Mastodon vs. Email

I compare common objections to Mastodon (and, really, the Fediverse) to email

As I'm writing this some alleged billionaire is trying to buy twitter, and a lot of people have a problem with that. A lot of the most vocal people who have a problem with it are leaving twitter. Some aren't announcing where they're going, and some are going to the Fediverse (usually some Mastodon instance). Some are going to stay around because they percieve that the cost of moving is higher than they want to pay right now and they'll stick on twitter for whatever reasons they've decided on. All of that is fine.

Fediverse aficionados are taking this opportunity to hawk the fediverse, and there's a lot of pushback on it. The Fediverse can't work, there are too many problems with it and, most importantly, it's not twitter or facebook, so it can't be a replacement for them. But the more I think about it, the more I see the same objections can be applied to email, which lots of people use every day.

So let's run down a few of the most common objections to the fediverse and see if these things line up how I think they do (note: several of these points come from a twitter thread by user atomicthumbs(Internet Archive link). This isn't to pick on that person, they just conveniently put these things in one place for easy reference).

Users will never sign up for Mastodon because there are too many instances. They'll see that there's no one instance and they'll get overwhelemed and not sign up at all.

Email has no shortage of providers: Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL, ProtonMail, Fastmail, and a whole host of email providers I'm not going to list here. You can also roll your own email server with some effort and host either email for just yourself, or your friends, or sell email service, or anything in between.

instead of a billionaire's fiefdom run by thousands of people, you get a hobby sysadmin's fiefdom run by a hobby sysadmin and connected to 1 billion other fiefdoms sorry your friend's account is gone because someone forgot to pay for the linode it lived on

Same with email. There are millions of email servers, large and small, and lots of them are being run by hobby sysadmins. Small email servers disappearing for indefinite amounts of time is a thing that happens. I've had email accounts disappear because the hobby sysadmin just got tired of doing it. That's the risk you take when you use a service that's being run by someone else, even if you're paying for it.

also anyone else can make an "atomicthumbs" account on any number of other instances and pretend to be me

I can make an account,, and someone else can make an account, and pretend to be me.

yes, the admins on a Mastodon instance can read your DMs. And the admins on another instance can also read your inter-instance DMs. Hope you trust every single one of them!

Depending on how an email server is configured, a motivated admin can see everything you send and receive on their server. I hope you trust the admin of your email server and the admin of the server you're sending to.

instances can just straight-up defederate from others at a whim

Email admins can block entire IP ranges, entire TLDs, entire continents, and so on for any reason or no reason at all.

the only way to ensure full control of reliability on Mastodon is to make a single-user instance for yourself with Pleroma last time I looked, a ton of big instances refused to federate with Pleroma instances, because nazis used Pleroma to harass people

The only way to ensure full control reliability of email is to make a single-user instance for yourself with whichever mail client you want. Unfortunately, a ton of big email providers refuse to deliver mail from these instances because a huge number of them are associated with spam/phishing/etc.

it is just straight-up confusing for any regular person to understand the federation concept. it took me ages to figure out how things worked. a normal person who might make good posts on twitter is likely to give up at "step 1: choose an instance from these 30,000"

Oddly enough, nobody seems to have trouble wrapping their head around email, which has been federated for decades. Even when you get to the step of 'choose from this list of a billion email providers'. They mostly just go to one of the big free ones and the other 999,999,999 don't get considered.

you don't need ads. just make it $10 to join, $5 to change your icon, and $30 to change someone else's

With email you can sign up for a free provider with ads. You can sign up for a paid provider with fewer or no ads. You can sign up for some provider that's in between. You can roll your own and participate in the network.

Is Mastodon a replacement for Twitter? Is the Fediverse concept a replacement for social media? Will Solid ever produce anything useful? These are questions I cannot answer. But I will say, that if you want to stop using twitter for whatever reason you want (or no reason at all), then you can do that. If you want to leave twitter but you can't because the alternatives aren't twitter, then you don't actually want to leave twitter. If you like the twitter concept, then making a clone of the core twitter experience and turning it into a protocol where anyone can stand up a server is the best way to make sure that you can always use it. Some billionaire can't just buy a protocol. Nobody can just buy email (as a protocol, any idiot with a few dollars can buy email service), and if you're on some big provider which does something you don't like or gets bought by a person or entity you disagree with, you can pick up and move with a relatively minor amount of work. Social media should be the same way.

This entry's fake tags are:

● twitter ● mastodon ● fediverse ● email 

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