Mastodon and the Twitter ‘Transition’? What does it mean for writers & authors?
Just when some writers thought they’d have the weekend to relax; or get an hour or two of writing done; ponder their book proposal; prepare for their book launch; submit to literary agents; catch up on the news; chat with their friends in the Twitterverse; Tweet a few words to increase their following; or pitch a newspaper or magazine editor with an article via a direct message on Twitter…they suddenly had to work out the origin of a word they’d probably never heard before: Mastodon.
Yes, masticate that around in your mouth and misspell it a few times like I did…Mastadon, Mastodon, Marstodon. Something to do with an elephant?
Well, yes, there is an elephant in the room and here’s what I understand so far.
In the past week, Elon Musk and his takeover of Twitter have:
- Led to mass sackings of staff (thousands) including many from teams who have spearheaded safeguards for the platform.
- Raised the prospect of a ‘blue tick’ being able to be bought by anyone…which means anyone (or bot or anonymous interest group) can be ‘verified’ if they pay (which dilutes the whole ‘trust’ thing the blue tick inferred).
- Raised awareness that this mass communication platform now funnels money directly into the control of an individual (and shareholders) whose views authors and writers may or may not fully share. (for example…and I’ll fess up here, amongst other things: I’d prefer all the big brains and big $ available in this world to work toward saving and renewing the planet we’re on rather than funnelling $$$ and brainpower into potentially wrecking not just this one but more).
- Reminded users that their data – every single search, follow, like, scroll, pause, comment – can be mined – for unknown current and future purposes.
- Add your own point here as I’m sure there are many!
This in turn has led to many writers, thinkers and long-time Twitter users questioning whether they stay on the platform.
The key arguments for staying on Twitter seem to be:
- Writers have built up an audience, community and close connections on Twitter over many years – it’s a form of social proof – and don’t want to see them vanish. (fyi: if you’re an author, writer or personality who have/had 5k+ followers on Twitter before Elon Musk & his investors took over – GO YOU! – you can get a Fedified (verified) account over on Mastodon as a ‘notable’ account. Instructions are here…and it’s also a great list if you want to follow people and trust you are following the right person. . For now it’s mostly overseas peeps, but now you/we Australian authors and writers know – it will be good to see this change. (Don’t get bogged down here though, read on and only come back to this at the end!)
- The #writingcommunity + #amwriting tags (and for Australian authors, tags like #AusWriters etc) have led to many great opportunities and relationships.
- Many publishers say that a big social media following is crucial to getting a publishing deal…so authors don’t want to lose their amassed Twitter following.
- Twitter users (including me!) really enj0y the diverse community and interactions on a variety of subjects.
- Tweeting has become as natural and as addictive as having a cup of coffee (or two or three) over the course of a day.
- It’s hard to learn a new platform and they’ve learnt Twitter and plan to stay.
- ‘I’m watching the people I admire, and if they go, I’ll go.’
- ‘I’m staying because I want Twitter to have good people on it and a great community…we don’t want to be run out of town and leave it to the ‘bad guys”.
- ‘I just want to see how it plays out.’
- ‘This is my home, I’m not leaving.’
- And, totally understandably: ‘I just don’t have the energy, the time, the headspace or the capability to learn a new platform.’
I get all this. But I also get that many platforms have come and gone over time and many more will wane and others emerge in the future.
In Look – It’s Your Book I emphasise that the most important platform for any writer is their own website and email list. Why? For exactly the reasons that are playing out: that when you build your following on someone else’s platform – ‘they’ can change the rules, change the price, change the algorithm. Sure, it’s difficult to engage on an author website compared to a platform such as Twitter…but if you don’t have your followers’ email addresses and permission to speak with them – everything can evaporate quite quickly. (Oh yes, good time for me to mention you can sign up for my very-rarely-sent newsletter here 😉 ).
BUT for many of us, our social media is not just a platform – and for many of us it’s NOT EVEN a platform – it’s a way of life, a way of communicating and caring with our peeps.
So where do things stand right now?
- Some writers and authors are saying they will stay on Twitter until the end.
- Others are saying they’ll be leaving Twitter and putting their efforts into their Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok sites.
- Some authors and writers are saying ‘farewell’ and going cold turkey on Twitter – planning to spend their time off social media writing their next big thing.
- Other authors and writers (me included) are hedging our bets and experimenting with Mastodon and potentially totally weaning off Twitter.
- And some big name authors have moved right on over.
What is Mastodon?
Oh geez – ask some tech wizard to explain it to you, it’s nearly midnight here! 😉 But, basically, Mastodon is: “…the largest decentralised social network on the internet. Built on open source web standards by a non-profit.” Basically, it’s a bit like Twitter but also a LOT LOT different (run by volunteers rather than a corporation, some seriously great principles, ethics, community etc). No ads. 500 character limit. Posts are displayed in chronological order…no algorithm changing what content you see…you get to choose! Keep reading, but come back to watch this as there is a great 2 minute Mastodon explainer video here! and you will find help files here https://fedi.tips.
The problem over the weekend for Mastodon and its volunteers though is – and totally understandably – the rush to join has led to server and serviceability issues, plus delays in being admitted to the site. So some authors are saying ‘it doesn’t work’, while other writers are saying ‘it doesn’t work for me because it’s not Twitter.’
Anyway, it is early days! The concept I had to get my head around is that there are multiple ‘servers’ (also known as ‘instances’) and you must choose to join one to get started.
This means having to initially choose whether to base yourself on an Australian server (a great one is aus.social and you can sign up easily here https://signup.aus.social and then download the app – of which there are a few choices – later).
UPDATE: 7.30pm Wed Nov 9 – UPDATE: Apparently as of this afternoon, due to needing to increase capacity for demand, the Aus.Social server/instance is now INVITE ONLY rather than being able to just join. Not sure when/if this will change. Here’s an invite if needed: https://aus.social/invite/UVhxfSnd BUT you can also join any other server that suits you for now – and still talk and totally interact with the people on aus.social so it’s no problem at all.
Or you might want to choose a journalism-specific (journa.host) / or art server, a romance authors’ server (@romancelandia.club) , or a science server (mstdn.science) or a chatterbox server or a business-leaning server or a sustainability server etc… there are SO, SO many options and more all the time. You can even set up your own server if you want to maintain and curate it (and some universities are setting their own up so they can verify the accounts etc).
The good news is though, don’t worry about which server to set yourself up. Just pick one and get started as you can always change servers and migrate your followers later…AND – you get to chat and follow people across servers anyhow. You are not siloed! You can search topics across all servers using hashtags…indeed the entire Fediverse (which stands for the Federated Universe) is at your fingertips.
Phewee. Well, who knows where all this will lead?!
Is the great Twitter Mastodon migration just a storm in a teacup – a fad like flares and shoulder pads and acid wash jeans?
Will everyone pile back into Twitter when Elon starts remunerating all the content creators who create the tweets that allow for monetisation through advertising? Or will another new platform emerge?
Might Mastodon be able to improve its usability, add features and garner a large and loyal following? (After a few days on Mastodon…and after getting my head around it, I’m actually really, really enjoying it!)
I think the messages for writers and authors include that it’s up to us to be aware of what is happening and TAKE the lead. It’s up to us to value our words and the content we create and the people we commune with. It’s up to us to TAKE chances. Up to us to BUILD the world we want.
We need to inform ourselves about what’s going on in and around publishing (whether it’s a book, a post, a Tweet, a Tok, a Tube, a Gram or a Mastodon ‘toot’) and then live, work, write and social media (if we must) in a way that is true to ourselves, our values and the type of world we want to live in…and leave behind.
That’s it for me today, I’m not super active on socials as I just tend to post when something really gets me curious, happy or I think it will be of help to someone – but you can currently find me on Mastodon via my handle @AnnaFeatherstone@aus.social – please say hi. 🙂
I also have a minor presence on LinkedIn, Instagram, FaceBook and Twitter (for now, but looking at alternative open-source social media which are listed further below) – so I suppose just follow me wherever you’re most comfortable and let’s see where it all ends up.
Hope to see you and read you somewhere. 🙂
Oh, and great tip from Jessica Friedmann on the Australian Binder of Writers page on Facebook: “Lots of chat about leaving Twitter, but if you’re going, don’t delete your account; somebody else will be able to claim and purchase-verify it, with all prior tweets to that handle now pointing towards them.”
Ongoing updates from me with extra tips (check back in):
- Even if you’re not planning on moving to Mastodon, it might make sense to still claim your name there so no one else can squat on it.
- BUT, if you are jumping in, do add your Mastodon handle to your other social media and your website so people can easily find you.
- I’d recommend you use your full name (or whatever name you usually go by) as your handle so people can easily recognise you.
- You can choose to vet followers (ie: you get to look at their profile before allowing them to follow you) and you can definitely say no…just like you probably do to all those ‘doctor/rugged man-types’ who DM you on Insta. 😉 (Keep your eye out for dodgy accounts and just don’t let them follow you). Or, you can go public and let anyone follow you.
- You can choose to ‘Toot’ just to your followers, or to everyone.
- When you join, fill out your profile and then do an #introduction post. It’s a bit about you to the community and you include the #introduction hashtag, plus a few other hashtags that may be your key interests and denote other people who you might like to connect with.
- When you decide to follow someone and you go into their profile, directly under their profile it says ‘Note’. This is amazing as you can actually put a little note here (that only you can see) that will remind you of who the person is, or how they came into your circle, or…whatever it is you want to specifically remember about the person! Pretty cool!
- Enable Two-Factor identification for security. You can access this by going to ‘Edit Profile’ – ‘Account’ – Two-Factor Identification. You will likely need both your phone and your laptop for this.
- When you post there are so many options, it’s wonderful! Only to followers, only to the person you’re speaking to, to everyone etc. Be sure to click on what you want before you post.
- Remember…any time on social media means you’re not actually writing…but it may mean research, getting inspiration, finding your people (and/or writerly procrastination) etc. Set limits, but also, if it makes you happy, enjoy!
Some good articles to read to fill out your understanding/knowledge of Mastodon a bit more:
- Important information about security and privacy on Mastodon
- A review of the various Mastodon apps for iPhones (you don’t have to use the basic Mastodon one)
- An interesting piece about how to leave a dying social media platform (unfortunately you’ll need a Medium account to read it)
- A deep read about the failures of social media – Social Media is Dead – in Vice by Edward Ongweso
- A great article by Hugh Rundle about how it feels to have been a Mastodon user before the great Twitter migration…reading this will make you a better newcomer.
And here is the link to the Help docs at Mastodon that will explain everything from the simple to the not-so simple.
I hope all this has been of help. And when you’ve got your head around Mastodon and open source social media…there are more social media alternatives to discover eg: the GoodReads alternative is Bookwyrm; a Facebook alternative is Tribel; Instagram alternative is Pixelfed; Facebook Messenger & WhatsApp alternative is Signal; etc etc.
All the best to you! Note to self: spend a bit of time in the rabbit hole making decisions and then get back to writing 🙂