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The state of professional social networking: a personal history

In September 2003, I was just married and embarking on a postgraduate course to become a History teacher. My online social life up to that point had consisted largely of MSN Messenger, but professional online interaction tended to happen via email or forums.

One particularly useful resource at the time was the Schools History discussion forum. This featured History teachers of all ages and experience and was a treasure trove of interesting information and resources.

Early on in my teaching course, I was a registered member of the forum, but was just a lurker. The information and resources were useful, but I hadn’t even introduced myself. My Gravatar history would suggest that my avatar was Cary Grant.

This changed one day when, after a seminar, the only other person on my course who was a member of the forum asked why I didn’t post anything on there? I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, so I introduced myself soon afterwards and, well, that was that. I was regular poster on the forum from late 2003 for the next seven years or so.

Alongside the forum, I experimented with a Facebook account, courtesy of my academic email address. Ditto with MySpace, which I also didn’t use much. What I did do was blog a lot, as there was emerging what was known as the ‘edublogosphere’. I published every day on teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk as well as maintaining resources for my History students.

What I enjoyed about the edublogosphere was bloggers like me commenting on each others’ posts and discovering new voices. I remember FriendFeed being really handy in that regard. And then, in the midst of the Web 2.0 boom, came Twitter. I joined in the same month my son was born, January 2007.

It’s impossible for me to overstate the importance of Twitter to my career. It accelerated my development as an educator and gave me a network to draw from and rely upon. Part of me skipping middle management and going straight to senior management in schools is directly because of the connections and growth facilitated through my Twitter network.

I ran workshops on Twitter in the schools in which I worked. Most educators didn’t ‘get’ it until around 2010 when the BBC interviewed Stephen Fry, technophile and certified UK national treasure, about Twitter. He waxed lyrical about the platform, and all of a sudden people saw it as something that could connect you to celebrity. That was different. That was exciting.

Over the last decade, Twitter has become an entirely different platform. I’m not particularly interested in criticising it but will note that you get a different ethos and vibe when verified profiles are making official pronouncements using the platform. Even if you don’t particularly want to, you end up spending more time discussing politics and policing other people’s opinions.

As a result of my dissatisfaction with something I previously held so dear, since early 2017 I’ve been exploring decentralised social networks. Since then I’ve been using different instances of Mastodon, but also have accounts on different ‘Fediverse’ platforms as well, such as Pleroma and PixelFed.

In fact, I went reasonably far down the rabbithole, becoming Product Manager for MoodleNet, the world’s first federated social network for educators, and taking it from zero to one. So I’ve spent the last couple of years primarily thinking about issues relating to decentralised social networking.

Reflecting on all of this has made me realise that, for me at least, social networking has been intimately linked with professional networking. Now that it’s difficult to have a professional discussion on Twitter without politics getting in the way, where’s that moving to?

The obvious answer is LinkedIn, I guess, but there’s a definite self-congratulatory tone about updates there. Everyone’s “excited to be part of” something, or “pleased to be able to announce” something else. Look at me, ma! I’m doing business! 🙄

Despite, or perhaps because of, my background in Philosophy, I’m a practical kind of person. While I’m comfortable in the abstract, I want to get down to brass tacks – to what works in practice. So I can bide my time in the early stages of a social networks where people are talking primarily about the network itself, but am itching to get to more practical uses.

That’s coming, for sure. The Fediverse in 2020 is a more mature and nuanced place than it was in 2017, for example. But we’re still waiting for more than geeks and early adopters to get with the program. Then, for few glorious years, we’ll hopefully have a place that flourishes before the inevitable(?) commodification and selling out.


This post is Day 51 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com Posted in 100DaysToOffload

Moving Mastodon instance

This is a short post to say that today I’ve migrated my Mastodon account to Fosstodon. This is an instance of the Fediverse which describes itself in the following way:

Fosstodon is an English speaking Mastodon instance that is open to anyone who is interested in technology; particularly free & open source software.

At the time of writing, there are 11.7k accounts on Fosstodon, compared with 529k on Mastodon.social which I’m migrating away from after a couple of years. Before that I was a member of Social.coop.

The great thing about the Fediverse is that it’s never a binary decision; you can move between the instances that comprise it when either you change or the something changes with the instance. The wonderful thing about moving between Mastodon instances is that there’s an automated account migration procedure, so you don’t lose followers.

I’ve been considering moving for a while, but someone shared a video today which tipped me over the edge. Watch it, even if you have no idea what I’ve been talking about so far. It reminded me of how much I missed having a ‘local timeline’ of like-minded people and feeling part of a community.

I’ll be settling into my new Fediverse account over the coming days and weeks. Thanks to those who I’ve already been interacting with on Fosstodon via the #100DaysToUnload challenge, I already feel at home!


This post is Day 30 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

#100DaysToOffload: Day 1 – Introduction

Yesterday, I came across someone using the #100DaysToOffload hashtag on Mastodon. Curious to find out more, I clicked the links on a few updates that contained the hashtag, and eventually discovered this blog post from Kev Quirk:

What if we had a hashtag that encourages both existing and new bloggers to start writing? The posts don’t need to be long-form, technical masterpieces that should earn you a masters in English. But instead, just a simple and fun way to get people writing and sharing their thoughts. You never know, the whole might be cathartic too.

Kev Quirk

There’s now a site complete with some guidelines: 100daystooffload.com

It feels weird for me to need encouragement to write on a daily basis, as my happiest and most productive times have been when I’ve done exactly that. There are many pressures that feed into that, most of them (as my therapist points out) that are entirely of my own making.

So here we go. 100 posts within the space of a year. It would be very like me to put the additional pressure on myself of blogging every day, but instead I’ll just number them and see how far I get.

I’m not sure what I’m going to talk about yet, but its sure to be an eclectic mix. I definitely want to focus on the future rather than the past.

Feel free to comment as I go, or perhaps join me in the endeavour. It might even be a nice introduction to the Fediverse for some people, as there are some very interesting things being shared on the hashtag!


Header image by Aaron Barnaby

Fediverse field trip

After spending a long time researching various options for MoodleNet last year, I recently revisited the Fediverse with fresh eyes. I enjoy using Mastodon regularly, and have written about it here before, so didn’t include it in this roundup.

Here’s some of the social networks I played around with recently, in no particular order. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive overview, just what grabbed my attention given the context in which I’m currently working. That’s why I’ve called it a ‘field trip’ 😉

Misskey

Weird name but pretty awesome social network that’s very popular in Japan. Like MoodleNet and Mastodon, it’s based on the ActivityPub protocol. In fact, if you’re a Mastodon user, it will feel somewhat familiar.

Things I like:

  • Drive (2TB storage!)
  • Lots of options for customisation, including ‘dark mode’
  • Easy search options
  • Connect lots of different services
  • API

Socialhome

‘Card’-based social network that uses a Bootstrap-style user interface. Quite complicated but seemingly flexible.

Things I like:

  • Very image-friendly
  • API
  • Data export

Pleroma

Pleroma is a very scalable social network based on Elixir. It’s like Mastodon, but snappier.

Things I like:

  • Clear Terms of Service
  • Very configurable (including formatting options)
  • ‘The whole known network’
  • Export data and delete account
  • Restrict access

Prismo

https://prismo.news

A new social network to replace sites like Reddit. Users can vote up stories they’re interested in and add comments.

Things I like:

  • Clear, crisp design
  • Obvious what it’s to be used for
  • Simple profiles

Movim

https://movim.eu

Uses the XMPP protocol for backwards compatibility with a wide range of apps. Similar kind of communities and collections approach to MoodleNet, but focused on news.

Things I like:

  • Modals help users understand the interface
  • Focus on communities and curation
  • Option to chat as well as post publicly
  • Easy to share URLs
  • Clear who’s moderating communities

Kune

https://kune.ourproject.org

Based on Apache Wave (formerly Google Wave) which is now deprecated.

Things I like:

  • Combination of stream and wiki
  • Indication of who’s involved in creating/discussing threads
  • Everything feels editable

GNUsocial

https://gnu.io/social

https://fediverse.party/en/gnusocial

Uses the OStatus protocol and was the original basis for Mastodon (as far as I understand). Feels similar to Pleroma in some respects.

Things I like:

  • Feels like early Twitter
  • Easy to use
  • Configurable

GangGo

https://ganggo.git.feneas.org/documentation

Built in GoLang and uses the same federation protocol as Diaspora. Still in alpha.

Things I like:

  • Simple UI
  • Vote up/down posts
  • Private and public streams

Along with Mastodon, I didn’t include Pixelfed in here because I’m so familiar with it. I possibly should have included PeerTube, FriendicaDiaspora, and Scuttlebutt. Perhaps I’ll follow this up with a Part 2 sometime?

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