Just four weeks ago, I posted that I was officially, permanently worn out with social media. But it only took three weeks to change my mind.

And four weeks for me to see that a better version of social media could create better workplaces, too.


Hope looks like an elephant

The mess at Twitter left me resolved to be less of an incorrigible optimist, especially when it comes to my newfound hopes for hybrid work. But my optimism was renewed by the explosive overnight growth of Mastodon, a platform that might just give us a non-toxic version of social media…and one with the potential to address some of the biggest risks of hybrid work.

Mastodon first hit my radar five or six years ago. It’s different from sites like Facebook and Twitter, because Mastodon isn’t one site: it’s a network of servers that all share posts back and forth, within an even larger network known as the Fediverse. Best of all, Mastodon servers are typically non-commercial projects run by dedicated volunteers, non-profits or co-ops (servers that are owned by and accountable to their members). Since there is no big central entity trying to get rich off of Mastodon (yet), and since individual servers can set up their own rules (for example, cutting off ties with servers that allow hate speech), we aren’t yet seeing the same scale of pathology that exists on other social networks.

That could change, of course — which is why I’ve thrown my lot in with brilliant team of folks who are working to build a Canadian Mastodon co-op at CoSocial.Ca. This feels like a unique opportunity to create a healthier version of social media, informed by what we’ve learned over the past 15 years. And thanks to the experience of the team involved (led by the lovely developer who literally invented the protocol that Mastodon and the rest of the Fediverse runs on), I hope our experiment may prove useful to other people on the network, too.


4 ways Mastodon matters to your work

In the long run, non-toxic social media could be great for all of our work: Imagine if you had a space where you could find colleagues, share inspiration, get insight and resources — but not have to “manage your brand”? What if you could invest in making an online home with your colleagues, without worrying it might be ripped to shreds by a wealthy narcissist, or overtaken by hate groups?

That’s what I’m hoping Mastodon users will build together, and I’m especially curious to see how people experiment with creating servers to stay in touch within organizations, to create distributed virtual workplaces for solo freelancers like me, or to extend the platform in ways that make it more congenial for a range of communities. (For context, read this thoughtful interview on the whiteness of Mastodon.)

But right now, when Mastodon is still relatively small (but growing quickly!) and unfamiliar to most of its newly minted users, there are just a few things I recommend you think about for your own professional and personal well-being:

    1. Hang your shingle. It’s impossible to know how many people will stick with Mastodon for the long haul, but the growth is rapid enough that people may look for you there (especially if you’ve gone dark on Twitter). There is good reason to join sooner, because I’m not sure how many times people will repeat the process of searching for their Twitter colleagues on Mastodon; the sooner you join, and the sooner you add your Mastodon handle to your Twitter profile, the more likely it is that your colleagues will reconnect with you.
    2. Consider Mastodon as a new home for the professional relationships you developed on Twitter. I have a lot of colleagues I got to know via tweet, and indeed, my biggest client is a company I connected with on Twitter. That kind of networking feels essential in my line of work, so I’m delighted that there are tools that make it easy to find my Twitter pals on Mastodon (if they’ve joined). You can find the how-to below.
    3. Experiment with a distributed brain trust. It has been EONS since I could reliably use Twitter or LinkedIn as a way to get feedback on my story ideas or even simple technical advice. Mastodon has a lot more of that helpful spirit, and I’ve already gotten great feedback on everything from what kind of RAM to buy on a Black Friday sale, to the likely future of time-based calendar reminders. That extend-a-brain function is what makes social media so powerful, and it’s a lot easier to tap into on Mastodon, where there are a range of ways you can manage who will see your posts.
    4. Make new friends. Gosh, remote work can be lonely! And honestly, it’s been a long time since social media really helped. I’ve been exhausted by the constant performance of Twitter and LinkedIn, and how people are so damn strategic that you can’t necessarily connect as humans. Mastodon reminds me of the olden days when social media really did help cut the isolation, and by following people who have mentioned #Vancouver in their introduction or profile, I’m even getting to know people I could in theory meet IRL!

Those are four good work-related reasons to join up…but really, your best bet is to just give it a try. Here’s how.


Getting started with Mastodon

If you’re thinking about joining Mastodon, or if you’ve signed up but are feeling lost, here’s what’s helpful to know. You can jump to the bottom of this post for quick first steps if you just want to get going, already.

  1. It doesn’t really matter which Mastodon server (aka “instance”) you join, especially at first, because they are all interconnected. You just need to find one that is accepting new sign-ups. To find some options, visit joinmastodon.org or instances.social
  2. You only need to join ONE server to have access to people and posts from all over Mastodon. It doesn’t matter if you’re @yourname@mastodon.online while I’m on @awsamuel@social.coop — we can still see each other and exchange messages. Think of this like email: Maybe your email address is nicefriend@gmail.com and mine is goodbuddy@outlook.com; we can still exchange emails. (Mastodon feels even more integrated than that.)
  3. It’s INCREDIBLY easy to change servers later. I’ve already changed once, and I’m already planning to change again as soon as the cosocial.ca coop is live. When I changed to social.coop, it took about 5 minutes to connect my old server to my new server and then all my followers and following folks moved over automatically in the course of a few hours. Once you have the lay of the land you might want to pick a smaller server that is organized around something you find interesting, because then there is some interest in the “local” view that shows you posts just from your server. But it’s not necessary to find “your” server, especially at the start.
  4. There’s no algorithm picking content — so what you follow is what you’ll see. Once you’ve signed up on a server, just point you browser to its address (e.g. mastodon.online) and use the “search” bar to find hashtags that will take you to posts that might interest you. I searched for stuff like “Vancouver”, “knitting”, “indigenous”, “actuallyautistic”, “StarTrek” etc. to find interesting posts, then followed the people who posted them. If I stumble across ANYONE with a profile that shows they’ve been around longer than 2022 (or even just sometime before October!) then I follow them so that I can pick up more of the established vibe/norms. People are very friendly and welcoming so that helps.
  5. Things are a bit funky right now! Mastodon has grown really rapidly and a lot of servers are just personal projects or small nonprofit groups. Some are struggling with the huge increase in users and posts so there are some outages from time to time, or more commonly, some traffic jams in content moving between servers.
  6. There’s no full-text search, by design. So you can’t search for “best new TV shows” and find out who is posting interesting lists. This protects people from harassment and also means that you are not going to be thrust into the spotlight if you don’t want to be, even though anything you post is public or viewable by friends (your choice) and nothing is truly private (even DMs are not encrypted). So if you search for “TV” you’ll find posts that include the #TV hashtag, but if I just posted “watching so much bad TV right now it’s horrifying”, you’re not going to see that post unless you’re following me personally.
  7. Because there’s no full-text search, you can’t count on finding something again…so if you think you might EVER want to see something again, bookmark it! And because there’s no algorithm, stuff only shows up if someone shares it — so if you see something you like, use the “boost” button (like a retweet) to reshare it. There’s no equivalent to a “quote tweet” so when you share it just posts that exactly thing to your feed, without any comment from you.
  8. Mastodon looks a lot like Twitter, but the vibe is not at ALL like Twitter; for example, Mastodon users make much more of an effort to write detailed alt text for any shared images, so that they’re accessible to people using screen readers. Another difference is that “content warnings” (marked by a CW) are a pervasive practice: Basically they’re like a subject line that hides the body of a post until someone clicks on it. So I can write a post about the latest Star Trek episode and use the CW button to post “Star Trek SNW S2e1 spoiler” and then people don’t have to read what I’ve written until they’ve seen it. Widely used for stuff like politics, mental health struggles, Twitter implosion — really, anything that might be upsetting.
  9. One good way to connect with people is to make YOURSELF findable. Search #Introduction to see how people introduce themselves. Then write a profile bio with lots of hashtags in it, and an introduction with lots of hashtags in it. You can post a re-intro in a few weeks if there’s stuff you wished you’d included or you just want to find your people again.
  10. You can find out people you were connected with on Twitter by using an export tool like Debirdify or Fedifinder to find the Mastodon handles of people you followed (or who followed you). This only works if your Twitter account is still active. And other people will only find YOU this way if you put your new Mastodon address in your Twitter bio so be sure to do that as soon as you have a handle.
  11. Mobile experience is MUCH better with an app. Try Metatext if you’re on iOS. Sounds like Android folks like Tusky. You can also download a desktop client (I’m using Mastonaut for MacOS) but I find the browser works well for most things.

Feel free to ask more questions! I’ve only been doing this for four weeks myself so I’m still learning, but I’m working closely with folks who have long experience and deep knowledge of Mastodon, and they’ve been generous in answering my many questions. Let me know if I can help answer yours!

Quick first steps

  1. Visit joinmastodon.org, find a server that is open for new sign-ups, and just join. Doesn’t matter which one & you can change later.
  2. Enter a keyword in the search box to find posts by hashtag. If you see a hashtag that interests you, click on it to see related posts, then if you see a post you like, follow the person who posted it. Just follow a bunch of people until you have an interesting feed to look at; you can always unfollow some of them later.
  3. Come say hi! Find me as @awsamuel@social.coop


Why I’m not closing my Twitter account

Like many other people, I’m leaving Twitter—but I’m not closing my account. Closing your Twitter account just frees your username up for somebody else. Even if you’re a non-famous person with a small following, an account with a longstanding online history could make your username very useful to spammers, misinformation agents and other malicious actors.

So I’ve exported my complete Twitter archive, and I’m just trying not to use the app or website. I still haven’t quite decided what to do about people reaching out to me about my public stories; my hope is that over time, those folks will find me on Mastodon instead as @awsamuel@social.coop.

This post was originally featured in the Thrive at Work newsletter. Subscribe here to be the first to receive updates and insights on the new workplace.