Looking for online learning communities

Twitter used to be the one stop shop for microblogging, but it seems that we're all now spread between a variety of platforms.

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It's been a good half a year since I wrote a post pitching that people get involved with Mastodon. We had a fascinating chat in work around the platform, what our initial experiences were and what we had learnt. Of everybody there, I was probably the person who was most excited about it, and also the person least confused by it.

This post by Erin Kissane suggests that of the many reasons people have left Mastodon, some found it to be too confusing, too much work and too intimidating.

It's a real shame that Mastodon wasn't able to capitalise on the decline of Twitter. Maria Antoniak nicely encapsulates the current state of play and how the community might move forward:

“It might be a good time for the Mastodon community to reflect on how it’s failed the average user — the kind of user who is most comfortable with easy-to-use apps like Facebook and Instagram. We need healthy social media alternatives so badly, and the way to win this war is by creating alternatives that are realistic and delightful to use.”

Listening to people from minoritised communities on Mastodon has been a learning experience too – some features and community members have made the platform an unwelcoming space. The lack of a quote post function has served to minimise the shaming aspect of Twitter, but without that call and response feature it hasn't felt like a viable alternative to Black Twitter for many.

Mastodon is definitely not a like for like replacement for Twitter. Whilst my interactions have been predominantly positive, the limitations with the search (which are thankfully changing) has meant that it has been hard to find specific information and communities. Terence Eden's post on the complexities of search is well worth a read.

Why stick with Mastodon?

It's easy to think about Mastodon in isolation. As it's part of the Fediverse, there's lots of scope for Mastodon to develop, or for other platforms to develop from it.

Whilst Mastodon isn't a perfect learning space right now, it has much more potential to develop into a workable (and pleasant) one than its alternatives. There are a lot of people from tech on the platform, which does make it feel like the early days of Twitter.

So what about the alternatives?

Having ditched the Meta ecosystem, I have no desire to get sucked back in via Threads.

I don't have much faith in Blue Sky either. There seems to be a collective amnesia around what Twitter was like before Elon Musk took over. I fell out of love with Twitter well before Musk bought it. To me it feels like he just hastened its demise. I'm waiting to see how Blue Sky functions on Jack Dorsey's watch, and whether it feels any different.

Whilst Mastodon has lots of room to develop and be better, the user (and instance)-centred moderation is incredibly refreshing when compared with Twitter. Different options around removing words and phrases from your timeline, as well as community content warnings all make it feel considerably less toxic than Twitter.

There are open discussions around participative models for the platform. Whilst it's not perfect right now, it is changing and developing at pace. In fact, it's taken me so long to write this post that lots of the issues that I had when I started writing have begun to be dealt with (search being a case in point).

Mastodon has shown me that social networks don't have to be toxic, and it gives me hope for finding effective learning spaces in the future.

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