The micro-blog: a reappropriation

Tue Dec 26, 2017

A decade ago, there was a naïve delight in posting on Facebook or Twitter. Social media hadn’t yet evolved into the complex, anxiety-producing system of social currency it is today. Status updates were simply that - status updates.

In fact, when Facebook opened up in 2007, you were forced to write them in the third-person: “John is baking cookies today.”

There was no pressure to be culturally savvy or sarcastic or applause-worthy. You could be authentic, sincere, or boring if you wanted to because it all started out as a friendly little experiment. In the beginning, there were no “likes”. Can you even imagine social media without a heart or a thumbs up moderating every online interaction?

So, when I came across this article about Mastodon on the Outline, I was intrigued. I’d forgotten that microblogging used to be fun. I’d also totally forgotten about Mastodon, which arrived on the scene in 2016 and seemed as doomed to fail as or ello. But how could you not feel the nostalgic, warm-and-fuzzy appeal of “a nicer version of Twitter” that “makes the internet feel like home again”? And sometimes open-source initiatives in the decentralized web can flourish - just look at where Bitcoin is going these days.

Unfortunately, although the people who hang out in Mastodon instances seem just lovely (depending on the instance), the Mastodon front-end user interface is just horrible.

I mean “toots” instead of “tweets”? Come on, that’s just a laugh. I could go on, but I won’t because it isn’t the front end that interests me.

I’m not exactly thrilled with the dark side of decentralized publishing either. What the author of the Outline article fails to mention is that the major engine of growth for Mastodon right now is Japanese erotica. That is seriously messed up, but also an unsurprising cultural appropriation of a publishing medium by a subversive societal element.

However, if you look at Mastodon as a tool, and not as a platform, any concern with misappropriation quickly fade away. Utilitarian tools can be used for all sorts of evil purposes, but when a centralized platform grows into a monopolistic juggernaut with billions of users, then the ethics of “free speech” have a much greater impact. Look at the year Facebook just had - with the fake news fiasco and their own sober admission that passively consuming the feed is bad for you.

So, where am I going with this?

Well, let’s go back to the term “microblogging” for a moment. Nobody really uses that term anymore because it doesn’t really apply to the current status quo. As the various flavours of social media have evolved and coalesced into various niches, such as instagram, snapchat, and so on, the last thing anyone associates social media with is blogging.

But I was thinking - why not reappropriate the status update as a micro-blogging tool? Hence, my fun little project for the holidays - my new Status Updates page (accessible from the sidebar). These updates use the Mastodon infrastructure.

To use Mastodon as a blogging tool, I had to remove it from a social media context. So, by default, my status updates (I refuse to call them ‘“toots”) are “unlisted” with search-engine discoverability disabled. I don’t really want to play the game of following people or gathering followers at the moment - I just want the freedom to be as mundane or as philosophical as I’d like (within reason of course - this is still the internet after all and updates are still visible unless they are made “private”).

I like the idea of short journal-like entries that can be posted from anywhere without having to rebuild my static website. Even if that means bending my no-JavaScript rule a little. There is, however, no JavaScript on my home page, so the site loads as lightning fast as ever. It’s not that JavaScript is evil, but it can get out of hand and start to bog things down.

I need the JavaScript to call up the Mastodon API, which lists all my updates dynamically on the page. The updates are styled to blend into the page and maintain that classic wordbit experience - stripped down and simple.

Obviously, if you are visiting this site and are still reading this, you may be someone who is interested in the more personal and intimate experience of life’s daily moments and observations. And if not, then that’s fine too, because this is a personal sort of experiment. These posts may be fun to look back on and see what I was up to - an open diary, if you will. Long form and short form - the macro and the micro - more diversity and new ways to write. As a writer, that is something I can definitely get behind.

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