A lot of things landed for me about the same the Fall ‘22 Twitter Exodus to Mastodon began, but mostly I was wrapping up my three-month-long transition out of Puppet and suddenly had a windfall of time and a ton of nervous energy.

I remember being very excited about the discourse. I probably drove Al to mild distraction recounting all the debates about content warnings and the intersecting (and conflicting, and orthogonal) needs of all the people finding their way onto Mastodon.

I had been on Mastodon for most of the year prior, but in a very unengaged way on a photography instance where I kept messing up and cross-posting stuff that didn’t quite belong. So I paid my $5 and moved to omg.lol’s instance. Then I followed a ton of people (for me).

For a couple of months “normal” Mastodon use was scrolling through my entire Home feed, then skimming the Federated feed. I eventually figured out the Federated feed was where I really did not want to be, and I ended up thinking about it the same way I think about Twitter today: Something I might happen into briefly, nowhere I wanted to stay. I didn’t spend a ton of time in the Local feed.

Something kind of cool happened, though, as I stopped looking at the Federated feed and would find my way into Local more often if I had a few minutes to poke around: I started recognizing more people as their posts went by, and found the folks in Local were more likely to engage, too. I don’t know how many active users there are on omg.lol’s instance, but few enough that I recognize a lot of names and have gotten to know peoples’ assorted interests and tics, but also enough that there are still plenty of “oh, I don’t recognize this person” moments.

Over time I’ve found that I like to start a Mastodon session with Local then move on to Home for a skim. As I’ve thought about why, I guess it’s just that blend of familiarity that comes from being a smallish pond, with a little entropic salt for serendipity.

I think there are tradeoffs because you’re sort of out on the rim of the Fediverse and that affects what comes over the transom of your Local. I split the difference with a list of people I know outside my Local whom I trust to stick stuff in my timeline either by checking that list or by adding notifications for their posts.

It all adds up to making Mastodon something I enjoy, but can set aside for a few days at a time. There’s the comfort of the familiar in a small town where you may recognize most people even if you don’t know them all. And the fun of serendipity and chance for randomness of a small city you still feel like you could walk from end to end in an hour or so.

If anyone asked me about a starting instance (and nobody does, because my friend circles involve people who already have an opinion about Mastodon and people who are passionately disinterested in any social media) I’d encourage them to look for sub-2000-member ones that appear to have legs on them.

Comparing to micro.blog

I think a smallish instance has also worked better for me than micro.blog, which has added enough friction to interaction and discovery that I get stuck. I like being able to simply favorite a post without having to say anything in particular. I like being able to Boost a post without any particular comment. I like the emphasis on pinned introductory posts. I like hashtags as a discovery tool (both incoming and outgoing).

I do appreciate the spirit of micro.blog’s design decisions and what they’re trying to avoid recreating, but my own experience of those decisions has been to feel a little claustrophobic and a little compelled to participate at a level that is more than I want.

And I do feel a little suspicious of the reasoning sometimes. I don’t know how much was driven by data and study and how much, like Mastodon’s most notorious reaction-driven design decision – anti-quoting – is narrow caution and wrong lessons learned.

Anyhow, it is nice to be spoiled for choice. micro.blog works really well for some people and I appreciate the recent attempts to build a bridge to the Fediverse while staying true to their view of the world, even if it is not mine. I’ll take that over anything coming out of the big corporate plays.