Drop #133 (2022-11-04): Weekend Project FedIratEdition 🐘
Making the most of our brave, new, frustrating, federated universe
Welcome to another installment of The Daily Drop's Weekend Project edition!
Rather than drop a few different, but related, resources for you to work on your own random experiments, today's is singularly focused on the Fediverse, with an even more specific focus on one Fediverse service: Mastodon. If you need primer on Mastodon, this one from The Verge isn't too shabby.
How It Started
By now, you either have a meticulously customized news ingestion idiom that completely weeds out general, daily inanity, or you've become painfully aware that Twitter is seriously imploding thanks to the capricious whims of a billionaire white whale who has the self-control of ~3-year-old child (with apologies to 🐳 and 👧🏼 everywhere).
For better or worse, Twitter — until this week — had evolved into becoming the "public commons". Sure, Twitter does not necessarily represent "real" life, but it is where journalists, politicians, and cadre of diverse communities go to blather together and keep up with what's happening around the globe. With just under 240 million "monetizable daily active users" (and, here you thought you were a human with inherent meaning vs revenue generation unit), Twitter houses a mere fraction of our global population, but what used to happen there spread further and wider than the platform's direct statistics would initially reveal.
Given that Twitter:
is about to become a spammer's delight
will likely become yet-another OnlyFans clone
and could bring back the Orange Would-be Toddling Tyrant and other societal ilk
folks have begun another wave of full- or pseudo-migrations away from it and to other platforms, one of which has been Mastodon. Calling Mastodon a platform-proper is incorrect, since it's a federated service of inter-operational Mastodon instances. However, it is possible to treat it as a kind-of platform depending on what you're attempting to accomplish (which is the real purpose of today's Drop).
How It's Going
As of yesterday:
199,430 is the number of new users across different Mastodon servers since October 27, along with 437 new servers. This bring last day's total to 608,837 active users, which is without precedent the highest it's ever been for Mastodon and the fediverse. Ref.
With presently less than even one-million active users, Mastodon holds but a tiny fraction of Twitter's user base, but I'm willing to bet we're going to see an increasing number of folks find a warm and comfy spot in this part of the Fediverse. And, where decent folk go, so also go trolls, scammers, and others of ill-intent. It's important to be able to keep up with the good, the bad, and the interesting, which is something many folks do now via Twitter's API. Examples include:
Politwoops, which tracks deleted tweets by public officials
Mastodon also has an API, and there are many client libraries which can interface with it, along with a dedicated GitHub topic page, which makes it a bit easier to find pre-built tooling to accomplish whatever your goals are. This does not mean there aren't challenges associated with monitoring the Fediverse.
The first challenge is user discoverability. Twitter is an established platform, and it's pretty easy to find new accounts to follow by just tapping into the tweets/re-tweets of folks you currently follow. Many individuals and organizations also display their Twitter handles on their websites/blogs/newsletters. News and information sources, such as Science Magazine, will also produce follow lists from time-to-time. You can try to use services like Twitodon — make sure you choose ones that ask for read-only permissions on both Twitter and the target Mastodon server), but you will have to re-visit it often, and it relies on folks tagging their Twitter account with their new/alternate Mastodon home in some way. It will take some time for most folks to re-build their networks, and it’s going to feel like putting a disassembled puzzle back together, with some pieces having ended up at another home address entirely. You can do your part and stick your
@email@example.com wherever you post content (I'm
@firstname.lastname@example.org), plus regularly boost (Mastodon nomenclature for "retweet") folks.
Aligned with discoverability is both the sad fact that Kagi/Google/Bing/et al. ingest Twitter's content to enable finding it in search results but do not (yet) do the same with the Mastodon firehoses, and that it's going to take social media managers and data journalists time to catch up. If you thought it was hard explaining Twitter to your extended family, wait til you or some news outlet tries to explain Mastodon to the masses.
Another challenge is instability. Anyone can run a Mastodon instance, but it does take IRL resources to do so. One such resource is money for server hosting. This means Mastodon servers tend to come and go. It also means some are very private, which is to say they have limited peering arrangements with other Mastodon instances and often require some up-front validation beyond a working email address. Mastodon.social — one of the largest instances — has:
$ curl -s https://mastodon.social/api/v1/instance/peers | jq length 27029
peers as of the creation of this post, and a decent chunk of them are offline/defunct.
Mastodon.social also has been struggling a bit under the new load, so it — and other instances — may not be super responsive at times. Twitter used promoted content to pay for your privilege to freely doomscroll, but most Mastodon instances do not have adverts, which means you may need to consider chipping in to financially support a given instance, especially if you want to use it as a data source.
A final one for this post (but not the only remaining one) is authenticity. I've got accounts on multiple Mastodon instances and will likely end up re-running one of my own, but anyone can make a
@email@example.com, clone one of my bio setups and pretend to be me (not that any sane person would actually want to be me). I've seen some (sorry-not-sorry) very lame attempts at verification on some Mastodon instances, and don't trust any of those tick marks. You're going to need to be in a "trust-but-continue-to-verify" mode for a while, and might want to consider claiming your handle on key Mastodon instances to prevent malfeasance happening in your name.
I thought you said something about a weekend project?
Your first mission is to grab a Mastodon account if you do not have one and ensure you post the
@firstname.lastname@example.org prominently everywhere. This is a much smaller list, but it may help avoid analysis paralysis:
vis.social (SciArt, SciComm, data, visualization, creative coding, and related arts and research)
Alternatively, you can use this search engine to whittle down the vast list of active instances.
Your second mission is to dig into the API, make an app on some instance you're on, and do a test
curl (examples are in the docs). Then, pick a library that's based on your fav programming language, and do a few test API calls.
Now, you can pick a project:
Start a social coding repo that keeps track of one or more of the following:
lists of where various users/user communities are
resources for data mining or just using Mastodon
maps of key Twitter handles to Mastodon handles (e.g. media/journalists/etc.)
Existing packages be darned! Write a Mastodon API wrapper (even if there's a good existing one in the language you like)
#hashtagarchiver: This endpoint
https://mastodon.example/api/v1/timelines/tag/:tagwill let you pull down the tagged tweets, and the API endpoint has the ability to do a federated pull, and also start pulling from a post marker id. Then create a video/’splainer for it.
Add Mastodon scraping capabilities to one or more OSINT scrapers, so defenders can continue to monitor for malfeasance.
Reach out to academic researchers to ensure they know to double down on adding Mastodon's to their workflow.
Volunteer to moderate on one or more existing Mastodons.
I think the Fediverse is here to stay, this time, but it will cause more harm than good if we let it fragment us too much.
If you do follow any of the suggestions or have some of your own (especially servers to join), drop a note in the comments for others. ☮