Mastodon For SFF Fans
30th December 2017Is social media getting you down? In 2017 it seems to be increasingly driven by conflict, which encourages knee-jerk responses and a polarising of views. It's also been intense politically. So bookish discussions have been harder to find amongst the rants, outrage, and begging for attention that goes on.
Some of this is down to the way Twitter and Facebook are structured and funded. The advertising-funded model means they have to fight for page views and stickiness, rather than prioritising good moderation and a congenial atmosphere.
Fortunately there's an alternative. Mastodon is a decentralised network made up of a network of federated "instances" each hosted on different websites. There's no central control, and anyone with enough technical knowledge can start up their own instance. The rules and moderation are all down to the instance. The moderators will also decide which other instances to silence or block, which is important because it determines how safe its users feel from harassment and illegal content. So one instance can decide to silence another, which means their users can still follow individuals on that instance if they choose to do so but the toots (that's what a post is normally called) don't appear on the public federated timeline. Or they can suspend an instance entirely - this is the nuclear option that de-federates the instance so nothing gets through.
The instance you join determines whether you have a fun time with like-minded people or not.
You don't have to join all of the instances to get all of the benefit - you can follow those on other instances, and vice versa. Think of it as a bit like bunch of separate forums, but they can all talk to each other if they want to. And it's a bit like email - you don't need to use a certain email provider to talk to someone using that provider.
However, we all know how hard it can be to move once you've found an address you like and gained a few followers, so it's better to get it right first time. With that in mind, here are a few instances worth looking at if you're into books, writing, and/or science fiction and fantasy.
Wandering Shop - This instance is themed around science fiction and fantasy, and it has a lot of writers. This is the one I joined. I'm a little biased, but it's perfect - not too big, and very civilised, friendly and bookish.
Writing Exchange - This is for writers, poets, and bloggers.
SciFi.fyi - A sci-fi themed instance.
Bookwitty.social - This one's specifically for book lovers. Bookwitty is a group of companies, so its tone will be slightly different from other non-commercial instances.
Ten Forward - Star Trek themed.
Cybre Space - Cyberpunk themed, with a custom design.
Mos Eisley Club (https://moseisley.club) - Star Wars themed. This is a small instance without the robust blocking or rules of some of the other instances mentioned.
There are a few instances that look like they're about fantasy, but aren't necessarily restricted to the sff community. Witches Town (https://witches.town) is like this. It's a French/English instance, which is more for feminists, antifascists and SJWs than anything to do with the occult or fantasy. Every user gets a follower count of 666, meaning that it's much harder to get sidetracked by the hyper-competitive social scoring of who has the most or least followers.
Mastodon Instances list - go here to explore listings of other instances.
The default instance is the largest - Mastodon.social. It's crowded and general, which will make it harder to find your tribe. That's why I recommend looking first for a medium-sized instance of between a few hundred to under 5000 users, where the timeline may be slower but the focus of conversation is narrower.
Where not to joinThis list gives instances blocked by Witches Town, and the reasons why. There's a similar one for toot.cafe. Other instances will list those ones they block, but not all do. It's worth looking out for block lists so that you don't accidentally end up joining a place nobody else in your sphere of interest is talking to.
A quick how-toThe "Home" tab is for people you follow. It defaults to not showing "boosts", which are the equivalent of shares or retweets. You can change that in your settings.
The next tab is your "Notifications" - follows, replies, and so on. Again, there are settings for what you get notifications on.
The third tab "Getting Started" is where you can find all sorts of things - settings, preferences, muted or blocked users, and the local and federated timelines. The local timeline is your "instance" - all the people on the same server as you. If you pick a good instance this can be really cool and friendly, especially if it's smaller and more tight-knit.
What you see in the "federated" tab isn't a firehose of everything posted publicly by all Mastodon users everywhere. It's filtered by what your instance blocks, and also whether anyone on your instance follows that person.
Toot!This may seem quite complicated, and when I first heard of Mastodon in early 2017 I'll admit I was put off by what I thought was the need to register different names for different topic interests. There is a little bit of a learning curve, but it's not insurmountable and the experience of using Mastodon makes it worthwhile. If there's one feature that stands out, it's the ability to put Content Warnings (abbreviated to CW's) over each toot to hide the content. This is invaluable for spoilers, as well as potentially upsetting topics; this means you can post more freely because anyone who might be put off can skip right over your pictures of giant spiders or your analysis of the deaths in the latest big movie.
Edit:This list on Github has some Mastodon instances organised by theme, including a few more sff-themed ones.
© Ros Jackson