So I realise I’ve NOT blogged much recently – to tell you the truth I’m so busy working at Droplet – I don’t actually have much time on my hands to do so. Maybe that will change in the next year – I don’t know.
So the subject of this blog is Mastodon and Twitter. I don’t want to get into the whys and wherefores of recent developments – although I have an interest in those – I assume those opinions are better expressed by other people elsewhere – and I’m not sure whether my commentary would add much. I’m more interested in the technical side of things…
Setting Up your Mastodon Server?
Firstly, you have to ask yourself the question – why? My reason was I wanted a friendly handle – and with the volumes of folks bailing from Twitter – some of the Mastodon Servers are quite heavily loaded and are taking 24hrs to process sign-ups. Anyone who isn’t tech savvy is going pick and handle and run with it. This is like the early day’s internet where there was a plethora of email websites offering their services for free to sign-up people. If you want your own Mastodon Server chances you serving not just yourself but a community of folks who share stuff in common. Consider this is going to cost you money – whether you sign up for SaaS service or have a more VM-based configuration. Clearly, you could setup Mastodon on your homelab where you may have already paid for CPU/Memory/Network resources – but have to consider the availability and upstream/downstream bandwidth. Being a rural location power reliability is bit of an issue for me – and my bandwidth is current domestic broadband. All in all having this thing hosted and managed like my WordPress blog is – made more sense.
Mastodon is based on Linux and isn’t easy to set up from scratch. Initially, I tried a free-tier Azure VM and started installing modules. I hit a roadblock and gave up. I later found out there was Ansible Playbook based on YAML I could have used. In the end, I found a few providers offering dedicated VM with the Mastodon installer service. Unlike WordPress hosters, this is a bit more niche so I went with https://elest.io/ running off the Hetzer cloud. So Elestio is like the orchestration engine overly – with a series of different cloud providers which creates a kind of “marketplace”. Once the service was provisioned I used my existing dreamhost.com subscription to register a friendly domain – https://www.folk-music.uk.
[I’ve become increasingly interested in the folk music of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales – apologises to my independence chums – in haste registered UK, in hindsight, I should have picked something more neutral!]
As you might expect it took a while for DNS to proliferate – but once done – Elest.io has a handy SSL registering system where you put in your FQDN (www.folk-music.uk] and the domain [folk-music.uk] and they handle all the SSL stuff for you – pretty neat as SSL can be a bit of nightmare on any platform. Many thanks to the support folks at Elestio who fixed my SSL issues because I didn’t RTFM…
There’s some work that needs to be done post config in the Mastodon “administration” pages when you’re logged into Mastodon with your admin credentials – metadata need to be included such as:
- Site Setting – you need to fill out stuff like admin username, your email used to log in for admin, a short server description (visible) to subscribers, server description (I put things in like where its hosted and hardware specification), welcome logo
- Server Rules – these are the “Acceptable Usage” style rules you would see when you sign up such as zero tolerance to hate speech…
Once done you can submit the URL of the Mastodon Server to an email address – which feels quaint – but I haven’t discovered a web-based API method for this task – I recall seeing it but couldn’t find it again…
Followers & The Followed
If you have more followers than you follow on Twitter there is not an easy programmatically way to port that across – and why should they? It’s your decision to move to another platform – and you can’t make free people follow you! There is an API to scan the people you follow – look for their Mastodon ID in their Twitter info and then follow them in Mastodon. This is NOT pretty but it can be done. This is how it works:
- Run https://fedifinder.glitch.me/ and Authorise your Twitter
- Let it search your lists and the folks you follow…
- Export to CSV
- Then import to Mastodon using the import and export functions
Did this find everyone? No.
Not everyone is Mastodon.
Not everyone has put Mastodon in their profile.
So I’m thinking once a month I will re-run this process until I decide to give up. It’s worth saying there’s is nothing I can do about the 11k people who followed me on Twitter. My view is I’m not walking away from those people – many of who are my friends – but I’m not for the moment “Active on Twitter” until we find out what the heck is going on. [See what I did there?]
A Safe and Reliable Exit Strategy:
I like to see the decision to leave Twitter and go elsewhere as if you were migrating from version 5.0 of one product to version 9.0 of another. This isn’t an upgrade but a migration to a whole new platform. Don’t burn your bridges to the old platform overnight. It’s going to take time to build up the new presence and time to back out of the old commitment. Do it at your pace, at your own schedule.
- I’m not leaving Twitter – but I going to archive my tweets and delete my history. I’ve done this once before when Michelle Laverick became Michelle Laverick Music. I decided my old tweets needed to go – and I was going to focus on music not technology or ranting about politics. I singularly failed to stay focused purely on music! If you want to do this. Request a download of your Twitter activity – this is very small as its just metadata (its also a great example of great coding by Twitter engineers – its so storage efficient)
- This takes a while (like a day to get and download). Then use TweetDelete to upload the .zip file and purge your tweets…
- It is recommended NOT to deactivate your Twitter account but to park it to avoid someone taking over your ID buying a blue tick for $8 and passing themselves off as you – this is like the FB scam where people FB accounts to impersonate others…
So I’m keeping my Twitter account but it’s going to run VERY much like my TikTok and Instagram accounts – I just use them as “publishing” platforms to post videos, gigs and recordings when they become available. My “active” platforms will be Facebook (where my friends live) and Mastadon where I subject people to my Tufo eating, Guardian Reading, Mastadonarti views – like respect for all and human rights – you know those seemingly outdated notions in the world of free speech snowflakes who complain about cancel culture when their precious opinions are questioned. You know where I’m going with this right?
What’s Mastadon Like:
Well, Twitter it is not. This is open-sorcery, and it kind of feels like the early days of the internet circa 1990s which is actually kind of refreshing and thrilling. People who expect the slickness of commercial products backed by millions or billions of VC dollars are going to find out that a scaleable distributed micro-blogging service takes time to stand up, especially when within days it suddenly got a surge of new sign-ups
Personally, I’m worried about how easy it is for anyone to stand a Mastodon Server up and advertise on other platforms – what are you connecting to? who is running the service? Are they trustworthy? If they have root access what is stopping a rogue admin from using a Mastodon as a glorified honeypot for the collection of emails for phishing or scamming purposes? AFAIK there’s no encryption in Mastodon and the admin has rights to the mySQL DB and can dump the contents of DMs. That doesn’t seem terribly secure to me. This history of the internet is to a degree of naive idealists setting up services with little or no security, and then having to retrofit security. This is not a good model – as it generally means closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
There are folks saying you must delete and leave Twitter for fear itself could be leveraged as part of some kind of bizarre witch-hunt reminiscent of the McCarthy era. Personally, I find this to be scare-mongering and borderline conspiracy theory [why do I feel like I’m typing famous last words!] But I suspect if anyone wanted to target you – it would be just as easy to do that with Mastodon. Where there is a will there’s always a way.
Final Tips: Use Mastodon thru a web browser it currently feels so much better than the official Mastodon app (sorry guys) there are other Mastodon Clients out there – and I’ll be testing those until I find one that works how like on my Mac, iPhone and iPAD. You see, I’m still in bed with evil corporates – and my favourite web browser, photos and maps – yes our friends at google.
But hey, at least the CEO of Apple and Google have the good sense of not go around telling their customers how to vote…