Greenfield OSS projects should join Mastodon
Joining the fediverse is a lot like installing your first Linux distro. Nothing is quite as easy as what you're used to; seemingly simple tweaks lead you down deep rabbit holes of community-curated knowledge spread across unofficial wikis and old-school bulletin boards.
But somehow it doesn't feel all that laborious. That's because you didn't install Linux to save time. You entered the world of Linux (or WordPress, Node, Python etc.) because you got the sense that something is happening over there. People who are as annoying as they are clever never seem to shut up about it. And with every obscure new hack you add to your toolbelt, there's a thrilling sense of mastery.
As with the Linux community, when you poke your head into the fediverse you will find the others; your fellow geeks and misfits. Sure, you'll also run into dogma and ignorance like anywhere else, but on the fediverse the cultural status quo isn't determined by a gated top-level management, it's an open ticket labeled 'help wanted'.
Permeating the whole experience is the deeply reassuring certainty that you are considerably more in control of your digital experience than you ever were before you took the leap.
The bird sings a different tune now
It used to be that you had to use Twitter because of its network power and consequent reach. Not so much anymore:
- Bluecheck-bros are prioritized.
- Content is heavily rate limited.
- DMs are restricted.
- Obtuse algorithms rule supreme.
- You'll also be sharing the space with an increasing amount of far-right influencers and a diminishing number of reputable scientists.
The majority of large open source projects today are still on Twitter/X, but that's because they've already got their audience there and the platform works very hard to keep them locked in.
That's ultimately what it all boils down to: The fediverse isn't a private prison exploiting its inmates for free labor, it's an open landscape of interconnected villages, wherein its inhabitants are free to come and go as they please. Your follows-list is yours to keep forever. You are in control, not that guy.
Shaky first steps
Mastodon is easy and fun except when it isn’t. Just like joining any other open source community for the first time, there's a trial-by-fire to overcome at the beginning as you're implicitly challenged to choose your own adventure.
So why make the effort? Because the fediverse, like open source, is a movement. It runs on the same interoperable internet protocols that enable you to view this HTML document in a standards-based web browser.
Concerning reach, I could point to how networks of (invariably) 100 million users like Tumblr and Threads are committed to federating with the fedi-net (at least the instances that'll allow them to), but I will argue that the 10+ million people already on the fediverse are actually the exact group of nerdy open culture enthusiasts you wanna be reaching out to. As the common startup advice goes (which I can attest also holds true for community building), this is where you'll find the first 10-100 people who love your project.
Twitter might have 20x as many total users, but the number of open software techies on either network feels increasingly even and will keep shifting in favor of Mastodon & friends as the prison-platforms continue to enshittify.
Ride the mammut
The hardest part about entering the fediverse is (1) joining an instance and (2) finding people to follow.
In spite of what some might tell you, which instance you choose does matter. Crucially you do always have the ability to move, even though it's not pain-free. Like the whole ecosystem it's a work-in-progress, and will get easier.
As an open source practitioner I trust you know how to do your own research, but if the prospect of that arduous first step is preventing you from jumping on, just go ahead and join hachyderm.io right now.
Operated by the Nivenly foundation, Hachyderm checks all the boxes most OSS folks should care about:
- Strong track record of uptime and robust infrastructure.
- Well-funded org with high degree of transparency (i.e. unlikely to go poof).
- Diverse leadership and community.
- Tech-leaning but open to all.
- Highly safety-minded, as most recently evidenced by their Federation Safety Enhancement Project.
As for who to follow, there are a number of things you could do, but I will simply suggest the following: Browse through the
#opensource tag and follow 50-100 people therein which you find remotely interesting. That should be enough to get you started. And by favoriting/boosting these people's posts, they'll be made aware of your existence as well. That's the empty timeline problem taken care of.
There's no time like the present; hop on!