So last week we all jumped ship from Twitter and poured onto Mastodon. After my first few days there, I can see it’s more focused on inreach than outreach. I feel connected with the world when I’m on Twitter, but on Mastodon I feel like I’m sitting at the back of a seminar room at an ecology conference.
Here are a few thoughts from my first experiences.
- It’s quieter than Twitter, but it also feels more controlled and less spontaneous. Rules and codes of etiquette are not always intuitive or clear to new users, and different groups/servers have different rules. Some rules seem oddly restrictive or ambiguous. The rules around content warnings didn’t sit right with me when I signed up, and seem to be commonly misused or abused. Codes of conduct online are important, but when participation rules become too specific and go beyond ‘Don’t Be A Horrible Person’, it starts to feel like a Facebook group.
- There are documented problems with racism and antisocial behaviour towards marginalised groups on some servers, e.g. see these threads from @IBJIYONGI, @shengokai and @pati_gallardo.
- It is siloed. Kind of like Facebook groups again. I enjoy Twitter because everyone shares the same space, regardless of connection. Scrolling through your home feed exposes you to a diverse range of perspectives and experiences, whether you agree with them or not. You’re accountable for every tweet you publish, because anyone can read it. Mastodon’s system works for networking within your chosen discipline/social group, but it takes a lot more effort to find and connect with people outside those networks. The chronological feed just traps you in a time zone silo – one of the reasons I rarely use Twitter’s ‘Latest Tweets’ feed setting.
- It’s very ‘click heavy’ to use – in the sense that using it requires multiple clicks to read or engage with anything. It makes you appreciate a lot of efficient Twitter features that you took for granted. This may sound pedantic, but efficiency is an important feature for an outreach tool. Academics are busy people, and a platform that allows maximum engagement with minimum operational effort is key.
- Hashtag hell. I was so glad when hashtags became unnecessary on Twitter! So I’m not at all excited about how much Mastodon relies on hashtags to get your posts read.
- Sharing my posts on social media is the main driver of traffic and readership on my blog. However, WordPress doesn’t seem to register Mastodon as a referrer in my traffic stats, which affects how I can measure reach for my blog – this is important for academic bloggers using their blog as outreach and science communication.
So for me, Mastodon seems like a place to check in with my ecologist colleagues (I’m on ecoevo.social), but I’m staying on Twitter as long as I can. I joined Twitter to engage beyond my existing colleagues, share my research, and connect with media, policy makers, land managers, other disciplines and non-academics. This seems much harder to do on Mastodon. I’ve lost connections with many of the journalists, policy makers, land managers, industry folks, and non-academics that I was connected with on Twitter, either because they haven’t migrated or they may be on another server.
Unfortunately, even if we want to stay on Twitter, it might not survive much longer. I thought the new ownership wouldn’t directly affect my Twitter world, but turns out it still might collapse from a technical meltdown. Fingers crossed this doesn’t eventuate, but even if it survives, so many people have left now, it will become a different place to engage with.
Twitter is a tool for a lot of good things about academia, as I wrote in my last post. In addition, its value as an outreach tool is unsurpassed. Its capacity to connect journalists, industry and policy folks with a diverse range of expertise on important topics, instead of relying on the same old traditionally-sourced voices, is really important for science communication and environmental policy generally. If Twitter goes down, the ripple effects will be interesting to say the least.
© Manu Saunders 2022