Dallin Crump

SocialMedia

Getting a new shared Mastodon instance going is a lot of work! I've put in a lot of hours the past couple days on getting ZCMI.social off the ground. It's not just the technical side of things with domain, hosting, and administration – there is a lot more to it.

We've got to figure out what kind of community we want to create and then develop server rules, standards, etc. to help us get there. We've got to figure out how to fund the venture as a community, because as it grows more money will be necessary to keep the lights on.

In addition to hosting a server, we've got to get a companion website going, as that's the easiest way to keep all of our info in one place and help people learn more about what we're doing.

We also need to help and mentor people joining our server who are completely new to Mastodon and the Fediverse, let alone our instance! If they're familiar with other social networks, they will find some things familiar and other things completely foreign and not intuitive.

With all of this, patience is key. I've felt a little overwhelmed at times, but most of the time I've just been eager and excited to learn new things and get all of this working.

Whether this project ends in a month or continues for years, I'm glad I finally worked up the motivation to try.

Discuss...


#100DaysToOffload (No. 56) #tech #SocialMedia #hobbies

It's been a whirlwind weekend, but I somehow started a new Mastodon instance! ZCMI.social is now a thing.

It's currently open only to a small group of close friends and associates for a “closed beta” until I get this whole Mastodon Admin thing figured out. If there is any reasonable degree of success after a month or two, I might opening it up for more people to join.

But let me back up. Why did I name it “ZCMI” and who is it for? The original ZCMI – Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution – was a department store chain founded in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1868. It changed owners throughout the years and went defunct about 20 years ago. (Seriously, how many department store chains have died in the last couple decades? Remember Mervyn's? Fred Meyer? Montgomery Ward?).

The ZCMI in ZCMI.social stands for Zion's Cooperative Mastodon Instance! It's intended for members of my church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – who are actively trying to live their faith. I envision it as as a safe space for church members to talk about their faith and interact with and support other members trying to walk the covenant path. The name of this new Mastodon instance is a way of honoring our past while looking forward to the future.

There is still a lot of work to do – a few of my colleagues and I are coming up with some community guidelines and refining the server rules (I mostly copied our existing rules from Fosstodon because I think they're a pretty great place to start).

Over the next month I'd like to try to get at least 30 or 40 people on there and actively using it and see where things go from there.

I'm excited!

Discuss...


#100DaysToOffload (No. 55) #tech #faith #ChurchOfJesusChrist #SocialMedia

Occasionally over the past couple years, I've thought about starting a Mastodon instance for members of my church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Today I've been brainstorming with some friends about it. I actually purchased a domain name and have been looking into hosting options.

With the tsunami of new users that have joined the Fediverse over the past couple weeks due to the turmoil at Twitter, now seems like a great time to get a new instance going. But the increased attention also means that most dedicated Mastodon hosting services have been overwhelmed. One of the most popular providers – Masto.host – has actually suspended new registrations as of the time I write this while they figure out how to accommodate the surge in demand for their existing customers.

In addition to hosting, I've been considering many questions about how to administer and run such a community. How big do I expect it to get? Should I cap the number of accounts? What should our rules and guidelines be? What is our ban policy? Can people appeal? Should I set up a Patreon or similar to help defray the cost? The list of questions is long and continues to grow.

Thinking through these questions has really given me more appreciation for all of the volunteers who host and run thousands of Mastodon instances out there, especially the one I'm currently on – Fosstodon.

Whether or not I actually get a new Mastodon instance off the ground, I'm thankful that such an option exists and allows people all around the world to connect with each other in meaningful ways without for-profit companies trying to exploit them for profit.

Discuss...


#100DaysToOffload (No. 54) #tech #SocialMedia

Back in January I wrote Why I Use Librem Social. Librem Social is a social media network that is based on a fork of Mastodon. About a month after I wrote that, I decided to migrate to a different instance. Fosstodon is where I landed and I've quite enjoyed my experience there.

One of the reasons I moved is that the Librem Social fork was lacking features available in newer releases of Mastodon, and those maintaining it didn't seem in any great hurry to update it. For instance, I was using a third-party service to auto-delete older posts, but newer versions of Mastodon have that feature built in.

Another reason related to the above is that Purism seems to have abandoned or at least tabled its plans for Librem One, in general. Promised additions of new features like encrypted cloud storage, backups, and contact sync never materialized, and Purism themselves stopped promoting Librem One in their marketing and social media efforts.

So I decided to move to Fosstodon because it seemed that most of the people I had connected with and interacted with on a regular basis were there, they have great admins who stay on top of things and interact with the community, and I appreciated their server rules and moderation policies. It's been really great, and I have continued to meet new people and learn new things as part of a very nerdy, mostly gracious and helpful community.

I don't use FOSS (free-as-in-freedom and open source software) exclusively, but I do use it and believe in the philosophy behind free software. But I post about all kinds of things that interest me and find many Fosstodonians and people from the greater Fediverse share those interests.

A big difference Fosstodon has from Librem One is that local and federated timelines are enabled. I mostly stay away from the federated timeline because it's like drinking from a firehose and there is a higher probability you will encounter mindless or toxic content. But Fosstodon's local timeline is almost always on-point and even respectful, and good to check out every so often. Again, lots of fellow nerds like me sharing nerdy stuff. It's fun.

I tried getting back into Twitter again a few months ago. I mainly wanted to park on my username, but decided to try to post some things, follow some people, and see how it went. It was terrible. Ads everywhere. Nothing I posted, even with hashtags, seemed to by seen by hardly anyone. I guess the algorithm didn't consider my stuff interesting enough to put in front of people or buried me because I was a new account. Random promoted posts and junk cluttering my feed. It wasn't a pleasant experience. I was reminded why I eventually lost interest and deleted my account before.

Mastodon gives me a delightfully ad-free experience and more control over the content I want to see. I can easily block accounts or entire instances, as desired. My feed is always in chronological order, so I never miss anything if I don't want to. I can easily follow hashtags I'm interested in. But more importantly, I find I am able to more easily connect and engage with others. I'm able to meet people, learn new things, and express myself without being monetized or marketed to.

I'm glad that Mastodon exists, and that Fosstodon is a thing. It's a neat little corner of the Fediverse and I'm happy I landed there.

Discuss...


#100DaysToOffload (No. 32) #tech #socialmedia

I recently read an excellent article by Shannon Valor: We used to get excited about technology. What happened?

She starts by sharing an experience she had where she was scrolling through her Twitter feed, but soon realizes she is feeling a heaviness in the pit of her stomach and not having a good time. About this she writes:

I recognized the feeling and I knew its name. It was resignation—that feeling of being stuck in a place you don’t want to be but can’t leave. I was struck by the irony that I studied technology my whole life in order to avoid this kind of feeling. Tech used to be my happy place.

The entire article is worth reading. It really resonated with me and got me thinking.

I know Richard M. Stallman (RMS) is a controversial figure. Some things he says I take with a grain of salt or disregard out-of-hand. But when it comes to the state of technology today, a lot of what he says makes sense.

When speaking of the people who avail themselves of the “services” of Facebook, RMS often refers to them as “useds”, not users, because Facebook is using them.

This concept of customers being “useds” applies to any tech company that is monetizing the personal information and behaviors of its customers and/or putting the interests of shareholders ahead of its customers. In other words, the customers of any tech company that is going beyond simply providing a product or service, but actively preying upon and exploiting its own customers for financial gain, can justifiably be referred to as “useds”.

For companies like Google, Facebook (Meta), and Amazon, who have business models built around the surveillance economy, the more information they collect about every possible aspect of everyone on the planet, not just their own customers, the more money they make.

For companies like Apple, who have focused on hardware-software lock-in and high hardware profit margins, the harder they make it for their devices to be customer-repaired, the more difficult they make it for their products to be cross-compatible with other hardware and software outside of their own ecosystem, the more money they make.

Most of the personal tech “innovations” by these companies over the past decade have been focused first and foremost on expanding the reach and scope of surveillance and pulling customers deep into proprietary hardware and software ecosystems to lock them in and maximize opportunities to monetize them. Providing a better experience for the customer for the customer's sake is always secondary to increasing profit and pleasing shareholders.

Take, for example, the removal of the 3.5mm audio jack on smartphones. Whatever the marketing materials may claim, this move was never in the best interest of the users useds. Claims of having no room for it or that it prevents water-proofing are downright false. It was a blatant money grab. Dongles and wireless earbuds/headphones bring in more money than continuing to support a perfectly functional, decades-old universal audio connection standard. And they never, ever mention the fact that when the batteries in wireless earbuds/headphones inevitably fail and when dongles wear out, they end up as yet more harmful and unnecessary e-waste. But who cares about providing flexible options for the customer and reducing e-waste when AirPods are selling like hotcakes and the shareholders are happy, right?

Alas, I rant, yet I continue to use the products and services of these companies. Why? Because they have become so enmeshed with modern society – the way we work, communicate, interact with businesses, etc. – that to forsake and reject these exploitative technologies is to live as a technological hermit, effectively isolating myself from the rest of the world. (Ironically, and tragically, despite all the social media platforms out there, despite all of the opportunities to connect and interact with others in ways only dreamed of 20 years ago, more of us are feeling more socially isolated than ever before. Just type “social media social isolation” into your favorite search engine to read about all kinds of studies that have been done on the topic.)

I'm still trying to find my way through all of this. At times, I feel like going completely in one direction or the other – completely embracing big tech or completely embracing FOSS (free-as-in-freedom and open source software) – but neither extreme is desirable. So I try to find a balance and press forward. I'll have to somehow deal with that heaviness in the pit of my stomach, that feeling of resignation that Shannon Vallor wrote about. Because, like it or not, I'm being taken advantage of by big tech. I'm stuck in a place I don't really want to be, but can't leave. I'm not a tech user, I'm a used.

Discuss...


#100DaysToOffload (No. 26) #tech #life #socialmedia

I've been using Mastodon – a free and open source, decentralized social media platform and a compelling alternative to corporate-controlled platforms like Facebook and Twitter – regularly since June of 2019. Mastodon is part of the Fediverse – a collection of inter-connected apps developed around ActivityPub, an open, decentralized social networking protocol.

In 2019 a company I have been following called Purism launched their own Mastodon instance – called Librem Social – as a part of their Librem One suite of ethical web-based software services. I signed up for a subscription because I wanted to show my support for any company trying to offer viable, non-exploitative alternatives to popular services.

Purism hasn't done much with Librem One since they launched it. I expect it didn't catch on as much as they had hoped it would. Since then, they've focused on their hardware and haven't mentioned hardly anything about Librem One. But I appreciate them maintaining Librem One as long as they have.

Admittedly, I didn't renew my Librem One subscription after the first year. I tried their email, chat, and VPN services, but didn't find them compelling enough to keep using them. Librem Social, however, has become my main personal social media account.

On more than one occasion, I have considered moving to a different Mastodon instance. But there are several reasons I keep using Librem Social.

Librem Social-Specific

Here are two reasons specific to Librem Social.

Disabled Local and Federated Timelines

Most instances of Mastodon allow you to see Local and Federated timelines. The Local timeline is a feed of all of the posts from all of the accounts within your same instance. The Federated timeline is a feed that shows all of the posts across all instances – at least the ones that support posting to the Federated timeline. Not all of them do.

Librem Social has disabled both Local and Federated timeline support on its instance of Mastodon. I see this as its biggest strength and it has been a good thing for me. It means I am not at risk of being blindsided by a deluge of random, unsolicited content that I never wanted to see. From day one, I have had to intentionally seek out content by searching for it. I search for hashtags, keywords, and phrases related to my interests. I have been able to find and follow people across many different Mastodon instances that I find interesting in some way or another.

General Purpose Theme

Some instances of Mastodon are narrow in their theme and focus. Others, like Librem One, don't have a specific theme or topic – they are just general purpose. My interests are pretty eclectic, so I don't want to feel like I'm pigeonholed into posting about specific stuff all the time.

For example, I interact with a lot of good folks from from the fosstodon.org instance. Sure, they can and do post about all kinds of things aside from FOSS (free and open-source software), but the name of the instance still has that implication and that is their main interest and focus.

I like that Librem Social is a bit more generic in scope.

Mastodon In General

The rest of my reasons are likely true of most Mastodon instances, not just Librem Social.

Chronological Timeline

The main feed is in chronological order. No annoying algorithms causing different posts to show up at the top of your feed every time you reload. I never miss a post if I don't want to, and they are always in the same order.

No Tracking, No Ads

It's certainly possible that some Mastodon instances track their users in some fashion or serve ads, but I would bet that most don't.

And what a refreshing experience it is to not be accosted with endless ads in a social media timeline.

Community

I have met some genuinely good, caring, thoughtful, intelligent people on Mastodon. Some of them share my interests. Some of them don't, but are quite good at expressing themselves in a way that I find interesting or make me want to learn new things.

This has been possible because Mastodon is about allowing people to interact and share their thoughts. It's about building communities, not about exploiting and monetizing people.

Conclusion

I have deleted all of my other social media accounts except for Facebook and LinkedIn.

I keep Facebook because I use it to participate in a few important groups, including Church and family groups. And I keep LinkedIn because it is the best way to keep in touch with professional contacts, network with others in my same area of expertise, and find good employment in my field. But I rarely post to my own timeline in either of them.

Librem Social is now my preferred social media platform, and I hope Mastodon continues to grow and evolve. So far, it's the closest thing to my ideal of what social media should be. I think it has tremendous potential.


#100DaysToOffload (No. 8) #socialmedia #tech #intentionism