What the Web Still Is
7 March 2023 | 1:46 am

Posted on CSS-Tricks: Being a pessimist is an easy thing to fall back on, and I’m trying to be better about it. As we close the year out, I thought it would be a good exercise to take stock of the state of the web and count our blessings…

I doubled-down on RSS
6 March 2023 | 12:00 am

Twitter is currently a lot like one of those spiral coin drop wishing wells you encounter at the mall. The quarter that is its imminent demise is revolving faster and faster and will probably drop out of sight sooner than later.

Part of mourning the communities I once had there involves figuring out how to not forget who was important to me. This means creating a way to stay abreast of what they’re doing.

One of the most obvious ways to stay in the know is subscribe to RSS feeds.

There are plenty of resources out there that explain what RSS is, how to use it, and why it is important, so I won’t get into it here. I also won’t belabor how RSS is more in the spirit of the web than the walled gardens that are most contemporary social networks.

What I will tell you is:

  1. Stephen Heymann is a piece of shit, and
  2. How this experience has been going for me.

What I did

The trigger moment for me was reaching the end of my Twitter feed. That’s, uh, not supposed to happen.

I took this as a sign that I was racing the clock. It was a signal that Twitter’s underlying infrastructure is unstable to the point where anything could be irretrievably lost at any moment.

I took the time to go to my account’s list of people I’m following. Starting from the bottom and working upwards, I checked to see if they had a blog on their personal website. If they did, I threw their site’s URL into Feedbin and subscribed if the option was available.

I didn’t discriminate on who was added. The thought is that if I cared enough to follow you on Twitter, I also care enough to follow you elsewhere. I also did not discriminate on if you are a person or an organization.

Lists, chronology, and feelings

Starting at the beginning of the list of who I follow on Twitter and working to the list’s end was a trip. The act lays out my journey of who I am today and what I believe minus the context of the journey it took to get there.

I’m not sure I recommend doing this.

The act throws you into a weirdly compressed existential place, where you find yourself wondering where you would have wound up if you never joined Twitter or didn’t follow the people you wound up following.

That said, I can’t go back on it now!

Why didn’t you automate it?

There are tools to do this for you automatically.

However, I wanted to see what folks were up to. I like personal websites, but I don’t exactly have a ritual where I visit all of them on a periodic basis. Visiting each person’s personal site let me check in and see all the cool things people are doing in addition to writing blog posts.

I mean, seriously. Check out these beautiful creations—people are just out there doing their thing, and it's wonderful:

The about page for Tyler Gaw's personal website. A huge vector illustration of a kind, bearded man's staring face dominates the left-hand side of the screen. Behind it is a large red background with a light distressed texture and the phrase, 'Still trying.' set in a large, powerful sans-serif typeface. Screenshot.
Tyler Gaw.
An intense vaporwave aesthetic for localghost, Sophie Koonin's personal website. Twin dolphins breach out from an infinite checkerboard background. In front of them are mirrored Greek statue busts placed on Corinthian columns. Behind the dolphins are cartoon palm trees. Everything is tinted pink, teal, and purple.In front of the columns is the main content of the website, a blog landing showing a preview of a post titled, 'Painting the whole beetle: an adventure in learning to learn.' Screenshot.
Sophie Koonin.
A complicated 3D tangle of white, dark blue, teal, red, and white arrows fill up most of the screen. Part of the tangle spells out the phrase, 'Acko.' Below it is the tagline, 'Hackery, Math, and Design', and below that is the name, 'Steven Wittens'. Screenshot.
Steven Wittens.
Huge white sans-serif type spells out, 'Adenkunle Oduye.' The name sticks starkly out from a black background and a mininal design. Below the name is a small pronounciation guide that reads, 'Add-eh-koon-lay Oh-due-yay.' There are two buttons present after the pronounciation, one offering a plain audio pronounciation and one offering a spicy audio pronounciation. Screenshot.
Adekunle Oduye.
An essay titled, 'The Pattern Language of Project Xanadu' on Maggie Appleton's blog. The design uses delicate black and purple serif typography set on a sublte light beige-to-white gradient. Following the title is an excerpt that reads, 'Project Xanadu as a pattern language, rather than a failed software project'. Screenshot.
Maggie Appleton.

There is also another factor to contend with, one that doesn’t neatly sync up with automation: people do whatever they want with fill-in-the-blank input fields.

Finding RSS feeds

Browsers used to do this for you automatically.

Google is experimenting with reintroducing a RSS feed reader in Chrome. Google has also systematically destroyed all trust I have in this area due to both killing Google Reader, and, well, being Google. So that’s a non-starter.

Feedbin, like other dedicated RSS readers, is pretty smart about searching for common URL structures for where folks output their feeds to. This means you can usually paste someone’s root domain and it’ll figure things out for you.

Despite this, it is not a perfect science.

Where are you?

Some people link straight to their personal website from the website field in their Twitter profile. That’s straightforward and great.

Sometimes people use the bio field instead, which again, pretty straightforward. A common situation for this is when someone has more than one thing they want to promote.

Services such as LinkTree arose to dodge around the “link in bio” problem. Finding a link to someone’s personal site here usually means one more click. This is not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but also not easily and accurately detectable by automation.

Some people link to other people’s websites. This is fine, but another case where nuance can cause automation to go awry.

Some people link to another social service, where that service is the one that lists their personal website. A good example of this is someone linking to their GitHub profile, and then that profile linking out to their personal site. Again, fine, and again, not easy to automate.

Roach motels

Services like Instagram, Medium, and Substack are longterm dangers to your content persisting and antithetical to the open web. They’re also immensely popular.

I did not try and follow these sorts of accounts (with some special exceptions), and encourage you to seek an alternative service if you do use one of these platforms.

When your site comes with a RSS feed for free

Certain sites give you an RSS feed out of the box. I wish more services did this. It’s usually easy to guess which ones will, in that popular themes for services like Wordpress and Squarespace (eww) are tells.

Discovering the feed for these kinds of sites was the easiest, in that Feedbin almost always could work with the root URL of the site.

When your personal site is a dead end

One thing I discovered is a lot of sites that look like they should have RSS feeds do not. Hobbyist developer blogs: I’m pointing my finger at you.

I mean, I get it. Building a blog from scratch is a good way to practice learning new skills—RSS may be low on the list of priorities. Still, it kills me when an interesting site has compelling content but does not provide any mechanism to know when updates occur.

There are also other options. Oscar wrote rss-manufaktur, a brilliant way to add RSS feeds for blog-like websites. This is a great option that sits between doing nothing, or setting up and getting overwhelmed by web scrapers set to run on a preset schedule.

When only the blog has a RSS feed

The little snippet of code that announces the presence of a RSS feed is sometimes only placed on the blog portion of the site. This sort of makes sense, but also impedes discovery.

I got in the habit of also checking the blog’s URL if the site looked like it should have a feed. It worked more often than not.

It’s better to place RSS feed metadata on every page. There’s no way of knowing how someone is winding up on your site, or why. Better to proactively accommodate them to make feed discovery easier.

When you make feed discovery super easy

Thank you.

Hitting good ol’ CMD + F and searching for “rss”, “feed”, or “subscribe” is a quick and easy method of discovery. Finding a persistent link in the footer? Bliss.

A close second place is a RSS icon, although that means I have to visually scan for it. Remember, the best icon is a text label.

When you don’t have an RSS feed, but have a newsletter signup instead

Newsletters are great! I love them.

I’m totally fine getting an email telling me what you’ve been up to. The unspoken rule is that you don’t intermix it with marketing spam—it is a recipe for an instant unsubscribe if you betray this trust.

In my experience, individual newsletters don’t really sell you out too often. However, less scrupulous organizations often do. One thing you can proactively do here is to use the plus sign trick to have some control over getting opted into other mailing lists without your consent.

Some newsletter services also offer companion RSS feeds as a feature, which is pretty cool. Buttondown, the service I use for both my new personal newsletter and The A11Y Project’s newsletter, has this capability.

Some RSS readers also did the hard work to make it easy and allow you to subscribe to newsletter services like you would a blog’s feed.

When you offer multiple feeds based on the category of content served

Truly, a pro move. More of this please.

Feedbin's RSS feed subscription modal. The URL 'https://adactio.com/' has been entered. There are seven feeds present: Journal, Links, Articles, Notes, Adactio, and then Journal and Links again. The repeated feeds offer JSON alternatives. Switch toggles are present, allowing you to subscribe to one or multiple feeds. Screenshot.
Jeremy Keith, you magnificent son of a bitch.

Reading my RSS feed

I don’t read posts in my RSS reader. Instead I’ll pop them open in a new tab and enjoy the designed experience. Making a website is a ton of work and I try to respect that.

That said, one huge benefit to RSS readers is their version of reader mode, where you as the reader can modify how the reading experience looks to better suit your needs. Ideally the blog uses all the appropriate metadata so you can use the browser’s reader mode too.

I consider both RSS reader interfaces and browser reader modes to be highly customizable assistive technology. The web a better place for this kind of functionality existing.

Even more lists and feelings

The biggest impact on doubling-down on RSS is emotional.

Twitter enabled an easy way to create parasocial relationships, but structurally provided a low effort, low stakes mechanism to do something about it.

I’m not saying I cultivated friendships there like some sort of Machiavellian genius. However, telling someone you enjoyed something they wrote via a quick Tweet was far lower stakes than the implicit formality of email.

Think of it as the difference between:

  • Being at a party and telling someone you like their outfit, versus
  • Seeing someone on the street, deciding you like their look, then following them home so you can ring their doorbell to tell them the same.

To that point, RSS is entirely one-sided. Using it as your primary info-gathering tool means you’re transformed into a passive consumer.

Sure, you can share stuff you read on social media via your reader’s tooling, but it is not the same. If you’re someone like me who is already feeling the loss of community, this is an awful experience.

What about webmentions?

I don’t really get webmentions. I mean, I do from a technical perspective, but they usually manifest on a site as a list of clutter that usually gets tucked away behind a disclosure menu.

I have weeded out a few sites from my RSS reader that pipe webmention events into their feed and consequently overwhelm mine. That’s for you, the site owner, and not for me, the site reader.

Format and formality

Most industry blog posts skew towards a more serious and instructional tone. There are exceptions, but they are not that common.

If you judge someone solely from the content they blog about, most folk will seem stodgy and humorless. I’m painfully aware that I’m no exception.

The problem is that if you position yourself as irreverent, you’re likely to be dismissed unless you are exceedingly technically competent. This is true for many disciplines, but it is specifically relevant in tech—especially if you’re not white or male.

This means there’s a ton of unspoken pressure to produce dry, technical pieces to reinforce the perception of being an experienced authority.

I’m not saying everyone should drop what they’re doing and get on tumblr. It’s more that the blog post’s format, as well as our industry’s relationship to it, impose some implicit constraints that can reduce someone’s identity.

Everything happens so much

I have a ritual where I have a set of news and industry blogs I read daily, to stay current. This includes my RSS reader.

Shoving nearly the entirely of my Twitter feed into an RSS reader created drastically more content to read. I definitely skip and skim more. If you adopt this sort of approach be prepared to do the same.

I have my daily reads. I am subscribed to an uncomfortably large amount of newsletters. The dialog still continues on Twitter. Mastodon also has its share of industry chatter now (but discovery still has a lot of friction).

And yet, despite all this effort I still feel a large amount of FOMO. I am sure this is part of the grieving process, but I also hate feeling like I am simultaneously too plugged in and not plugged in enough.


Probably the worst aspect of the current state of RSS is that it has been reduced to something whose main practitioners are deeply invested in technology, and specifically web technology.

RSS is very much of the mentality of the time of its invention: the open and free web of decades past.

The systematic suppression of RSS means that the majority of the people utilizing it skew towards the key usage demographic of that era. To say it plainly: that means, wealthy, white, and male. Our current industry dynamics even further reinforce this.

One thing Twitter did incredibly well was expose me to many new viewpoints and philosophies. Importantly, many of these came from minoritized individuals who historically did not have easy access to centralized platform to organize around.

Despite adding as many of my Twitter followers to my RSS feed as I could, my feed’s content still disproportionately represents the majority demographic. This means my worldview is shrinking.

I may now be reading deeper into topics like the particulars of home automation, but it means I have less of a chance of knowing about the wider concerns of the world. This is horrifying, given that we’re backsliding into genocidal fascism.

An experiment

One way to move the needle on RSS adoption is to advocate for it for folks who normally wouldn’t use it. It might be more of a struggle than you initially think.

Try talk someone you know who casually uses the web into trying RSS. Here’s some parameters to communicate:

  • You can use it on your browser, and also not on your browser.
  • You don’t have to pay for it, but you might have to pay for a service to read it.
  • Some, but not all sites use it, and it takes additional effort to confirm which do.
  • You need to copy and paste URLs for it to work, but also the right URLs.
  • It will not look like the site you’re used to reading.
  • It does not have ads, but the site it points to still does.
  • You may or may not see the entirety of an article’s content.
  • Sometimes content you don’t see on the website will show up in your reader.
  • Sometimes content you don’t see on your reader will only be available on the website.
  • You may or may not see other parts of the site other than the published article.
  • You will not be able to comment on the published article directly and need to go to the source instead.

Now compare that with typing “cnn​.com” into google​.com’s search (a ton of people visit URLs this way). We’ve clearly got our work cut out for us.


So, there you have it:

A random person on the internet who freaked out and jammed as much of his entire Twitter feed into his RSS reader as possible. He then freaked out about freaking out, and then freaked out again about the new prison he built for himself.

I’m not sure I’d recommend doing what I did, but I do think RSS is an incredibly powerful, under-appreciated, and under-utilized technology.

As our communities continue to fracture, an open data format like RSS may be a way to bind them back together. The web just needs to double-down on it first.

My Mastodon strategy
21 February 2023 | 12:00 am

I know, I know. Yet another “how to Mastodon” post.

That said, I feel like I’ve finally gotten at least a semblance of traction on making my Mastodon feed worthwhile. Reader, it was not easy.

I should also point out that I was incredibly invested in Twitter for staying on top of industry goings on, networking, friendship, and entertainment. A lot of the following is an attempt of a highly motivated individual in a state of mourning trying to recapture what I once had.


I do the following every Sunday:


The reason I use Debirdify on a weekly basis is to try and keep up with expatriation as Twitter’s death spiral speeds up. Once authorized, Debirdify can search through both people you follow on Twitter and people who follow you.

Debirdify will attempt to identify the presence of a Mastdon link in someone’s Twitter profile, and then add it to a CSV you can import on Mastodon to mass-follow.

Mastodon allows for granular control over bulk import of data such as followers, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. Be very careful that you select appending to your follower list, and not override.

Mastodon web UI for importing data. The title of the section is, 'Import type'. The instructions read, 'You can import data that you have exported from another server, such as a list of the people you are following or blocking.' Following that is a select menu in a collapsed state, with a selected option that reads, 'Following list.' After the select is two columns. The left column is a file upload prompt with a label that reads, 'Data', and instructions that reads, 'CSV file exported from another Mastodon server'. The right column has two radio options. The first radio option reads, 'Merge. Keep existing records and add new ones.' The second radio option reads, 'Overwrite. Replace current records with the new ones.' Following the two columns is a button labeled, 'Upload'. Cropped screenshot.
Don’t do what I did and accidentally overwrite your follower list.

Debirdify also offers a few other interesting features, such as a visualization of follower breakdown by instance, as well as identifying possible near-matches.

A donut chart with a title of, 'Instance Distribution'. The chart has one large red slice that takes up about 25% of the chart, an orange slide that takes up about 17%, a lime green slicer that takes up about 10%, and then a succession of around 30 thinner slices that take up the remaining 48%. Below the chart is a legend listing instances in order of instances representation. Instances are mastodon.social, front-end.social, hachyderm.op., mstdn.social, indieweb.social, mastodon.online, mastodon.cloud, xoxo.zone, a11y.info, vis.social, mastodon.world, typo.social, toot.cafe, mastodon.lol, disabled.social, fosstodon.org, techhub.social, dair-community.social, mastodon.scopt, mas.to, mastodon.gamedev.place, webperf.social, infosec.exchange, sfba.social, mastodon.xyz, newsie.social, ruby.social, kolektiva.social, mstdn.science, mastodon.art, toot.community, chaos.social, social.coop, tilde.zone, social.lol, vivalid.net, thoughtbot.social, masto.design, better.oston, tech.tgbt, aus.socail, mastodon.design, social.vasilis.nl, social.design.systems, ist.social, wandering.shop, universeodon.com, carhenge.club, toot.site, mastodon.nl, mastodon.yupgup.com, mastodon.laurakalbag.com, mastodon.ie, bitbang.social, jorts.horse, iosdev.space, masto.ai, pdx.social, queer.garden, and mastodonapp.uk. Cropped screenshot.

Of the techniques I use, Debirdify is probably the one you want to use first. The time is ticking on automated helper services like this continuing to be allowed on Twitter, so better to get in while you can.


Followgraph is a service that combs though who you are following on Mastodon, determines which accounts people you follow are following, and then if you’re following those accounts or not. If you aren’t, they are listed in order descending total of mutual follower count.

A table of Mastodon accounts with a title of, 'Followgraph for Mastodon. Three rows are present, with each row having an avatar, a title and description pulled from their Mastodon profile info, and a follow button. The three results are Eugen Rochko, Mastodon's official account, and Casey Newton. Cropped screenshot.

The reason I use this service weekly is the same as Debirdify. As more people migrate over to Mastodon, this increases my chances of finding them.

The downside, however, is this reinforces a lot of biases in who I follow. Because of this, I recommend starting from the bottom of the list as opposed to the top after the first pass—less mutual followers isn’t indicative of less worth.

I also wish there was a way to hide people I’m not interested in following. There are certain people I explicitly have no interest in adding to my feed, but remembering why each time I review the results is mental overhead I don’t need in my life right now. That said, I do appreciate that this is a free tool run by someone in their free time.

Mastodon Flock

Winning the award for best UI in this post, Mastodon Flock allows you to connect your Twitter and Mastodon accounts to follow people in bulk.

A UI that looks like Windows 95's installation wizard, complete with a system tray that contains a clock and volume icon. The title of the installer is 'Mastodon Flock.' Floating in the center of the screenshot is an application window titled, 'Installation Method'. Inside the window is the prompt, 'Select wich installation method you'd prefer.', followed by two radio options. The first option is 'Typical,' with a following description that reads, 'Connects to your Twitter and Mastodon instance. You are able to see who you already follow, as well as follow people in bulk.' The second radio option is, 'Advanced,' with a following description that reads, 'Searches the Fediverse directly. You must manually follow each account externally.' After the radiogroup is more instructions that read, 'Click Next to authorize the setup to read the necessary information from your Twitter account. At the bottom of the window are three buttons labeled, 'Back', 'Next', and 'Cancel'. Screenshot.
Click “Cancel” for a treat!

Whom to Follow

Whom to Follow is another “follow mutual follows” service.

A list of accounts with the title, 'Some new accounts you might like'. Three accounts are listed, including an avatar, their name, their Mastodon instance account, their posting frequency and count, their profile bio statement, avatars representing mutual followers, and follow buttons. The listed accounts are 'Bas Broek, basthomas@bird.makeup', 'Mike Paciello, MikePaciello@mastodon.social', and 'Vincent Durand (Wyllen), One_div@piaille.fr'. A preferences disclosure menu in an open state is also present, listing sort order options. The options are, 'Percentage of Followers You Follow', 'Most Followers You Follow', 'Most Followers', and 'Fewest Followers'. Cropped screenshot.

If you’re picking up on a theme here, it’s that combing through multiple services to exfiltrate people I want to learn from takes time and effort.

Unlike Debirdify and Mastodon Flock, Whom to Follow does not require a login to function. If you feel weird about giving random apps access to your account, this is the service for you.


One neat feature about Mastodon is you can add code to your website to verify your identity and create a programmatic association between a website you own and a URL you list on your profile.

My Mastodon profile. The screenshot includes an avatar, my display name, my Mastodon handle, and my bio statement, as well as a profile information list widget. My display name is, 'Eric', my Mastodon handle is '@eric@social.ericwbailey.website', and by bio is, '#accessibility advocate, lapsed inclusive designer. The #A11Y Project maintainer, design systems wonk, recovering curmudgeon.' The list widget has five rows. The first row is titled, 'Joined', and has a value of 'Jan 04, 2023'. The second row is titled, 'Pronouns', and has a value of 'he/him/his'. The third row has a title of 'Avatar', and has a value of 'Illustration of a white man with short dark hair, beard, and glasses.' The fourth row has a title of 'Website', and a value of 'ericwbailey.website.' It also has a green highlight and a checkmark icon before the website URL value, indicating I have verified ownership of my domain. The fifth row has a title of 'Newsletter', with a value of 'ericwbailey.website/newsletter'. A prominent button labeled, 'Edit profile' is also present. Cropped screenshot.

It is not a perfect system, but it is good enough. It’s also a very web-friendly gesture in a sea of walled garden social media sites that like to pretend interests outside of their domain do not exist.

StreetPass works by using a browser extension to passively monitor every website you visit. If it detects Mastodon identity verification code it will log it to a list for you to manually review at a later date.

I like this in that it surfaces a way to discover people doing interesting things that exists outside of the immediate filter bubble of “people you know like you who know people also like you.”

Granted, I still have the selection bias of what I’m usually reading online is aligned with my personal interests, but you gotta draw the line somewhere.


I check FeedSeer. This web app is an open source Mastodon-centric replacement for Tweet Shelf, which in turn is a replacement for Nuzzel. Wheels within wheels, folks.

This is less about finding people, and more trying to stay on top of the zeitgeist. That said, it sometimes does shake out good conversations, and consequently good people to follow.

Ad hoc

I do the following when the mood strikes me:

Follow people who follow me

Folks, I am begging you to add information to your Mastodon profile. If you follow me, I am going to pop into your profile and see what you’re all about.

Profile demonstrating how a new Mastodon user's profile appears. The avatar uses the default illustration of a happy elephant head. The background banner is a defautl light blue. The display name is, 'a fake name', and the Mastodon handle is, '@fakename@fake.account'. Following that information is the profile information list widget, which only has one row. The row's title is, 'Joined', and has a value of 'Dec 06,2022.' Underneath the widget is additional profile information, which states that the account has zero posts, one account they're following, and zero followers. Cropped screenshot.
Who are you?

I view investing in Mastodon as an opportunity to revitalize my follower feed. Part of that includes evaluating who you are and what you’re interested in. Please help everyone out by telling everyone a little bit about yourself!

Follow people who get boosted

Boosting is similar to Twitter’s retweet functionality, minus algorithmic weighing of the act.

If someone boosts something interesting, they’re usually doing it for a reason. If it’s also interesting to me, I’ll usually pop onto the profile of the person whose post was boosted to see what their whole deal is.

Follow people from followed hashtags

You can follow hashtags on Mastodon, which generates a timeline of posts from folks using the hashtag you’ve elected to follow. This is important, in that without hashtags Mastodon has made a deliberate decision that everyone structurally cannot see everything everyone else is doing.

A list view on an iOS app. The list's title is, 'Followed Hashtags'. There are five hashtags present in the list, and they are, 'a11y', 'accessibility', 'fediblock', 'PixelArt', and 'somerville'. Cropped screenshot.
Mastoot for iOS.

Hashtags serve as a method to bubble things up into the common discourse of servers that haven’t blocked each other for easier discovery. And speaking of blocking servers:

Block instances, hashtags, and people

Blocking is another important aspect of social media hygiene, and Mastodon is no different.

Instance blocking

Mastodon allows you to block everyone from an instance level. A good way to think about this is if you set up your email to block any incoming messages from anyone from, say, a @free-yeti-cooler-4-u.biz domain.

A cropped screenshot of Mastodon's domain block Federation preferences UI. The UI has a text input with a placeholder label that reads, 'Domain'. Following it are two large buttons that read, 'Search' and 'Reset'. Underneath the buttons is a list of two blocked domains. The first blocked domain is called 'example.server', and has a follower count of 14 accounts. The second blocked domain is, 'another.example.instance', and has a follower count of two. In the upper-right portion of the screenshot are three other buttons labeled, 'Add new domain block', 'Export', and 'Import'.

The reason for this is there are a lot of incredibly vile instances out there. I follow the #fediblock hashtag to surface especially egregious places.

If you don’t run your own instance (I do), you don’t really need to worry about this. If your instance is smaller, you can definitely recommend servers to block to your instance administrators. That said, be kind and do the work to determine if there is an established process for reporting this sort of thing.

I understand protocols do not work this way, but I wish Mastodon as a service built atop ActivityPub would take some ownership and, you know, ban Nazis, pedophiles, and Nazi pedophiles outright.

It is exhausting and extremely depressing to learn about, and then visit these instances to verify their content is as bad as reported. I’ve read and seen things I can’t unlearn or unsee.

Twitter at least nominally pretended to do this for us, but has let these efforts languish like a lot of other critical platform services. I will say that it is probably net better that the human content moderators it likely took to accomplish this are now free from that particular hell, and hopefully have other ways to put food on their table.

Blocking hashtags

You can block words on Mastodon, and a word can be a hashtag.

This is one of those circumstances where community norms actually work in the community’s favor, in that it’s easier to remove content you don’t want to read if people opt into describing it with something that a blocking phrase can target.

Blocking people

Blocking people on Twitter is a lot like blocking people on Mastodon, in that it’s probably a good thing to do proactively.

Unfortunately, it is far easier for a motivated individual to circumvent blocks on Mastodon. This makes things like brigading a lot more commonplace. Double-unfortunately, Mastodon’s current general population skews more towards tech-literate, meaning there’s a higher than normal chance they possess the skills to bypass platform protections.

Mastodon isn’t Twitter and you should stop trying to treat it as such

Preemptively adding this common refrain from the Mastodon community at-large should indicate the culture of unsolicited mansplaining that is still prevalent.

The point is not that I’m trying to fit Twitter-shaped interactions into Mastodon. The point is I’m trying to make this social network engaging enough to use through a whole host of unofficial tools and esoteric processes.

Let Mastodon’s new server discovery experience be evidence pointing to that previous point.

This all said

If you take anything away from this post, it’s that I expend a tremendous amount of effort to try and make Mastodon work. This isn’t even beginning to get into the complexities of international IP law, server maintenance, and other difficult problems you need to contend with as an instance administrator.

Despite all this effort, I’m still not entirely convinced it is a place for me.

Mastodon has some deep problems that arise from its core architectural decisions. To be clear, so does Twitter. If you’re poised at your keyboard ready to tell me that Mastodon—a microblogging platform with following, replying, instant resharing, liking, rich media, and hashtag functionality—isn’t intended to be a Twitter replacement, please don’t.

My biggest criticism and wish for the platform is a better way to discover and follow people who aren’t like me.

I’m not saying I want to be buried in a sea of folks who believe in the opposite of my political and philosophical ideologies. I want a relatively easy way to find interesting people doing interesting things outside of my immediate filter bubble.

Level of effort

Mastodon in its current state does not do this type of discovery well. This means the onus is on us, its users to undertake it.

That’s a non-starter for some folk, especially if they don’t skew towards working in tech or tech-adjacent fields.

I also feel that instances based on interest aren’t great either, in that people are far too complicated to be reduced in such a way. Because of this, I feel self-hosting is ultimately the way forward, but that is a different post for a different time.

Despite the previous thoughts, I plan on continuing to be on Mastodon, at least for a little while longer. If the kinds of things I say here interest you, consider following me over there at eric@social.ericwbailey.website.

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