Last week, I had the pleasure of talking to the Dublin #DevRel Meetup, organised by my friends at Voxgig – all about Developer Relations in the era of “Community Everywhere”. I covered a range of the current and emerging social platforms where we can connect with our communities, and later in the session I talked more specifically about what’s new in Mastodon 4.2.
The organisers also invited me to talk about the new release of Mastodon, version 4.2. This is the first major version to have come out since I started helping the team, and it’s a pretty big deal as it introduces a few major features that folks have been looking for, notably opt-in search. In the second part of my section of the meetup, I talked a bit about version 4.2, and also shared a few tools that I use regularly that give me additional features and ways to keep up with the conversations around the communities I want to connect with. The notes are again available at the same link posted above.
tl;dr (aka didn’t watch / or check the notes) – there are a few third-party apps and tools that I use regularly to help me to stay up-to-date. In particular, I love (and choose to pay for) Murmel and fediview which email me daily summaries of links or conversations I might otherwise miss in the reverse-chronological timeline. I also use some browser extensions that add a few niceties to the experience, such as Graze and Streetpass.
Thanks to Sinead and Richard for having me talk at the meetup, and for continuing to support the DevRel community with great content each month – there’s also a good podcast from Voxgig that you should check out.
I’ve been trying out as many shiny new things as I can. There are a couple of reasons: I find that folks often ask me for opinions on new technologies; and, I have a view that unless I do try things, I may miss something that’s really interesting or that might have a future impact.
The events of last year and specifically last November when Twitter began to be burned to the ground, caused another surge of innovation and interest around possible alternatives. I’m not about to go through them all extensively in this post, but really just wanted to share where you can find me.
Where you (might) find me
Primarily, I’m on Mastodon, and have no plans to be anywhere else in particular (more about this in a moment). For the sake of balance and information, here are some other places you can find my content.
I have accounts on Post and on Hive, but barely open either app. Hive doesn’t have a web presence for me to point you at, even. I’m not sure about the policies of either platform, and neither really stuck.
I’m on Cohost. It feels very Tumblr-y. I haven’t used it very much, but I see a few interesting features, and it definitely doesn’t seem to want to be any of the other existing networks, it feels more new and different.
I’m on T2Pebble. Pebble was called T2 until today, but that was always a temporary name, which I realised. A couple of former Twitter people are involved over there. It feels very friendly, but so far I have a limited network, and drop in from time to time.
I’m on Bluesky. Back when this was initially kicked off from inside of Twitter as the notion of a new protocol that would not be corporately-owned, it was very interesting to me, and I made some small efforts to talk to Parag about it when the initial recruitment was going on, and even referred some folks for conversations (who are not involved, in the end, possibly due to being more on the “existing standards are good” side of things – I have no idea). It feels very “early-Twitter crowd, but with more late-Twitter snark and memes”. I like it, and it has some good ideas, but:
Jack Dorsey. He fooled me twice already, so I’m incredibly wary.
The team’s efforts to stand back from having any kind of political / moderation position is, in my opinion, not a good one, and likely to lead to bad things on the platform(s).
I’ll believe in the federated bit when I see it; I’m actively working in a current, large, federated environment across platforms, and it is complicated. I think there will continue to be pushback from users who just want a Twitter-like, single server, experience, vs any move towards true decentralisation.
I don’t feel like I get a lot of engagement there. As with all of these different platforms, though, there’s an argument that I don’t get a lot of engagement because I don’t spend a lot of time there, which may be valid.
I’m on Threads, because, Facebook and Instagram. It’s… OK. It started off really badly, only pushing celebs and other stuff I had no interest in. That has calmed down a lot, and I see a lot more folks I recognise from my other networks on there. I’m interested in seeing how Threads moves forward with federation and ActivityPub (and, noting that I work on the Mastodon project, I have to say that I’ve been pretty impressed with their approach and conversations around this so far). Definitely an app I pop into at least as often as Bluesky.
I’m not on Nostr. See above re: Dorsey, and I don’t love the whole blockchain element to it either.
There are links to other places I have profiles – not just on social “microblogging”-style sites – at the end of my main landing page.
Fundamentally, though, I’m all in on the #Fediverse, which I believe offers far better opportunities for the future.
Mastodon in particular is really fantastic, with a number of vibrant instances and communities that align to my interests, from History to 3D Printing to Electronics to the UK. It is the site I check multiple times a day, and I’m loving it. I’ll have to share a follow-up post at some stage with some tools I use that make it even better.
Of course, I realise that it is also all about the network. I like the fact that in these ActivityPub-based platforms, I can save my followers/following easily, and migrate between instances (I’ve done that once already on Mastodon). A number of my former Twitter network are on Mastodon; some are on Bluesky, some Cohost, some Pebble, many on Threads due to Meta’s huge scale. I don’t see myself stopping using several of these interchangeably for a while. That’s OK.
A couple of additional points to round this out. I don’t use any of these services for private messaging in the way that Twitter DMs used to be a channel I relied on; I’ve moved to other, actual end-to-end encrypted messaging systems. Also, I don’t believe that any of these platforms are for “reach” as such – that was a pattern of behaviour and usage I allowed myself to think was important at Twitter. None of these are drop-in replacements for those features, if those are things you’re seeking. Be prepared to try something new!
In case you missed it: I am NOT on X. X was never something I signed up for, and I have no interest in using it. The owner actively encourages and enables hate speech, discrimination, and all the worst impulses of humanity – literally the very opposite of what I believe Twitter offered the world in its prime.
Last week, there was a flurry of interest in a new addition to the #Fediverse: Postmarks. It’s social bookmarking (like Digg, del.icio.us, or more recently, Pinboard), now with ActivityPub support. Neat!
Organising stuff, “back in the day”
Back in the 2000s I was a huge fan of a site called del.icio.us, and the original iteration of our weekly podcast – currently called Games at Work dot Biz – was named Dogear Nation. Back when Michael and Michael kicked off that show, there was a podcast called Digg Nation which tried to round up the interesting community links and trends from the week on Digg. IBM at the time had an internal version of a social bookmarking / folksonomical platform similar to del.icio.us called “dogear” (like, folding the page of a book to mark it), so Dogear Nation encouraged listeners to tag links on del.icio.us for us to discuss each week… del.icio.us was bought by Yahoo! in 2005, and eventually, went away.
Fast forward 15 years to our current podcast, and we still love it when listeners share links for us to discuss, but there’s less of an organised way to do it!
Join the Federation
A brief diversion, because I’ve not written too much about this on my blog up until now.
Unlike the centralised “Web 2.0”-based, largely corporate-owned sites that dominate the current web, the Fediverse is a set of related services that share some common protocols (ActivityPub is one, but there are others involved) and are loosely-connected. As well as each service usually having some form of “flagship” instance, it is is also very common to encourage diversity by location and interests, and often self-hosting, so it won’t be possible for an unsavoury billionaire to buy the things you use, or misuse and steal the data that you’ve put into them. Your network and your data are your own.
I’m very active across a range of sites and services that are analogous to those you might be familiar with. On Mastodon, for instance, I currently do some work with Mastodon gGmbH, the non-profit behind the project and host of two of the larger service instances; and although my original account was on one of those instances, at the end of last year I moved my account (taking the related network of connections with me) to a much smaller server run by a former coworker, mostly populated by other former coworkers, but I’m still connected with users across the rest of the Fediverse.
You can also find me on PixelFed (Instagram-like photo sharing), on Lemmy (Reddit-like groups and communities), on PeerTube (YouTube-like video channels) where I live on the diode.zone instance for makers and electronics enthusiasts, on Bookwyrm (GoodReads-like community), and so on. Basically there are a number of slices of “me” out there, in spaces where it makes sense. Essentially, if you’re on Mastodon and you’re interested in my videos, you can follow my PeerTube account from Mastodon without having to sign up for PeerTube. It’s pretty cool.
Yes! Postmarks is a single-user, super small and simple server for managing your own bookmarks. When I add a bookmark on my own Postmarks server, my Postmarks account effectively publishes the new entry to the rest of the Fediverse as an activity. So, if you’re interested in what I’m bookmarking and you have a Mastodon account, you can follow @email@example.com and you’ll see the new entries as they get added. If you’re not interested, don’t follow my account, and we’re all good. Oh, and it supports Atom feeds for different tags (categories), too.
Postmarks runs on Glitch – or, anywhere else you can stand up a Node.js / Express app. Personally I love Glitch, and I’ve been using it for many years now for hosting demos and trying out different projects – in fact, my main links page runs on Glitch. The Postmarks developer Casey Kolderup works there, and Casey has made it really straightforward to remix directly on Glitch, or import from GitHub there or to another service of your choice – it has very few dependencies.
My usual pattern for reading and saving content is whilst mobile. There’s a bookmarklet that’s part of the project, but no easy way to add it to my system for links to end up on Postmarks from my phone or tablet. I turned to Apple Shortcuts to help out.
This does not do too much – it takes a link from the share sheet or clipboard, and opens the add bookmark page popup in a browser tab. At the moment there’s no full API for Postmarks, so this is a bit of a stopgap or workaround. Annoyingly, it will also leave you with an empty browser tab you’ll need to close, but it works.
If you’d like to try the automation, you can get it via RoutineHub, which links to the Shortcut in iCloud. You’ll be prompted to add the hostname of your Postmarks instance, and you will already need to have signed in to that site in your web browser of choice.