Why I'm Mostly Moving to Mastodon

November 8, 2022

Twitter excels at connecting people with shared interests. A few years ago, I started my own business, and Twitter found a way to show me others who were building businesses. It was great. Just by browsing the feed, I was learning sales tips and getting advice. And what started as educational slowly became inspirational. Before I knew it, there were some accounts I even idolized.

Now, I couldn't verify the success of these individuals' businesses, but their rate of growth on Twitter was public for all to see. They must be marketing geniuses.

Even after I decided to shutter my business, a new corner of Twitter was ready to accept me with open arms. Not long after I added "iOS" to my bio, my timeline transformed into an indie app developer's paradise. Fun projects, new apps, informative threads. "Wow, Twitter is changing with me!"

Until it wasn't so great

While I had enjoyed business Twitter, developer Twitter felt like a breath of fresh air. It was calmer and more technical. It helped push my own projects forward. But this time, my feed continued to change - this time for the worse. Before I knew it, I was surrounded with screenshots of green line graphs going up and to the right. Half of all the tweets I read included terms like "MRR" and "🚀."

And I can't fault others here. At the time, I liked it. I also contributed to it. And sometimes, it even felt like I was back to the early days of learning. Learning why and how others were succeeding. After a while, though, advice started to blend together. The marketers and developers I idolized began sharing contradictory advice.

I began to compare myself to those inspirational posts. I struggled to glean actionable advice from the help threads.

It was a mess.

I stopped logging into Twitter. I even stopped working on my own projects. I set a goal to find new hobbies and enjoy them.

Twitter has an unfixable timeline

Today, my Twitter feed remains unchanged. It has it's bright spots, but it's mostly hustle culture profit-worshipping. In small doses, I still find this content engaging and inspirational. But what should be one small aspect of a much larger set of content themes ends up dominating my entire timeline.

You might think the solution is to follow more people and diversify the feed. Unfortunately, Twitter doesn't give you direct control of that.

Let's say I follow Hypothetical John - a dev who tweets about work life balance instead of rocket ship emojis. As soon as John likes a tweet similar to the ones I'm trying to dilute, it shows up on my feed.

And people can't help but amplify hype-culture tweets. They're crafted in a way that is mindful of growth hacking. Their content is specially designed to trigger engagement. This ensures they'll always rise to the top.

This single fact is what I found to be most discouraging. My feed isn't just out of control, it's out of my control. But I can control how often I log on to Twitter. This is the point in the cycle where I just take a break and come back later. But as of November 2022, something interesting is happening. People are talking about a place similar, but very different to Twitter.

The many benefits of an algorithm-free feed

Disappointed yet again with Twitter, I decided to sign up for Mastodon. I had the same immediate reaction as many - confusion. It feels like there's a lot to learn when you're getting started.

After a few deep breaths, I settled into Mastodon and slowly began following people that looked interesting. And I noticed an amazing thing: the discourse on this Twitter-ish site was completely different than that of Twitter. Of course it's different since it's a different community with different people... but why is it so different?

I have a hunch that this calmer vibe is enforced by Mastodon's design. There's no algorithm. Likes don't amplify posts. You can't quote-tweet others to hijack discussion and boost engagement. And when the feed feels full of boosts (retweets) or replies, you can simply toggle those off from showing up for a while.

So far, these differences mean my Mastodon feed is more varied than Twitter in every way. Not only do all sorts of posts show up in my feed, all sorts of people show up, too. This is thanks to the absence of any algorithm. Nothing is filtered out or de-ranked based on my perceived interests.

I have to be honest, though. These benefits come with downsides. The absence of an algorithm means I see a lot of posts that are only partially interesting. Sometimes a topic will come across my feed that I'm not interested in or only barely familiar with. So far, my reaction in these moments is neutral - I can just keep scrolling.

Mastodon also isn't immune to groupthink. Whereas Twitter is currently (Nov 2022) fixated on every action Elon takes, Mastodon is zoomed into the "mass migration" of people from Twitter and incessantly providing FYIs and tips.

While it's still too early to tell where I'll end up spending most of my time, this much is clear: Mastodon's content and design fills a lot of gaps that Twitter ignores. As I continue to explore this new site, I hope it remains just that - a place I can go for a different kind of content. One that hopefully remains a solace from the hype-scape I'm trying to escape.