastodon that you care about may not be accessible from that instance. Obviously, depends on the policies and on you, that could be good or bad.

This is the second reference I’ve seen to Mastodon’s “clunky” interface, and I have to say that I don’t get what is being referred to here. My experience is that Mastodon’s web pages are substantially snappier than Twitter. I’m not going to fix it, but I am curious to know what people find “clunky” there.


engels 08.19.23 at 11:37 pm

Having said that, it never occurred to me it would be scrapped; my own suggestion was to make it possible to report people for blocking unreasonably/aggressively.


JimV 08.19.23 at 11:43 pm

“And if one has a successful blog like ours, why would one go to Substack?”

Answered in the OP: to be compensated for the effort and expense (website costs) without resorting to ads. Seems fair to me, but I would personally prefer a system in which the post is free* but commenting costs a fee, on the grounds that writing one’s thoughts and having them read by others is satisfying, but moderating comments is work.

free, but there should be a donations button to applaud great posts.


Alex SL 08.20.23 at 5:40 am

I am on Mastodon; I haven’t been invited to Bluesky but also do not find the nature of its owners and what I read about them inviting; and I would have to run anything non-anonymous that is more substantial than a tweet or blog reply past my employer’s approval processes, so Substack isn’t worth the trouble.

I have hopes for Mastodon still, but it has yet to achieve critical network effects. So far I found very few colleagues who I would like to follow, and posts that are interesting and useful to my colleagues on Twitter sink like a stone on Mastodon. Part of it seems to be that not enough of my community has joined, but a big part is Mastodon’s fundamentally broken nature. I hear the argument for federation and decentralisation, but, sorry, it makes exactly as much sense as with trying to decentralise currency, train tracks, electricity supply lines, or data exchange standards.

The whole point of having a social network is that everybody (at least from your relevant community) is in the same spot, can see each other, and can find each other easily. If you take that away, you don’t have a functioning social network, end. of. You need it to be a single point and centralised. Having a single large centralised network in the hands of a billionaire is a problem, yes. But the solution is not to do a way with a single large centralised network, but to do away with the billioniare, to have a single centralised network run as a publicly owned utility accountable either to its users or to the public. That is hard to achieve within the currently dominant private enterprise ideology, no doubt, but it is the only solution that can possibly work. Everything else is displacement activity.

On top of that there are implementation problems that would at least be fixable but aren’t getting fixed. I do not understand the political details, but from what I read Mastodon has a broken search function and no ‘quote retoots’ because one very influential developer is ideologically opposed to those. Adding both of these would immediately make the network considerably more useful, but it isn’t happening. (And unless my information is incorrect, here we see another example of the undeniable fact that decision making cannot ever actually be decentralised, and the question is merely who makes a decision and what their constitutional constraints and mandate are.)

Overall I am constantly astounded how often people correctly identify a problem and then completely ignore the underlying cause but instead create entirely foreseeable new problems. In the online academic community, the successful campaign for open access publication and the current campaign for paid peer review come to mind. Academics hate the predatory profit-seeking of the publishing companies but find that too hard a problem to solve, so instead they go in circles causing additional problems like unemployed colleagues or colleagues in the Global South being unable to afford $2k-$7k publication fees, which are soon going to be tripled if the paid peer review crowd are getting their way. That may sound like a bit of a tangent, but again, the commonality is that solving the real problem is difficult, so instead something is changed that is easier to change but was the way it was for a very good reason.

So, yes, as the previously preferred network of academics dies the death of a thousand cuts inflicted by its new owner, who brings to the table a fascinating combination of incompetence, insecurity, lack of impulse control, and complete freedom to do whatever pops into his head, we will indeed have to deal with a fragmented media landscape. Some people will love that, no doubt. The consequence will be that when I have a position to advertise, fewer prospective candidates will learn about it before the deadline; when a colleague publishes a useful analysis method, I will be much slower to learn about it; and when a third colleague needs to know the identity of a plant or animal they found during field work, they will have a much smaller network of experts to draw upon.

As far as apps are concerned, however, I find Tusky works well.


Chris Bertram 08.20.23 at 7:24 am

Deleted my twitter yesterday. Now I’m on Mastodon and Bluesky, except that I’ve only been posting on Bluesky as a matter of routine. Better look and feel, easier to find stuff.


Dave Timoney 08.20.23 at 9:07 am

My guess is that the block will be replaced by a hard mute. Currently, if you are muted you have no idea because you can still see and use the muter’s content. A hard mute would allow you too see but not use – i.e. no replies, RTs or QTs.

I’ve never blocked anyone and have only muted a handful (spam). In contrast I seem to have been blocked by lots of people I’ve never had any interaction with (or even heard of), which suggests mass-blocking has gotten out of hand.

I don’t block because I dislike the idea that a social medium should limit publication. I don’t need to read your tedious opinions but you have every right to read mine. Like engels, I also find the peformativity (people loudly telling you they’ve blocked someone) tiresome.


Neville Morley 08.20.23 at 9:53 am

I continue to blog for multiple reasons that bring sufficient utility that I actually pay to keep the site ad-free; I’ve occasionally wondered about adding one of those ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ things, but it doesn’t seem worth the effort if it’s just going to bring in a pound a month or so.

What does bother me is discoverability – I came to blogging late, so have taken it for granted that publicising posts on Twitter brings in readers; I’ve started advertising them on Mastodon and Bluesky as well, and this doesn’t seem to have the same effect, even allowing for big differences in follower numbers. What bothers me slightly about Substack, from the outside, is that it seems to restore a hierarchy of a limited number of people with the public profile to pronounce on significant topics and expect to be taken seriously – hence ability to demand money; I don’t see how it works for people who haven’t already got such a reputation, whereas the great thing about blogging, for me, was the rich ecosystem of lots of different people engaging with topics from all sorts of angles.

It seems of a piece with the regular huffiness of mainstream journalists/columnists at being questioned and argued with on social media, which I’ve seen repeated in them explaining why they’re off to Substack and avoiding Bluesky.


Moz in Oz 08.20.23 at 11:11 am

I find discoverability on mastodon is dismal. There are people I know use it that I can’t find from either of the instances I have accounts on, and I have two accounts because I wanted to follow two people. But I also struggle with the short-form content and don’t really see the point of a poor imitation of RSS for link aggregation. Per Sam Banker-Fraud, why write a book when you should have written six paragraphs? Contrawise, if what you have to say is so trivial it fits in 200 characters why would I be interested in reading it?

I like blogs, but the increasing removal/breakage of commenting makes them less useful as venues and more like textbooks. For discussion discord is useful, but like other short-form stuff it’s ahistoric and the threading is terrible, as is scaling – more than ~100 users in a channel makes it unusable, and 10 active users is about ideal. Reddit is hit and miss but the combo of enshittifcation and LLM-AI content is rapidly eroding it (the two may be related, with disgruntled users spamming AI content at it).

The Conversation used to be somewhat interactive but has become very one-way with comments either turned off or hidden, moderation is both vicious and erratic.

Signal group chats work well for IRL groups where sharing phone numbers is assumed/acceptable.

The whole point of having a social network is that everybody (at least from your relevant community) is in the same spot, can see each other, and can find each other easily

I’m profoundly skeptical of the idea that communities necessarily have common interests and no bad actors. Too often some community members have very good reasons to hide from some other members. Especially if there are IRL identities involved.

That’s where the fediverse is both good and bad – you can hide, but you also can’t be found. I’m not sure that a solution necessarily exists, but whatever the academic term for a red queen race is, that’s what we have going on between pro-social and anti-social forces (in general, and thus also online).


Phil 08.20.23 at 11:19 am

The starting point is the recognition, evident from the decline of the original blogging model, that most people don’t have the free time and energy to write regularly for no monetary return.

That would be a good explanation for why blogging never happened at all, not for why it went into decline – unless you assume that 10-15 years ago most people had way more free time and energy, which seems unlikely.

I think Twitter ate blogging’s lunch – it really is as simple as that. Suddenly you didn’t have to go to all the effort of working up a stray thought into a couple of paragraphs, then editing your first draft, then thinking of a title, then posting it, then waiting for people to read it and write a reply on their blogs; you could just bang out the thought over a tweet or three and get a response within minutes. In terms of delayed gratification it’s like the difference between writing a letter to be posted and writing an email. Some of us hung on to our blogs – and indeed are still hanging on to ’em – but audiences have gone down and commenters have more or less disappeared, and posting rates suffer accordingly. (2006 on my blog: 141 posts, 407 comments. 2022: 9 posts, 3 comments.)

I’m on Bluesky, but so far I’m finding it very quiet; I guess I need to follow more people! Perhaps nothing will quite replace Twitter, though – and perhaps blogging will benefit. My main form of tweeting for a while now has been the stray thought worked up into a twitter thread – which involves writing about 2,500 words, usually over 30-40 minutes. I frequently think that I should be doing it on my blog instead (every time I notice how long these things take to write, for one); maybe with the destruction of Twitter I’ll actually start doing that. (Twitter was a great source of stray thoughts, though…)


engels 08.20.23 at 11:20 am

I would personally prefer a system in which the post is free* but commenting costs a fee, on the grounds that writing one’s thoughts and having them read by others is satisfying, but moderating comments is work

I would personally prefer a system where the common people paid a weekly tithe to the bloggers/blue ticks/professional writers who set the agenda and decide what gets read.


DavidtheK 08.20.23 at 12:57 pm

When Twitter was up for sale, a commenter on this very blog suggested that the best alternative would be a non-profit entity under the auspices of the UN. But given all the challenges in setting that up; don’t know that we’ll ever see it. PS – I think you’re discounting network effects too much. A great advantage of Twitter was that it was universably connectable and large numbers of people were on it. For journalism in particular, it’s a big loss.


Cheryl Rofer 08.20.23 at 2:56 pm

Just a quick note to those who feel that a block function is not needed or is actively deleterious: Try not being a cis white man. Even they, earlier in Twitter’s history, could be deluged with pornbots. Too many of anything gets in the way of higher-value communication.

As a cis white woman, I’ve had my share of mansplainers, insults and threats pertaining to my identity, pornbots (never handsome males, though!), and advertising attached to my tweets. For people of color, or if you have a disability, it’s much worse. A block button easily removes this garbage from one’s feed. The last time I checked, I had blocked 7000 accounts. That was a couple of years ago, so it’s probably around 10,000 now. And it will only get worse as long as Musk owns the site.

I’m mostly on Bluesky now, although, frustratingly, a number of my mutuals still use Twitter predominantly even though they have Bluesky accounts. I also participate in a dm group that will be hard to transfer to another medium. I’m on Mastodon too, and finding all the downsides that have already been described.

And I blog at Lawyers, Guns & Money.


engels 08.20.23 at 4:15 pm

#13 It wasn’t my thing personally but iirc some of the most popular “golden age” blogs were actually rather similar to Twitter: typical post was a link to a newspaper article with some Beavis and Butthead style gloss (“heh”).


J, not that one 08.20.23 at 6:00 pm

The idea that publishing and social networks can use the same infrastructure is just ridiculous. “My social circle” and “things I’d like to read” have significant overlap only for professional writers (and people whose primary social circle is on the app, people who know other people with their hobby or interests only online, and who also prefer reading posts to anything longer). Otherwise you get same effect as when Spotify believes my favorite genre is “white noise” because I play it for the most hours of the day.

I was on Twitter briefly. I followed the local police account to get traffic updates; the police followed me back. I followed a local business recommended in the paper; the owner followed me back. I followed a local beer writer and a not quite obscure book critic; I got to see them chatting with them friends about what they did the night before. I followed a glossy magazine; before I followed anyone else, it sent me the same article over and over and never mentioned 90% of the magazine, and afterward it wasn’t similar enough to my other follows for me ever to see it. I followed a writer I like in a genre that is considered “niche” and never got anything she posted. I followed another writer I liked and discovered my two month old account was on some kind of blocklist. Another writer I liked stopped publishing most of his work except for people who provided him their email addresses (effectively abandoning the new platform in favor of the old-fashioned one anyway).

I spent a week or two trying to nudge the algorithm and it failed. I was able occasionally to get the genre writer’s posts if I followed people she replied to and liked her posts assiduously enough to look like a stalker, but the effect wore off quickly and her posts again disappeared into the ether, as far as I was concerned. I learned that people who got the platform to work for them used boutique feed readers anyway. I decided I didn’t want to read anything an editor hadn’t gone over first, slowly stopped looking at the app, and eventually deleted my account and went back to refreshing web pages.

Anything actually “social network” related can be done in email. Everything else these platforms do just creates the illusion for a small number of users that people who aren’t their friends want to know everything they think, as soon as they think it – and that the reason they have a platform and others don’t is because their readers much prefer to sit quietly and listen (which gets back to the fact that the platform is terrible for readers). There are presumably a small number of people who find the sweet spot where the app, the algorithm, and their temperament mesh. I concede that might be 99.99% of the population, and that I’m the one who’s the outlier.

Social media has been a disaster, and the only upsides are (1) people absolutely hate to have to configure “pull-model” systems, and companies hate to sell them – the Polaroid model was successful for a reason. With Twitter your inbox doesn’t fill up with newsletters you have to curate, file and delete. Your friends’ snapshots are “just there” and you don’t have to save or file them either. You don’t make any real choices. That’s what people want. And (2) it’s exposed a bit of society that would have otherwise remained hidden – a mixed blessing, to be sure, especially since a number of users are teens and younger who have no context for what they’re seeing.


J, not that one 08.20.23 at 6:18 pm

To be clear, I think there’s a place for peer-to-peer platforms like Usenet or Google Groups used to be. There’s also a clear lifecycle to those things, as there was for the blogging model and as we’ve seen there is for “social media.”

The idea of industry-based social media playgrounds like “foss” is interesting but I assume it is in fact being used for social and political stuff, not for actual work discussions, which would need to be corralled into more formal subspaces.

People want (and need) all these models and they’ll use whatever’s at hand for as long as it works for them. And then they’ll stop.


hix 08.20.23 at 8:24 pm

“Try not being a cis white man.”

Thats what instagram tells me all the time. Albeit i am not quite sure if it figured out i am male or still just thinks i am a good upper class female receipanet for shallow upper class feminism. At least after i clicked on i do not want to see stupid expensive cars i got lots of makeup tips for a while.

The people i did folow active are disability rights activists, local social democrats, cultural news, mental health support orr elated to the local Unviersties intercultural research, things like that.

You would think i´d get things related to inequality, or diasability related discrimination besides the cat videos and the like in the suggested content . But no.

What i do get is young good looking (white of course) women with an invisble disability and a history of mental ilness talking about how much they are discriminated and threated bad by men for being female, and just for that. That is that is the content i get after i did bite the bullet and feed the algorithm a bit , before it was more the i am a rich white enterpreneuer with a TV show, i get discriminated so much for my dresschoice posts.

It would be nice if people at least realiced that gender stereotypes also often work against men. E.g. the combination mental ilness and male is often worse. Not that the feminists with a history of serious mental ilness really do get discriminated for being female: They just seem to sucesfully deny the more relevant aspect. And no, the type is not limited to people with trauma caused by men. It just seems easier to go with the socially accepted and maybe even believe it.

And yes i do not get any abuse on instagram: But that is just because i am very much invisible and like it to stay that way. I am pretty sure i would get it all the same white male, heterosexual if there was any visibility, decisvily a lot so if there were any visibility regarding disability right activisim or mental health.


Alex SL 08.20.23 at 9:25 pm

Moz in Oz,

I meant what you call discoverability (without knowing the exact definition of that term), not that a social network needs us to be unable to block people or use pseudonyms.

But Twitter specifically has entire communities of academics, journalists, and other professionals who use it to communicate with each other and with the public interested in what they do. The problem are generally not their peers but abusive members of the public, e.g., when a climate researcher is tweeting about their work. There may be exceptions, of course, but a bunch of scientists tweeting under their real names actually do seem to have civil conversations with each other. Such a situation isn’t comparable to a pseudonymous reddit forum where one poster ridicules the other’s favourite anime series.


Roger James 08.20.23 at 9:39 pm

Good post.

I think the substack subscription model will fail without some ‘group’ syndication ability – put simply whilst say $5 per month seems reasonable to the writer it is not for the reader. After all we pay for all the contributors to a newspaper, not article by article.

Until/unless clusters of substacks can offer a group purchase everyone – writers and readers – will be poorer


engels 08.20.23 at 9:52 pm

I deleted Twitter some time ago but am sorely tempted to go back just to give all the people who blocked me a piece of my mind (note to
Cheryl: I don’t think any of them were women or people of colour, one of them was a billionaire…)


MisterMr 08.20.23 at 10:43 pm

As an important contribution to the thread about roman and greek ideas about female sexuality, I’ll quote the epicurean poet Lucretius:

Nor sighs the woman always with feigned love,
Who links her body round man’s body locked
And holds him fast, making his kisses wet
With lips sucked into lips; for oft she acts
Even from desire, and, seeking mutual joys,
Incites him there to run love’s race-course through.
Nor otherwise can cattle, birds, wild beasts,
And sheep and mares submit unto the males,
Except that their own nature is in heat,
And burns abounding and with gladness takes
Once more the Venus of the mounting males.


Phil 08.20.23 at 10:53 pm

engels @13 – good point; the main difference between that kind of drive-by blogging and Twitter is that you’d feel self-conscious posting more than two or three quick-hit blog posts a day, whereas with Twitter you can post as much as you like. But drive-by blogging coexisted with and supported long-form blogging, which Twitter definitely doesn’t.


Phil 08.20.23 at 10:54 pm

engels @17, even


Moz in Oz 08.20.23 at 10:59 pm

In terms of social media history things that are still around, slashdot just sprang to mind. It’s one of the early “comments on a news article” versions of social media. And it’s still around.

If you want ancient pre-history, there’s a fair number of SF authors who still run their original blogs (and in some cases the original blog software) and maintain social cohesion via vigorous malleting of combatants.

I’m not convinced we need new technology, new social tools might be more of the answer. Or perhaps we just have to accept that stupid monkey brains with tiny Dunbar Numbers just aren’t capable of forming meaningful social bonds with large groups of others. Scaling up means discarding context in proportion to the scaling… and using smaller local networks for, ah, “peer review” before posting.


Raven Onthill 08.21.23 at 2:17 am

Speculation on the removal of old Twitter content by the redoutable Rayne:

Mastodon is in some ways the anti-Twitter: deliberately decentralized and discovery is deliberately difficult. Verification is possible but de-emphasized. Its decentralized model also tends to make it hard to control bullying and harassment, as Black users are finding.

Bluesky’s user-defined feeds feature is a genuine advance, and I hope it is preserved, even if Bluesky itself doesn’t make it. Bluesky theoretically is using a decentralized model, but in practice everyone is piling into the one central beta server; it may be the practical advantages of centralization outweigh the theoretical advantages of decentralization. There may be a political science analogy with federalism.


Tm 08.21.23 at 9:27 am

Alex: „Part of it seems to be that not enough of my community has joined, but a big part is Mastodon’s fundamentally broken nature.“

I cannot follow you. I mean the second part. Nothing but inertia prevents your colleagues from joining. I understand that inertia is hard to overcome (have you tried persuading your colleagues?) but it has little to do with the way Mastodon is set up. I personally hope for Mastodon to be successful and help make Twitter obsolete. I don’t believe that any platform will solve the problems inherent in the Twitter model but something better than Musk’s Nazi playground has to be possible and Mastodon seems far better than the alternatives at the moment. But for that to happen, more people need to join Mastodon and actually be active there. A number of people I would like to follow and interact with have joined Mastodon only to never post there. They are still on Twitter. It must be a hell of a drug.

Perhaps this is it: it’s a drug. When I think about the examples you give Alex I wonder: was your professional/scientific community really unable to network, unable to quickly disseminate information and collect feedback without Twitter?


Tm 08.21.23 at 12:02 pm

Further Alex: „The consequence will be that when I have a position to advertise, fewer prospective candidates will learn about it before the deadline; when a colleague publishes a useful analysis method, I will be much slower to learn about it; and when a third colleague needs to know the identity of a plant or animal they found during field work, they will have a much smaller network of experts to draw upon.“

I don’t doubt you but I’m curious how this works. How can you be sure that everybody potentially interested in your job posting is on Twitter and is following you, and out of the hundreds or thousands of other posts – mostly noise – they find in their feed every day, they will notice and recognize the importance of your job announcement? Do people really check Twitter for academic job announcements, instead of checking academic journals and newsletters?

Of course it depends how big your professional community is – 100, 1000? But mutually following every member of your community on some networking platform, rather than maybe subscribing to a newsletter, doesn’t seem an efficient model of information distribution. I don’t see how it scales when it’s more than a handful of people.


kent 08.21.23 at 3:31 pm

I sent a suggestion to substack and of course have heard nothing back, but I thought I’d throw it out here and see what people think.

My idea was that people should be able to pay for free writing as well as for paid writing. It would work like this. You tell substack you want to subscribe for $25 per month (or whatever number) for free articles. You choose the amount, obviously. At the end of every month, they send you a list of all the substacks you’re subscribed to with little fill-in boxes next to each, and you allocate a percentage of your $25 to each, based on how much value you got out of their free content.

I’d prefer to allocate my smallish online-newsletter spending budget across 10 or 20 writers who each might write just 2 or 3 pieces per month, but they’re surprising and interesting pieces, rather than spend it all on the top 3 or 4 authors who write a ton of stuff but it’s mostly sort of mediocre … and they each charge $6-$8 per month and are already rich. (Some of my favorite authors don’t even ask for money, and sometimes I feel like they deserve support more than the big guys.)

Interesting idea? Stupid? Never going to be implemented for a good (or bad) reason?


Gar Lipow 08.21.23 at 7:03 pm

If I understand the substack model properly you can offer both free tiers and paid tiers. And if you do this, if you wish you can put everything on the free tier and just ask that if people can afford it and they find your writing worth it, they join one of the free tiers. So you can use the paid tier like a tip jar. True?


nastywoman 08.21.23 at 7:36 pm

For the moment, I’m spreading myself far too thinly across lots of media, waiting to see what emerges from the current chaos. How about you?

We are working – what can be considered ‘the 10 most important Internet platforms’ with numerous handles as we don’t want to repeat the mistake of 2015 when we thought a Crazy Right Wing Racist Science Denying Liar and Sex Abuser wouldn’t have a chance to become US President
and so – for the next US election we took the lesson our Russian friends taught US to heart and posted thousands and thousands comments and tweets in order to have the Crazy Right Winger NOT elected again.

And as Trump once considered that he owed Twitter his presidency -(as there wasn’t/isn’t any better propagandamachine yet) we like to consider that we
(from Germany)
played an important part –
for sure NOT as important as the Russian players) –
in influencing the outcome of the US election 2020 – and as the EVIL propaganda machine(s) of the Internet now have pushed the German Right Wing Racist Science Denying Liars to over 20 percent – spread yourselves as THICK as possible –
in distributing the ‘good messages’ as for THE WORLD every WORD counts!


Alex SL 08.22.23 at 12:26 am


None of this is binary, black and white.

Of course an entire community could just move from Twitter to Mastodon, figure out how to use its atrocious search function and spend days instead of half an hour finding everybody else again to follow them, and do without quote retweets. So, all their fault for not doing so, right? Well, maybe, but then again, I happen to think that people being people, if you expect them to do a thing then you have to make it easy for them to do that thing instead of unnecessarily difficult. Mastodon doesn’t make it easy to do the thing.

Similarly, I never said that EVERY potentially suitable candidate for a job / person who would be interested in my paper / expert who can answer a question / etc would be reached via Twitter, nor that NONE would be reached via a fragmented social media landscape. The probability of reaching any given person of relevance is simply higher in a centralised network and lower in a fragmented ecosystem of many small networks. This makes sense, doesn’t it?

But mutually following every member of your community on some networking platform, rather than maybe subscribing to a newsletter, doesn’t seem an efficient model of information distribution.

You are 100% correct it isn’t efficient for everybody to follow everybody else, and thus nobody does it or wants to do it. But that is the power of the retweet and Mastodon’s boost – it allows a post to propagate from the original poster through to me without me having to follow them directly, simply because somebody else who I follow follows somebody who follows somebody who follows them. Whether by design or not, these kinds of functions are what made Twitter so useful to certain communities in a way that, say, blogs aren’t.


John Q 08.23.23 at 1:21 am

Phil @13 Blogs were originally very like Twitter. A link to something interesting, and a brief comment.


LFC 08.23.23 at 5:07 am

Certain blog posts on certain obscure blogs are still just a link and a brief comment (if that). Btw an absence of readers is liberating, at least in theory: I could, hypothetically, write the most outrageous things on my blog with no repercussions at all. I doubt even the officials (if there are any) at WordPress (the platform I currently use) would notice.


Tm 08.23.23 at 7:36 am

Alex: you said that without Twitter, fewer interested people would know about your job posting and I’m asking why they wouldn’t read about it in professional journals or newsletters. You refer to Twitter as a centralized network but obviously that’s not what it is. A newsletter would be centralized. On Twitter (or any other such platform), what you get to see depends on what your follows happen to tweet or retweet, and whether you notice it depends on how much noise you have in your timeline and how much effort you are willing to put into sorting through it.

This is a question I’m wondering about: how much time do regular Twitter users invest in Twitter in order to get the desired information out of it?


Alex SL 08.23.23 at 10:36 pm


But we aren’t comparing Twitter to a professional journal (of which there are thousands too, by the way) but to either the same community that all used Twitter before fragmenting across half a dozen smaller social networks or across half a dozen Mastodon instances and finding it hard to figure out how to find more than 10% of the people they followed before. We are discussing social networks, not journals.

whether you notice it depends on how much noise you have in your timeline and how much effort you are willing to put into sorting through it

It is fascinating how different people’s Twitter experiences appear to be*. Until the moment the billionaire manchild inevitably decides to take that option away because somebody he hates likes it, you can use the ‘following’ tab to see very nearly only tweets and retweets from people you follow. The only exception appears to be that sometimes there is a block of three or so ‘maybe you are also interested in this?’ among a thread of replies, and yes, would be nice to be able to turn that off, but the main timeline should be clean. Most people follow others who post things they find interesting and unfollow or mute annoying people. With that approach, one should be 90% of the way, except maybe also have to block some advertisers the algorithm selected in its questionable wisdom**.

*) And also how many people effectively say, I have a bad experience, so I need to convince everybody else who claims to find it useful that they are mistaken. Note that this is about the technical aspects and network effects, not about abuse experienced by women and minorities.

**) The usual, oh, you read and watched some “cryptocurrency is terrible and should be outlawed” content, so you must be really interested in advertisements for crypto exchanges.


engels 08.25.23 at 10:11 am

how many people effectively say, I have a bad experience, so I need to convince everybody else who claims to find it useful that they are mistaken. Note that this is about the technical aspects and network effects, not about abuse experienced by women and minorities

You rang? The problem I have with Twitter is that it is re-wiring how people think so, yes, it bothers me that people use even if they enjoy it. The main problem is that everyone’s behaviour is very tightly regulated in a way that enforces a kind of competition that mirrors neoliberal capitalism. Essentially you are competing to “build your brand” by producing ideas that people will “buy” because it captures their attention (more than the firehouse of competing ideas). That isn’t conducive to deep thought, serious criticism and meaningful challenges to prevailing ideology and participating in that game (with all its built in sirens and whistles) turns you into more and more of a self-entrepreneur, whether you realise it or not.

Even if you disagree with this analysis, any self-respecting democrat should be ashamed of having an ongoing meeting on a forum whose processes and speech rules are dictated by its billionaire owners.


Tm 08.25.23 at 10:23 am


Tm 08.25.23 at 11:41 am

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