Scaling up virtual presence (and conversation)

Consider this from a technological perspective first (i’d put out the “moralistic stance”, later:

Scaling Mastodon is Impossible | Armin Ronacher’s Thoughts and Writings

So let’s talk more about Mastodon here. I have been using this for a few
weeks now in different ways and it’s pretty clear that this thing is
incredibly brittle. The ActivityPub is a pretty messy protocol, and
it also appears to not have been written with scalability in mind much.
The thing does not scale to the number of users it currently has and there
is probably no trivial way to fix it up

There are numerous arguments about shifting to Mastodon. I remember someone asking about it on Twitter on my timeline. It’s hard to describe it as a “decentralised service” (there’s no one local control), but the separate “instances” (servers) hosting content is connected to other instances (servers) through “Fediverse”. The best example is Gab, which was swirled out as an instance, but the other instances blocked the access. Gab has now become an “echo-chamber” (as people describe), but my objection is a lack of automation/ability to cross post through IFTTT, for example. This has been hailed as “web-3.0”, which is more hype than reality.

In high simplified terms: you own a server. Run Mastdon on it. Get people to join you. That is called as an “instance”. Other instances can connect with you. This is called as “fediverse”. I started with the technical blurb: Fediverse relies on a specific protocol (which disallows scaling) and hence remains limited. You are dependent on the person hosting the server. It requires money to keep it up. People are loath to pay for “yet-another-subscription” unless you are ideologically committed.

From the author:

Mastodon is getting some traction today, but Mastodon is around for a long time. And with that, may of the problems it had over the years are still unresolved. For instance you might read about Wil Wheaton’s failure to use Mastodon due to his popularity and another server operator’s take on the issue. You might be interested to learn that the oldest open Mastodon issue is six years old and asks for backfilling posts after first subscribing and is still unsolved. Or that the most controversial and replied to issue is about optionally disabling replies to posts like on Twitter.

My shift to Telegram (and persistence) with it is purely technical. I personally hate repetitive work. When I realised I needed to consume content, it should come to me, on my own terms, without spending too much effort. Channels on Telegram are the perfect solution. For several years, I have experimented with various iterations and bots to automate/scale content. As always, it is “difficult” to build an audience (or create “networks”) on ANY medium.

For most users, the stumbling block appears to be starting on a clean slate. There is a “fear of the unknown” and a comfort with the familiar “tools”. However, those tools are precisely adding to the mental fatigue due to issues with context switching. Instead of a central dashboard to monitor your conversations flow, users are forced to check “various applications”.

Imagine this scenario playing out in ICU if you had to run to each bedside to keep a tab on the vitals and blaring alarms if there was a critical event. This was replaced by a central dashboard with feeds from all sources in real-time and act on critical events alone. Modern day “communication” plays out inefficiently: notification here, there and everywhere. I have seen users claim they don’t read their WhatsApp communications. Then why are you there and giving out your critical data to a company that relies on granular level targeting to create value for its investors?

I have refined this even further. My most critical communications are unmuted; my favourite groups/muted contacts are listed on Telegram widgets (specifically the ones I wish to track) on my mobile screen. I don’t open up apps randomly to check for new messages. I glance on my mobile only if I have to. I have cut down on my mobile usage even more, giving me a mental bandwidth to process information better and create idea matrices. And of course, mental peace!

The author further writes:

In my mind in recent years decentralization mostly gained a lot of popular support because of the erosion of society. There is a backlash by some against western governments which are seen as behaving irresponsibly with regulatory over-reach, increasing levels of corruption, decreasing quality of public services and frustration about taxation. And there is some merit to these ideas. There is also a proxy war going on about freedom of speech and expression and the desire to create safe spaces. I welcome you to watch Jonathan Haidt’s talk about the moral roots of liberals and conservatives for a bit of context on that.

These issues are not specific to specific geographies. It is difficult to take a “moralistic stance” on “free-speech” because it has a different connotation to everyone. Nevertheless, unknown to most (and this is what I have been saying on Twitter) is that algorithms determine the quality of speech on social media. Your content appears on time-line based on probabilistic scenarios about “content-engagement”. While there are numerous “rules” and “hacks” to raise the discovery profile through the use of “hash-tags”, they raise the index of “burden” (metaphorically speaking), because most users hardly search for specific hashtags to “join the conversation”.

Addressing the elephant in the room: Telegram’s “Russian origins”. I am aware of deep distrust of Russia in “western economies”; more so with the continuous news-coverage of presidential elections and current Russian-Ukraine “war”. Telegram’s owners are definitely Russian, but their headquarters are in Dubai (as of date). Google, Meta and almost everyone else was initially funded by specific venture capital firms with deep ties to American intelligence agencies. These facts are beyond reproach, and those concerned with the “free-speech” and “no interference from the state”, should read numerous books on the same subject. There is surveillance baked in every aspect of your digital interaction; from hardware, software clicks, mobile geo-location and financial transactions (Apple is the worst offender). Numerous methodologies (including highly targeted canvas mapping) through browsers (especially Chrome) exist to generate detailed personal profiles. How is this even democratic?

Digital presence comes with several trade-off’s. There is an inherent human need to connect, share and create conversational frameworks to further “knowledge-base”. I am merely suggesting an efficient mechanism to achieve common goals. If the shift away from Twitter is considered “mandatory” because of ownership change, you must factor why it was bought in the first place. Despite being a sub-par platform (with several limitations of user interface and experience) and lack of “end-to-end” encryption and a lousy algorithm, Twitter gained importance as “townhall”. Yet, it is a deserted landscape, some “echo-chambers” here and there, and remains a time-sink. My presence on Twitter is solely to amplify content, and only because it can be automated. I only track “notifications” occasionally (most are “re-tweeted” by bots) and its methodology of creating “impressions” is highly questionable.

I am standing by for anyone who wants to understand the shift to Telegram and make the process smoother/faster and more efficient.

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