As Elon Musk destroys Twitter, a lot of clients have asked about alternative social media, especially ‘Mastodon’— meaning the federated network that includes thousands of servers, running that software and many other FLOSS applications, all providing interconnecting hubs for distributed social media. Agaric has some experience in those parts, so we are sharing our thoughts on the opportunity in this crisis.
In short: For not-for-profit organizations and news outlets especially, this is a chance to host your own communities by providing people a natural home on the federated social web.
Every not-for-profit organization lives or dies, ultimately, based on its relationship with its supporters. Every news organization, it’s readers and viewers.
For years now, a significant portion of the (potential) audience relationship of most organizations has been mediated by a handful of giant corporations through Google search, Facebook and Twitter social media.
A federated approach based on a protocol called ActivityPub has proven durable and viable over the past five years. Federated means different servers run by different people or organizations can host people’s accounts, and people can see, reply to, and boost the posts of people on the other servers. The most widely known software doing this is Mastodon but it is far from alone. Pleroma, Friendica, Pixelfed (image-focused), PeerTube (video-focused), Mobilizon (event-focused), and more all implement the ActivityPub protocol. You can be viewing and interacting with someone using different software and not know it— similar to how you can call someone on the phone and not know their cellular network nor their phone model.
The goal of building a social media following of people interested in (and ideally actively supporting) your organization might be best met by setting up your own social media.
This is very doable with the ‘fediverse’ and Mastodon in particular. In particular, because the number of people on this ActivityPub-based federated social web has already grown by a couple million in the past few weeks— and that’s with Twitter not yet having serious technical problems that are sure to come with most of its staff laid off. With the likely implosion of Twitter, giving people a home that makes sense for them is a huge service in helping people get started— the hardest part is choosing a site!
People fleeing Twitter as it breaks down socially and technically would benefit from your help in getting on this federated social network. So would people who have never joined, or long since left, Twitter or other social media, but are willing to join a network that is less toxic and is not engineered to be addictive and harmful.
Your organization would benefit by having a relationship with readers that is not mediated by proprietary algorithms nor for-profit monopolies. It makes your access on this social network more like e-mail lists— it is harder for another entity to come in between you and your audience and take access away.
But the mutual benefits for the organization and its audience go beyond all of this.
When people discuss among one another what the organization has done and published, a little bit of genuine community forms.
Starting a Mastodon server could be the start of your organization seeing itself as not only doing good works or publishing media, but building a better place for people to connect and create content online.
The safety and stability of hosting a home on this federated social network gives people a place to build community.
But organizations have been slow to adopt, even now with the Twitter meltdown. This opens up tho opportunity for extra attention and acquiring new followers.
Hosting the server could cost between $50 to $450 a month, but this is definitely an opportunity to provide a pure community benefit (it is an ad-free culture) and seek donations, grants, or memberships.
The true cost is in moderation time; if volunteers can start to fill that you are in good shape. A comprehensive writeup on everything to consider is here courtesy the cooperatively-managed Mastodon server that Agaric Technology Collective chose to join at social.coop’s how to make the fediverse your own.
You would be about the first for not-for-profit or news organizations.
You would be:
- giving people a social media home right when they need it
- literally owning the platform much of your community is on
And it all works because of the federation aspect— your organization does not have to provide a Twitter, TikTok, or Facebook replacement yourselves, you instead join the leading contender for all that.
By being bold and early, you will also get media attention and perhaps donations and grants.
The real question is if it would divert scarce resources from your core work, or if the community-managing aspects of this could bring new volunteer (or better, paid) talent to handle this.
Even one person willing to take on the moderator role for a half-hour a day to start should be enough to remove any person who harasses people on other servers or otherwise posts racist, transphobic, or other hateful remarks.
Above all, your organization would be furthering your purpose, through means other than its core activities or publishing, to inform and educate and give people more capacity to build with you.
Not surprisingly, Drupal has already figured this out!