Yet another fail whale

The exodus seems real from Twitter. As I write this, another “mover and shaker” of the Twitterverse has announced his plans publicly to get out of the microblogging service.

ongoing by Tim Bray · Bye, Twitter

Then there’s the technology. Because of the way modern Web Services work, it’s unsurprising that itticks along even with much of the workforce gone.
I expect that happy state of affairs to end as soon as they start deploying new features or really any kind of update, because the greatest threat to a service is the team that operates it. And the threat is sharpest when they need to upgrade the service, to fix a bug or unleash a new feature. Especially when the sane people have all left, the ones who don’t
want to commit to a “hardcore” lifestyle to enrich Elon.

I am not defending Musk here. He is in business and responsible for his shareholders. I don’t care much about Tesla (which is a surveillance system on wheels), as much as I care about Space X, which has indeed broken new ground in space application research. I don’t care about the interplanetary travel, as much as I care about using marketing stunts to hover up a Tesla in space to fire the imagination of the next generation and pick up the profession (better than TikTok, isn’t it?)

Yet, the mass exodus appears to be happening because users have taken an ideological stance against the service. I have no objection to virtue signalling; it appears to be a strong cultural context where it is okay to brandish your libertarian background. Yet, before recommending anything as an alternative, one needs to understand the technological merits too. Decentralised systems (and activity pubsubhub) are stymied by design and will require significant resources (and efforts) to scale up. Open Source is mostly unpaid labour, with some donations trickling in. It was cool to adhere to Stallman’s principles, but the end result of hardware and software was a mess of unworkable solutions.

For example, I revived my old Mac Air with Ubuntu Linux (22.04) by wiping its slate clean. I ran into issues with Wifi drivers that weren’t loaded up. There are issues with package management systems, and it took considerable effort to get the webcam to register. All of that required significant investment in time and effort in trawling through forums and trying multiple methods by firing up the terminal and making sense of errors in Google search results.

The recommendations are not universal. Everyone expects their systems to work. I remain a strong advocate of open access and open source, but there is a reason why users pay money for hardware to see it work “out-of-the-box”.

Mastodon can’t be scaled up or lacks automation tools, requiring significant efforts to keep a “control”.

The author writes further:

The real worry · It’s about abuse and moderation. One of the things that’s shocked me over the last couple of weeks has the voices of a few people from oppressed groups — BIPOC, LGBTQ+, women — pointing out that they are facing some really nasty abuse on Mastodon. In some cases they’re going back to Twitter. It doesn’t shock me that they experience abuse, it shocks me that Twitter had made so much progress that it’s seen as a better alternative. ¶

(It’s not universal, I’ve heard Black voices saying “Huh? I’m doing fine.” But I do believe it bites hard on people who are some combination of visible and articulate and passionate. And it’s not acceptable.)

This is a big difficult subject and if the Mastodon community can’t figure out how to tackle it, I’d have to withdraw my recommendation to come on in. But I’m optimistic that there’s a good path forward; lots of smart people are thinking hard about it, and there already seem to be instances that have started doing a good job of protecting people who need it.

In Telegram, users can read rules and then sign in “agreement forms” that they agree to the “rules”. These processes are automated and keep sanity intact. You can divide a large community in specific forums, with automated bots keeping tabs on spam/group attacks and human moderators to take action. You can have privileged access to a specific forum to discuss the moderation efforts.

Technology solutions exist, but I am not as optimist as the quoted author about Mastodon.

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