Moving to the Fediverse requires shifting mindset

I see a lot of legitimate concerns and complaints about Mastodon and the Fediverse (on moderation, poor usability, missing features, etc). But perhaps a big reason for many people's difficulties is a gap in expectations and a deep unfamiliarity with non-hierarchical spaces.

Coming from Twitter or other centralized platforms, we are used to hierarchy, to spaces where we can voice complaints and even advocate for change, but where we ultimately expect a small number of individuals to make decisions and where we hold them responsible for both mishaps and successes. If we don’t like how the platform is being managed or those individuals at the top, we have only two options: accept the platform as it is or leave it.

But the Fediverse is much closer to an anarchy: we have a lot more freedom but it's also much more up to us to create the spaces we want to spend time in.

More freedom because we are free to join an instance that reflects our values, needs, and priorities, and free to move our account to a new instance if we're no longer happy with our instance. We're also free to run our own instance if we can't find one where we fit, or even to build a whole new server or client (of course, if we have the time, skills, and resources).

But in the Fediverse, there's not a single company or organization to look to when we have a complaint: there are the admins and moderators on our instance; the developers of the client; the developers of the servers; and the developers of the protocol—all spread among many different organizations, projects, or even contributing as individual engineers.

And because most people working on the Fediverse do it because they want to build an open and decentralized internet, rather than for money, most of those people are volunteers. So the speed of releasing new features (and the kind of features that get released), hiring moderators, or improving usability is always going to be very different from what we are used to on profit-driven, VC-funded platforms.

It is up to each of us to push the Fediverse forward: to take on moderation roles; to support (with actual $$$!) our admins and developers; to get together to build new tools; to come up with new mechanisms for governance or collective decision-making. It’s up to us to make it the space we want it to be.

Of course, it’s okay to be a more passive user; or for those without the privilege, time, and resources to suggest improvements or complain without doing the work themselves. But it still requires a major shift in mindset on what “success” means on the Fediverse. (if you’re curious about “success” on the Fediverse, check out this excellent blog post.) by @eloquence).

Perhaps that's why Signal has been so successful. The Signal app operates under different incentives than other messaging apps (privacy-first, no ads, etc), but Signal the organization, though a nonprofit, is just as hierarchical as private companies. Decision-making is restricted to a core team, there is no public roadmap, user input is limited to a community forum, and your main option if you don’t like the way Signal is being run is to leave the app and find another one. So transitioning from WhatsApp, Messenger, or Telegram to Signal only meant getting used to a slightly different UX and a few missing features, but didn’t require any shift in our relationship with the technology we used.

Moving to the Fediverse, however, is a whole other ball game, and people should know what to expect: it’s a work-in-progress, but one that is built, owned, and managed by us.