Vacation gave me time to think – “Home is where your people are” – here are some notes on Reddit, Kbin, and Mastodon. The last couple of weeks validated my decision to move to the Fediverse. Let me share some conclusions with you – an author or author-supporter – about social media platforms for your personal creative project.
Number one – the much-touted Twitter replacement, Threads – launched a couple of weeks ago to massive fanfare. Should you, or I, be on Threads? It’s a Mastodon-adjacent social media platform owned by Meta. ‘Nuff said. Everything I’ve said about Meta/Facebook being bad for authors is going to be true about Threads, if it isn’t true already. Last week, I ran across a Toot that suggests Threads wild sign-up numbers are nothing more than a cheap bot sham:
“My partner just created her # Threads account and the account that showed up on top as suggestion to follow was mine. However, I don’t have a Threads account. Basically, anyone who has an Instagram account, #Meta is automatically creating a shadow account for them and also allowing users to follow those shadow accounts. My partner had tonnes of follow requests as soon as she made the account.” – @Some_Emo_Chick
Number two – the implosion of Reddit as the dominant virtual third place continues. Reddit’s new monetization strategy is ‘converting Reddit gold into real money.’ That’s right, when you create things and people give you Reddit gold, we’ll give you a cut! Don’t worry, bots won’t make this place unusable – we got rid of all the third party app developers who manufactured anti-bot apps for us!
Reddit – started as a genuine, altruistic virtual third place – has become a terrifying experiment in cash-grabbing. “We’ll continue to be profit-driven until profits arrive,” Steve Huffman the CEO of Reddit, wrote in a recent AMA. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. Cory Doctorow drew an interesting parallel between forest fires and social media companies. “We don’t have those controlled burns anymore. Yesterday’s giants tower over all, forming a thick canopy. The internet is ‘five giant websites, each filled with screenshots of the other four’ … ‘Mark Zuckerberg is personally monumentally unsuited to serving as the unelected, unaccountable permanent social media czar for three billion people. The real problem is that no one should have that job. That job shouldn’t exist. We don’t need to find a better Mark Zuckerberg. We need to abolish Mark Zuckerberg.”
The Failure of Virtual Third Places
Third places, by definition, “are ‘anchors’ of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. In other words, ‘your third place is where you relax in public, where you encounter familiar faces and make new acquaintances.'” Third places historically were created as a public service, not as a public
Virtual third places with parasocial relationships need to take a page from actual third places with parasocial relationships – the medieval tavern, gardens, libraries. Your people were there – so your home was there. Third places exist because to serve the community, the community doesn’t exist to serve them.
More and more, oligarch-run social media platforms have abandoned this simple concept. Twitter, Meta, and Reddit are different manifestations of afluenza at billionaire scale. It isn’t enough to build a third place, or support a third place – IT HAS TO BE MY THIRD PLACE.
When you think about it – it’s pretty sad. Musk and Zuck, can’t say ‘yes’ to the question ‘Is home where your people are?’ Home is where they own things – home is where they control things. They don’t think in terms of connection, community, and trust. Musk and Zuck think in terms of control, coercion, and custody. Sad. People like Musk and Zuck are going to go to their deathbeds never experiencing the humanness of altruism. We’re all paying the price.
Virtual Third Places Can Succeed
The only rational answer to these trillion-dollar monuments of failure is to build a universe where they don’t exist because they can’t. We’ve watched metadata-selling, you-are-the-product virtual third places like Facebook and Twitter fail for nearly twenty years now. One would think that the answer would have manifested itself before now, yet here we are continuing to struggle with the pons asinorum.
Think of social media platforms like gardens. You can spend thousands drowning your flowers in insecticide, OR you can grow a garden that discourages pests and encourages holistic growth. Good gardens take time to grow.
Kbin and Mastodon – so far – seem to be the Internet version of a holistic garden. Gardens – as you’ll recall – are third places. They’re taking time to grow, but we’re on our way! Fediverse-based social media, by contrast, exists by the support and consent of the community. Donations are accepted to help support the platform with more servers to improve service, but otherwise no cash-grabbing involved. Discussions are boosted by choice, not by promotion. Your ideas are worth spreading, or they aren’t.
On Mastodon and Kbin – We’re here because we want to be. Our needs are being filled there. If we stop getting our needs filled there, we’ll go someplace. 10.4M active users may not seem like much, but there’s a certain comfort in knowing they are real. My people are here – the Fediverse. Bots, wherever they are, seem to be the exception, not the rule. The network is the power, not the place.
So to wrap all of this up, I want you to remember this – Home is Where Your People Are. Home is where you can experience connection, community, and trust. Wherever that place happens to be – go there. That’s where I’ll be. That’s where we can be together.