Ash Furrow

Mastodon is a microblogging platform, often compared to Twitter. If you’re not familiar with Mastodon, you can probably skip this interview. You’ll find a good explainer here. Ash Furrow is the administrator of one “instance” of Mastodon. In this 25 minute interview he answers the questions below.

  1. Would you mind telling us a little about yourself? What do you do when you’re not feeding and caring for Mastodon.Technical?
  2. How did you get involved with the Mastodon movement?
  3. When did Mastodon.Technical go live? Do you recall who was Tooter #1?
  4. Are you (now or previously) active on other social media platforms?
  5. While a lot of people are apparently happy with Facebook and Twitter, many others are fleeing and looking for something else. What’s happening?
  6. What are the important differences between Mastodon and the more established social platforms?
  7. There have been no shortage of Twitter “replacements” but few have gotten traction. Is Mastodon different? Why?
  8. The “federation” concept seems pretty simple to me but I keep reading about users who find it confusing. Is this a problem?
  9. Are there instances operated by hate groups? Have you had to ban users from your instance?
  10. What is the biggest misconception about Mastodon?
  11. How much time do you invest each week working on your Mastodon instance?
  12. As it grows, do you feel trapped in any sense?
  13. As the admin for your instance, you are — I assume — all powerful. You’ve published user guidelines, have you had to exercise that power?
  14. What would you like the Mastodon Federation to look like a year from now?

Mastodon is a federation

This is the best explainer of Mastodon I’ve found. Aptly, it’s by the creator, Eugen Rochko. Here’s an excerpt:

One of Mastodon’s fundamental differences to Twitter is federation. To bring that word into context, the United States of America are a federation. In a more technical context: E-mail is federation. It means that users are spread throughout different, independent communities, yet remain unified in their ability to interact with each other. You can send an e-mail from GMail to Outlook, from Outlook to someone’s private e-mail inbox. Mastodon’s federation is similar: users from different sites (let’s call them “instances”) establish connections between these sites by following each other and sending each other messages like on any other social network.

What does federation mean for the user?

  • You can have the username your desire, as long as you can find an instance where it is available
  • You can pick an instance run by someone you trust and whose content policies you agree with, or run one yourself with some technical knowledge
  • Users are spread out, so individual instances are smaller, and as such communities are easier to build and moderate
  • No monopolies, if one instance ever shuts down, you don’t have to convince your friends to switch to a different social network, you just let them know to follow your new account on a different instance

I’ve never used Facebook and stopped using Twitter six months ago. Still cruise by Google+ a couple of times a day but spending more time at Mastodon.Technology these days. You can search for

“Notification gratification”

“Social media was serving, at least for me, as a sponge that wicks up any stray attention—and with it, time—and then keeps drawing more of both until you consciously break away from it. And of course it does — unlike reading, working, physical activity, or real-life socializing, social media is an activity that takes no effort. It doesn’t require any confidence, resolve, or intention, and doesn’t entail any risk.”

The only social media apps on my phone were Google+ and tumblr, with the former getting the lion’s share of attention. Both gone now. I can still check in but I have to be “intentional” about it, as David Cain says in his thoughtful post. Sit down. Open up the MacBook. And a browser. He said the mindless scrolling was eating up 45 minutes to an hour a day. Easy to believe.

Is it getting harder to write good spam?

I never look at the email Gmail flags as spam. I just delete it, or let Gmail delete it. If some non-spam email gets tossed, no big deal. But this morning a subject line caught my eye. “Stop Sending Me Your Photos!”

This struck me as mildly clever. Someone is sending a stranger my photos? Gadzooks! — or — Did I mistakenly send photos to wrong person?! — or — I better let Jackie know it wasn’t me sending her photos.

I don’t know why it is so hard for some people to ignore ALL email from strangers? Do such come-ons tap into some latent loneliness?

It occurs to me there are people whose job it is to craft email messages and subject lines that will entice recipients to open. I’d love to get half a dozen of those folks in a room for a discussion. How’d they get into that line of work? Where do you get your best ideas? Can you always spot spam?

Why Dave Winer won’t point to Facebook posts

He has two other reasons with which I agree, but this is my favorite:

“It’s supporting their downgrading and killing the web. Your post sucks because it doesn’t contain links, styling, and you can’t enclose a podcast if you want. The more people post there, the more the web dies. I’m sorry no matter how good your idea is, fuck you I won’t help you and Facebook kill the open web.”

I’ll have a blog till the day I die or I’m too far gone to maintain it. God willing, I’ll have an AI to take over at that point.

Could blockchain fix broken Internet?

A day doesn’t pass that I don’t see half a dozen articles about some new use for distributed ledger technology (Blockchain). Some interesting ideas in a short piece from Fortune:

“If we were to design the Internet all over again, it’s a good bet we wouldn’t build what we have today: A giant advertising oligopoly where consumers trade privacy for free services, and which is so insecure that hackers and criminals run wild.”

One idea for ‘fixing’ the Internet comes from a company called Blockstack:

“Blockstack is building a new type of Internet browser using the distributed ledger software known as blockchain. The idea is that people will no longer have to supply log-in information to the likes of Facebook and Google to interact with others on the web. Instead, they’ll keep control of their identity by using blockchain’s authentication features.”

Try to play the hits

I came of age in the era of push-button radios (in cars). If a station played a song I didn’t care for… (chunk!) I hit the button for another station. Commercials or news? (chunk!) If going through my presets didn’t get me a song, I’d keep punching. When I got a job as a DJ an awareness of that ever-so-brief window was hard-wired. You only had a listener until you aired something they didn’t like. Which was inevitable, of course, especially in a small market like ours. But you tried to play the good stuff and keep the tune-outs to a minimum.

I’ve always (instinctively?) approached online with this in mind. Blogging in the early days and social media later. Will my share ‘hold’ the reader… or tune them out? After all, few of my ‘followers’ know who I am (or care). They’re waiting for the next nugget and if it doesn’t come (often enough) why would they hang around.

I have a theory that most on social media imagine a relationship that doesn’t exist. “They follow me because they care about what’s happening in my life, even the most trivial thought or event.” Maybe. I’m gonna keep playing the hits (or try to).

Allen Hammock Interview

In 1995 CompuServe, America Online and Prodigy started providing dial-up Internet access and people started getting online. In April some tech folks from the University of Missouri came to our offices in Jefferson City and gave us a demo of the “World Wide Web” and our first look at Netscape Navigator. I can’t speak for the others in the meeting but I was mightily impressed.

I knew a bit about the Internet but nothing about how to create a website or register a domain, so I contacted Mike McKean, a professor at the J-School at the University of Missouri, and asked if he could put me in touch with a student who knew how to do this stuff. He introduced me to Dan Arnall, a senior journalism major. Dan was technically adept but he brought along Allen Hammock who was majoring in computer science. Dan and Allen were high school classmates in Springfield, Missouri, and were in members of a student leadership organization at Mizzou.

In this 12 minute interview, Allen shares some of his recollections of the exciting three years that followed.

Wayback Machine:

My little history project took me to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine where I got a look at some of the websites I helped create and maintain during the early days of the Internet. The first sites we created were for our two news networks, Radio Iowa and The Missourinet, but we felt like we needed one for our corporate site and went up in 1997. It was designed and built by Dan Arnall and Allen Hammock. (The story is in the link above)

I’m pretty sure I’m responsible for the look of the page in 1999 and 2000. I had zero design training or skills and I also didn’t have a budget for those talents, so I took a whack at it. We did have some professional help eventually but today they all look, let’s just say, dated.

A “home page” on the Internet was a brand new thing in 1997. They became the public face of a company or organization and in those early days, little more than brochures. Everyone was trying to figure out how to make them useful. “Look and feel” was way more important than usability back then. We loaded our pages with text because space was not an issue. Or so we thought.

Images tended to be tiny because big ones too a long time to load on slow dial-up connections. As we added more and more pages to our sites, “navigation” became important. We gave our page links clever names that meant nothing to the people visiting our sites.

Looking at these are almost painful. Like looking at photos from your senior year in high school. Want more? Missourinet and Radio Iowa.

Tweeting the execution

My Small History of Learfield and the Internet is nearing completion. Every drawer I open has some interesting new tidbit. Missourinet News Director Bob Priddy (now retired) share’s this gruesome bit of history:

“One of the highlights of our coverage of executions was when I became ( I think) the first reporter in the world who tweeted an execution. Dennis Skillicorn was executed in May, 2009. I could not take anything into the witness room except my notebook and a pen, and the book I had been reading in the waiting room, but I kept a careful chronology and as soon as we came out, I posted tweets on a minute-by-minute basis describing the events.

I stopped using Twitter in November of 2016 because it had become toxic with politics. Might return someday, might not. But searching for these Tweets reminds me of it’s historical importance.