Categories
Authoring

New Shiny Part 2: Making Mastodon Comfy

TL;DR: some practical tips are bullet-pointed at the bottom. 

I can always tell I’ve started A New Thing way beyond my comfort zone when it shows up in my recurring dreamspaces.

Lately I’ve been dreaming a lot about the new social networking system I’ve joined. (It seriously isn’t social media in the commonly accepted sense, so in my stubborn way, I have trouble calling it that. BUT I DIGRESS.) 

I found a smaller “instance” or node or server on the network to move into: zirk.us, instead of Mastodon.social. 

Zirk.us is an instance dedicated to arts & humanities, poetry, photography and so on,  being run by folks who are transparent about the logistical costs of being online & growing the membership only as fast as it can add moderation & technical support.

And yes, I confess I migrated there in no small part because it’s called zirk.us, pronounced zerk-us, like circus, like Herkes, so how could I resist? (Answer, I couldn’t.)

Manipulative social engineering is the main reason I backed away from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. Interacting with other humans is hard enough. Trying to make connections while simultaneously fighting a system designed to exhaust and use me was increasingly not worth the effort.

side note: Your Mastodon May Vary. the Fediverse is *NOT* equitably welcoming. I come at it with undeniable privileges. The Fediverse’s splintered, uneven nature and lack of institutional-level reporting & blocking system make many of its major instances hostile places, unsafe for people who are targets of exclusionary hate & institutional bigotry.

In contrast, my main issues are mental health and focus-related, and in those areas, the Mastodon software interface shines. It is beautifully designed for building defenses & supports.

I changed a bunch of things right away to cut back on information overload, doom-depression, & focus exhaustion.  I am now going to tediously go through all those things I did, because that way when I forget what I did, I will have a reference for myself.

And, maybe, possibly, it might prove useful to someone else somehow, someday. That said, ‘m doing this in my shorthand, there won’t be full explanations of which menu I was in or where I was looking on the screen, etc. 

First I tinkered with my profile settings through Edit Profile.

Adding a profile pic & banner are key to making myself knowable & demonstrating I am a Real Person. Filled out the bio & later edited to be kind to those using screenreaders: put hashtags at the end, not sprinkled throughout the text. 

PREFERENCES:

  •  Appearance 1: enable “enhanced web interface,” which enables multiple columns to be viewed & pinned in place. I’ve since learned this format  is too intense for some people, but I prefer my information to be in predictable, static places on the screen.)
  • Appearance 2: enable SLOW MODE.  Disables infinite scroll. I choose when I’m ready to access new posts. I love, love, LOVE this. But wait, there’s more.
  • Appearance 3: crop all images to a 16:9 the better for me to tune them out
  • hide sensitive media, again, again, conserving my limited visual attentiveness
  • Other: I selected English, so I wouldn’t be trying to parse my way through posts in other languages. 

FILTERS

 So easy to set up. So customizable. Easy to append. Easy to edit, if I decide I want to change where/if I want to look at the topics I’m filtering out. I set up three perma-filters before I made my first post. One for references to Twitter or Musk, one for Trump related material, and one for pandemic related keywords. I’ve added a couple more since then. 

There’s even the ability to decide how rigorous you want the filter to be, with warnings or hiding entirely, from just some feeds or all occurrences anywhere.

Filters complete, I went from Edit Profile back to the main screen.

Home, Local & Federated columns showed up automatically. I went up to the bar of icons at the top left & clicked on the bell to bring up a Notifications column too. Then I promptly started tinkering with all the column settings.

Column settings are tucked behind a little icon I think looks like an abacus. I unpinned the Local & Federated feeds immediately, and pinned the Notifications. I didn’t pin the Home feed, but I did toggle “Show replies” off so I wouldn’t get caught up puzzling through posts without context. 

NOTIFICATIONS & COLUMNS:

  • I also moved the Notifications column to the far left using the little arrows to the right of the pin/unpin toggle. Pinning eliminates the ultra-distracting badge in the Getting Started column.  Being able to rearrange the visible columns to match the day’s brain order: priceless
  • enabled “show all categories”  It defaults to only showing “all” & mentions, but I can’t keep up & like to go through replies, favs, boosts individually t my own speed. (Again, some find that to be *more* distracting. My love of static information sources is showing.)
  • turned off all the sound alerts & half the other alerts.

Then I went to the Getting Started column on the right & clicked on Lists so I could fine-tune my various info sources.

LISTS.

Like Filters, Lists are similar to features of Twitter & FB, but they’re implemented as readily-accessible, highly-visible elements, proving they’re integral to the experience, not post-hoc additions buried three menus deep & requiring multiple moves back & forth to set up.

Lists are my besties. My tolerance for different types of input varies radically with my mood & energy level. 

  •  a *very* small “Frenz” list for people whose posts I can almost always handle
  • my Writing Community List
  • Interesting Strangers
  • Fun Bots, for days when automated cat pics or astronomy photos are all I can stand
  •  And one more for News–which includes people who mainly post or boost only politics or current events.

The “Interesting Strangers” is by far the largest. Sometimes people move from that to Frenz, sometimes the other way — It’s EASY to change people’s list status. There’s a single menu for adjusting all your interactions w/each person. 

And I can put people on multiple lists, too so I don’t miss friend posts if I’m only in the mood for skimming news, or looking for book recs, f’rex.

Once I tailored my notifications & made lists, I could start adding people, which brings up the last best things: Notes & Muting & Hide Boosts.

FOLLOWING

Following best practice: IMMEDIATELY click on the 3-dot menu & add the person to a list or lists. Since I rarely have Home, Local, or Federated up, this is critical to seeing someone’s posts at all. (If I had to wait & do it afterwards, I would forget. If I had to click into sub-menus, I wouldn’t do it. This way, it’s *done.*)

 I can also hide that individual’s boosts right then & there, if a quick look indicates they post interesting things but also a high proportion of boosts I don’t care about–OR I CAN CHANGE THAT SETTING LATER just as easily. 

Ditto for the mute function — if I want to follow someone so I can find them later, but don’t have a lot of interest in their current posts/boosts, I can simply mute them. 

And Notes? Notes is the ice cream on the hot, fresh slice of fruit pie. It’s a memo line in the profile I see where I can to leave myself an explanation for “Why Am I following this person?”  I can’t say it’s private bc the instance admins see everything, but it doesn’t show up to that person, and that’s all I could ask.

I regularly & randomly lose important contextual connections, I seriously conflate people & places, and I am horrible about keeping track of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey time. Did a thing happen last year, 5 years ago, or when I was 14? I DUNNO.

Basically all the people I have ever known have always been with me everywhere I go. On Twitter & FB, where it’s hard/impossible to design & edit lists on impulse, I got used to doing a lot of looking blankly at posts & stressing over “where do I know them from? Why am I following them? Should I reply? Should I scroll on?” 

I reserve notes for people outside the “Interesting Strangers” list since that label is an explanation all by itself. But when I’m surfing through Writing Community, (f’rex) or my rare jaunts through the Local or Home feed,  it’s a huge relief to see my reminder “on a panel w/ them at WorldCon” or “cool person I bought a book from,” “Person who said a kind thing the first day on Mastodon” etc.

Notes, lists, filters, muting, etc — none of these are necessary for being in the Fediverse. But they do make it a lot easier for me to navigate it without losing my mind or using up all my energy.

Bottom line: there’s a lot about the interface that’s familiar, but the ways the familiar have been revised makes all the difference. It’s wild how much improvement the small changes in design have made.


This post comes to you by the magic of copy/paste & cross-posting from my blog on Patreon. Please consider becoming a regular patron if you like what I write & help me smother my impostor syndrome with pocketbook votes. Otherwise stay tuned to this channel for the next installment.

Categories
3. Other Things Authoring Media Consumption

New Shiny Thing…what the heck is it?

(crossposted from a public post on my Patreon)

Okay, so, Mastodon. 

I’m “on Mastodon” now.

What’s that mean? Damn, I wish that was an easy question.

I’ve had my account** on Mastodon dot social for a month, which in no way makes me an expert, but the way I process new information goes like this:

  • Discover new thing, by which I mean “Dive in heedless & headfirst”
  • Research new thing exhaustively
  • Write. Everything. Down.

I’m in stage 3, which means so I need to hammer out my thoughts for myself to organize them, & that means leaving them lying around where anyone can stumble across them. Lucky you, huh?

I’ll be doing more than this one post. It’s a BIG new thing. This time around, I’m offering meandering general impressions.

Vital Disclaimer: These are all my impressions & mine alone. YMMV. (Your Mastodon May Vary) All my information sources come from the internet & thus suspect. Some of the data might be wrong. I hope not, I’ve done due diligence, but no guarantees.

Also, there’s no particular *point* to this. I’m just moving the new mental furniture around in my head until it fits better. So. Here goes.

——————————

The main thing that’s intriguing me about Mastodon is this: it isn’t what many people seem to want it to be. It definitely isn’t what most people think it is. 

It isn’t a social media platform like Twitter or Facebook, or an online blogging community like Tumblr or LiveJournal,  or evenan interconnected, interacting collection of individual online communities,” which is a mouthful of a description I remember seeing somewhere but unhappily forgot to bookmark for later linking.

Mastodon isn’t a thing at all.

It’s open source server software that can be used anyone with the hardware, the know-how and the energy to make an online community (hereafter called an instance)  and also connect with people in other such communities if you want.

A lot of the think pieces I’ve read about people leaving Twitter for other places use “Mastodon” as shorthand  to describe the larger, overall interconnected internet presence of all the instances running Mastodon or other open-source software.

This is driving me buggy because there’s already a word for the world-wide collection of interconnected open-source servers. It’s called the Fediverse, and it’s been around lots longer than Mastodon software. Check Wikipedia for a fairly decent if technical history and a list of other server software types supporting Fediverse communities. 

I get why media explainers are conflating the two. 

Mastodon is a catchy name, and Fediverse…isn’t. “Mastodon is the new Twitter” makes a catchy headline even though it’s wrong from every possible perspective. 

It’s still driving me buggy. Any time people jam square words into round holes, it grates on my nerves.

So to me, what I’ve joined is the Fediverse not “Mastodon,” and the Fediverse is too sprawling, too complex, too multi-systemic, to be encompassed by the word “platform,” too active to fit under the umbrella term “media,” social or otherwise. 

Even if I only look at the instance where I’m currently roosting, Mastodon.social (one of the largest) it’s nothing like Twitter. Or Facebook. It’s not even like even LiveJournal or Usenet, which I feel at least share neighboring evolutionary branches.

This is a whole, huge, new WORLD.

I picture Mastodon.social as thecyberpunk megalopolis spaceport, all neon & noise, flashy crowds, 24/7 parties, trash, and clutter.  But! The Fediverse is a whole world, remember? There there are also quiet neighborhoods in the same city, and farms, and communes, and even little homesteads of one person alone (if you have the hardware & a domain address, I’m told you can self-host your own little “instance” aka server) There are party islands & mountaintop retreats.

And! I can get to know people in those other places! Best of all, it’s easy for me to close my doors & windows, so to speak, and not have to see anything. There’s nothing encouraging me to click one more thing, no trending topics, no suggested posts, no damned algorithims or endless scroll. I have the tools to find quiet even in the city. 

Someday I’d like to move somewhere quieter in the Fediverse, where I can talk tea & books & cats with likeminded souls locally and not have to hide my home feed &  the local instance to avoid overwhelm. 

(Next post will be about how I set up my account so it would NOT be the pointless, empty timesuck Twitter & Facebook were. Sorry, friends who found friends & community on Twitter, I never felt like anything but a rejected, shunned, & unvalued nobody there.)

ANYway. I comprehend, intellectually, why many new arrivals to the Fediverse don’t like it. Setting up an account is simple, but it isn’t frictionless the way getting started & finding people on Twitter & Facebook is easy. Very little is immediately obvious or familiar. There’s a reason for that, though.

Twitter & Facebook are corporate-owned worlds, to bend my own analogy a little. Everything is tightly controlled, because their success is measured in users, data gathered from users, and ad revenue generated by users. They profit from making things simple & doing everything they can to keep people from leaving. It takes a lot of energy to escape those gravity wells.

The Fediverse isn’t about profit, it’s about existing. Humanity is complicated.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who’ve been on their servers for YEARS. Servers have their own cultures. People have developed community standards & traditional Ways Of Communicating. Some of these are shared by most or all servers. Some are not.

It’s worth mentioning that lot of early servers and the core norms of the Fediverse were established by queer, disabled, and otherwise marginalized members of the tech community. Inclusion is A Thing. 

Are all these cultures and traditional norms healthy? Ha. No. Truth.social is an instance, for example. It’s an island practically no one else connects to/federates with, but it exists. But there is a foundation level commitment to trying to make space and center marginal voices.

But.

When any existing inhabited space gets flooded with new arrivals who have their own ways, their own needs, their own ways of doing things, friction is bound to result. When the influx outsumbers the existing population by multiple orders of magnitude…there’s all kinds of culture clashes going on in the Fediverse right now.

Grief makes us crave the familiar, the comfortable, the known. Many people arriving from Twitter are grieving, involuntarily bereft of connections and communities they spent years building, escapees from a walled city being torn apart at the whims of an asshole billionaire.

Problem is, in the Fediverse, there is no One Way & it isn’t all One Big Place. What’s acceptable behavior on some servers is unwelcome on others. That’s disconcerting. It’s frustrating. It’s not welcoming, the same way The World can be an unwelcoming & confusing place.  

That brings up another factor of discontent: all the pains and frustrations of being in a strange new place get amplified for people who start off in instances that are not a good fit for them or the way they want to interact.

Differences in communication norms shouldn’t lead to flaming rows over fragile, institutionally racist liberals silencing marginalized voices, but those fires are already lit. It’s happened multiple times, in multiple instances, large & small. Some high-profile newcomers have declared with conviction that “Mastodon” is not a good community and may never be safe for them.

Which is…a conclusion I am not qualified to judge.

There are some seriously robust protocols for reporting bad actors locally & across the Fediverse, but it’s hard to tell whether they’re enough or not when there literally aren’t enough moderators to keep up with the incoming flood in many instances right now, and when mods only human, are new, make mistakes — or in some instances may indeed be intolerant bigots. 

Bottom line, there’s no effective difference between hostile fire & friendly fire when you’re the target of it, and people are finding themselves targeted when they are at their newest and most vulnerable.

I expect there will be a lot of instances slamming defensively shut and others being defensively blocked in the days & months to come. I hold out hope it will all settle in time. A lot more listening & work needs to happen, that’s for sure, and there’s definitely room for changes and improvement.

But. Um. I still like it here a gazillion times better than any online outlet for creativity I’ve used since LiveJournal. (I still miss LJ, sigh) I’ve gotten more response & feedback in my 3 weeks on Mastodon.social than in two years on Twitter. Not even joking. And despite still feeling like the biggest no-talent loser kid in the writing world whenever I post, I feel less that way, plus I don’t get sucked into depressive doomscrolling.

I suspect a lot of Twitter migrants will migrate right back out as soon as they can find a singular platform that’s more like the social media they’re accustomed to, one offers them the safety and comfort features they know, want & need. 

Me, I will keep hunting for a little house somewhere far from the Big Server noise and clutter here in the Fediverse. I like it here. People say nice things about my cat pictures.

—————————————

** Minor disclaimer/digression (because I am made of digressions) I am not exactly new to Mastodon. See, I opened an account way back in 2017, invited by a friend who was on a very small Mastodon-based server. I never did much other than set up an account & follow that server’s local feed, though. The friend died later that year, I never logged in again, & sometime between then & 2022 the server went dark & took the account with it.

Categories
Authoring Media Consumption Writing Life

Midwinter Social Media Weirdness

There’s a strange thing that happens to me every December on Facebook — but it has nothing to do with holidays or decorations or the weather.

I start noticing names.

All year long I don’t really notice names in other peoples’ comment threads. I read the threads, but who said what doesn’t stick in my brain, not really. Which is probably weird all on its own, but hello, my brain is weird. I am, in the words of a good friend and co-worker, sometimes A Lot Too Much.

But this weirdness is specific to December, every year. Around midwinter I start noticing people in Facebook threads whose names are vaguely familiar. So I figure we must be Facebook friends & I check to see who our mutuals are. But then STRANGENESS ensues. They turn out not to be my Facebook friends after all.

Which would be fine, except that I have no idea if we were Facebookfriends but they unfriended me, or if

  • we’ve never been Facebookfriends and they simply look familiar because we do have mutuals and they’ve been showing up in threads forever
    or
  • I’ve seen their names forever because we have loads of mutuals but we’ve never been Facebook friends because I have A Weird Problem with clicking friend request.

That problem is clear and evergreen: I can’t make myself “friend” a stranger unless I’ve been introduced by a mutual online or met someone in person AND remembered to ask if it was okay to do it. (Which, given my Swiss cheese memory, is extremely rare.)

But anyway. I digress.

I just think it’s weird that I only notice this for the same 3 weeks or so out of. And only on Facebook.

Then again, I could just say, “Facebook is weird,” and that would cover pretty much every weirdness possible, including deliberate emotional manipulation by the people running the platform.

Postscript: I shared the above information as a post on Facebook (because blog link sharing is just a short slide to invisibility) and I got a tremendous, wonderful rsponse.

It’s a great thread of friends musing over the mysteries of, “Say, how DID we end up friends in this Facebook place?” and remarks from friends who have noticed the same “Were they or weren’t they?” phenomenon and had some insights into how & why it might be happening.

It’s that kind of interaction & engagement with kind, talented, thoughtful folks that keeps me *ON* Facebook. Most days it’s the ONLY reason I stay on there.

That’s a point much more universal than Facebook, to be fair. The people make it worthwhile.

In other news, I’m close enough to finishing the Ghost Town cozy mystery that my brain is tossing out a gazillion Other Ideas about things to write. I have 3 story-prompt stories to bash out for a charity anthology I’ve been invited to join, a gargoyle short piece scratching at the back of my brain, and a winter newsletter to draft.

Will I get all that done before the end of the year? HAHAHAHAHA no. Undoubtedy not. But! I’ve been getting words on the page every day for a whole week, and I will keep plugging away. I even have a first line for one of the charity stories: The dog was never the problem. It might be a Naomi, Serena & Parker short. Or that might just be the springboard into new characters…time will tell.

Tonight I have pizza to eat & a couple of trees to decorate with cat-friendly ornaments. Good times.

Until later!

Categories
Authoring Cons & Appearances other things Writing Life

Learning by doing: my latest project

I only did 2 virtual conventions during Our First Pandemic Year because Discord became the default interaction platform, and it was not only a New And Scary Thing, it was a complex new social one. I was already two social media programs past coping, so navigating Discord servers was overwhelming, bewildering. It was impossible for me to get bast anxiety blocks to process how Things Worked. Not the technical side, that was refreshingly clear, but in a basic, human “how do people use this thing?” way.

Learning to drive is the best analogy I can think of. Complex, multi-channel learning. It’s so difficult there are CLASSES and people have to CERTIFY, right? The difficulty has less to do with mastering the pedals, levers, and buttons to make things stop & go, and a lot more to do with learning the rules of the road, and MOST to do with learning to apply those rules to physical experience in real time so you don’t hit the wrong pedal at the wrong time and crash.

Social interaction is like that for me. ALL social interaction. But each new environment isn’t like a new car. It’s like a whole new kind of driving, period. Think car vs airplane, or electric scooter vs sailboat. New mechanics, new rules, new integration. Some elements transfer, but you don’t know which until you’ve put in the time in the new system.

With Discord, the mechanical part was simple, but there were so many different types of interactions that the patterns weren’t readily visible (To me. Things that are as clear as glass to many people are opaque to me, and vice versa. But I digress.)

Imagine trying to avoid a crash when you couldn’t learn the rules first because you’re already driving, so you can only learn the rules of the road only by watching other drivers while also learning your pedals and lever mechanics. Pretty dangerous, huh?

On social media, crashes translate as mortifying humiliation with the potential to drive me into solitude for, oh, years. That made Discord a no-go zone for me for ages. But that bugged me. Things I can’t do always bug me.

So I made Discord this year’s Hibernation Project.

Late winter is the best time for me to tackle Scary New Things. Once my energy starts to build up after the mid-winter crash, I find something shiny and carry them into my nest and get to know them better by combing & petting & squeezing the stuffing out of them.

Almost everyone learns better “by doing,” but it’s the only way I learn multi-channel processes. When I first wanted to understand website design, way back in the day, I bemused my friends who worked in web design by teaching myself to code sites from scratch using HTML & CSS. Why didn’t I focus on learning the web design programs, they wondered. But see, those programs didn’t make sense to me At All until I mastered the underlying language structure.

This year, I dragged Discord into the nest and made it my own. I built my own little server, nice and tidy, with all the usual parts & pieces, then brushed and polished it up to Discord’s Community Guidelines so eventually I can make it public.

That was a long read to get to the news that there now exists a Dawnrigger Discord server, huh? But there it is!

Right now it’s private, invitation only. If you’re a reader and/or fan of my books, if you have room in your Discord for a quiet little server where there’s not much clutter or content yet, you’re welcome to join Dawnrigger’s Den and share the fun.

This also means that when the day I flee Facebook inevitably arrives, I’ll still have an interactive space online, and I’m a LOT more comfortable surfing my way around other servers & occasionally even posting comments & engaging in conversations.

Not comfortable, but not as uncomfortable. And that’s progress. Wins all around.

That’s all for now. Some heavy shit happened online this week. I’m still processing, but there will be blog on ot eventually.

Until then, have a random cat with a book.

Photo by Heather McKeen on Pexels.com
Categories
Authoring Cons & Appearances Writing Life

Accomplished: first convention of 2021!

Capricon 41 took place over the weekend. I was going to pass on it this year. I’ve been running on fumes for ages and saving my small energies for Finishing The Book. The deadlines for submitting panel ideas and for interest in programming came & went while I was still fully mired in the midwinter mental mire. I planned to buy a membership to support the incredible, generous, hard-working people who were making the con happen despite stick-in-the-muds like me, but I was going to steer VERY clear of the chaos created in my brain by attempting online interaction over multiple, simultaneous channels.

Meh, I thought, and blergh. I don’t have it in me to deal with All The Virtual Things.

Then I found out at the last minute that Michi Trota was going to be one of the Guests of Honor. C’mon, self, you canNOT miss out on that, I told myself, and I asked myself in my most persuasive inner voice, How hard could it be to simply attend the virtual con? No responsibilities. Zero expectations. Nothing to panic over.

My argument was simple but convincing. I boxed up all my freakout fears & scraped up all my post-hibernation energy and registered, bullied my tech into cooperating, and got online.

…nd promptly freaked out and panicked and had a Really Bad Day over the ordeal of dealing, but! BUT! I collected some support (THANK YOU ALL MY SUPPORTIVE ONLINE FRENZ) applied warm fuzzies to the anxiety prickle wounds, and in the end it was an amazing good time.

I learned a ton of new things. How one person’s utopia can be another’s dystopia, what makes space opera space opera, the need for shaping society with hopeful, inclusive, personal narratives that go beyond reflecting and amplifying existing systems, and much more. My TBR list has exploded with new titles both fiction & research-related. The affirmation of hearing Real Experts validate the importance of stories like the ones I write–ones with complex, flawed characters, with resolutions based on cooperation & collective action, where erasing a villain doesn’t fix systemic ills, but determination and hope make improvements that are framed as worthy, achievable goals–well! That alone was worth the emotional price of admission. (and that was just the start!)

It’s post-con now, so of course I’m wrestling with residual weasel-whispers of, “You weren’t really freaking out, you just want attention, you’re a weak, whiny, lazy little coward who has all the privileges in the world but can’t be bothered to work hard, so you’re making excuses and posturing and claiming victimhood, you should be ashamed of yourself, other people who have it much worse than you do and manage to do so much more.” Stupid weasels. Good thing I have on my big, spiky weasel-stomping boots.

One extra-grand thing about the con being virtual was that I could bake bread, make oatcakes, and also get a lot of words written in the same weekend I was attending panels and engaging in inspiring discussions. I streamed the filk circles & performances while I was working on Ghost Town more than once, and that was particularly enjoyable.

And now, have pictures of the bread I baked. Because stress baking is a thing in this house.

apricot toaster bread is not pretty when it’s in the process of becoming.
it looks much more appetizing after baking
Glamour shot of the final result with gratuitous bacon
Still here? Here’s a peek at my office dragon’s current hoard.