Mastodon, Social, Favorites
I love that Mastodon has risen as a viable alternative to Twitter. It's done almost everything you need to take on a major centralized service where the major sell is some technical aspect:
- Providing a friendly / familiar UI
- Making the underlying tech as invisible as possible
- Providing comparable functionality, with incremental improvements
- Having nice-looking, solid mobile apps
- Growing quickly as a network to make socializing interesting and useful
Since I saw how fast it was taking off earlier this year and I had a good domain name in mind, I decided to start Writing Exchange as a Write.as-supported instance. The other week it actually saw a sudden influx of new users (around 200), which has been awesome to watch.
While I know that decentralizing protocols like the ones behind Mastodon are the future, and I'm overjoyed Mastodon's high adoption means that so many social interactions will happen without corporate surveillance, I'm still concerned with copying over the addictive features of social media.
My main gripe at the moment is with favorites, and how favoriting a post/toot sends a signal back to the author, instead of it being a private action. I have a problem with favoriting and not boosting because boosting carries weight — by placing another's words on your own profile — and a more specific meaning. This weight means it can't really be used just to make the author feel good, and with time keep them fiending for that little hit of Mastodon-sourced dopamine.
Favoriting, on the other hand, is inexpensive and vague when it's a public signal — social, psychological candy. Maybe you favorite something because you genuinely love what someone wrote; maybe you just want to save it for later; maybe you're silently agreeing; maybe you want to let them know you saw their message; maybe you want to politely put an end to the conversation; maybe you want to offer moral support; maybe you don't want to converse. But no matter your nuanced response, the author sees only a star. Maybe they stop what they're doing in life to pull their phone out of their pocket, click a button, and see that you “favorited” what they posted. Then there's nothing for them to do but feel “good” because someone liked (or somethinged) their post. There's no bridge into a larger conversation, no social introduction, no cue to interact. Just a piece of candy.
It's a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, but an important one to me. If we're going to build the web world we want, we have to constantly evaluate the pieces we bring with us from the old to the new. With each iteration of an idea on the web we need to question the very nature of certain aspects' existence in the first place, and determine whether or not every single old thing unimproved should still be with us. It's the only way we can be sure we're moving — if not in the right direction, at least in some direction that will teach us something.