In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway looks at the rapidly changing situation at Twitter, and why writers are (and aren't) moving to Mastodon.
Do listen to October's Self-publishing News podcast here. We talk about Amazon's recent change in returns policy and take a deep-dive into BookTok. This week's #indieauthorchat is in its usual Wednesday slot, at 8pm UK time, 3pm Eastern Time. Tim will be guiding us through the author collaboration.
People are Leaving Twitter for Mastodon: what's happening in a story that seems to be moving faster than a Tesla in a Hyperloop?
Elon Musk’s companies have had some down days in the past. But under his new leadership, Twitter is stringing together a whole host of them.
The cumulative effect of these changes is that many writers have been part of a mass migration away from Twitter. This feels like a massive upheaval. For many of us, Twitter has been a source of community, friendship, information and shared practice, and – let’s be honest – sales potential for many years. I’ve been there since 2009. I first met our own Orna Ross there shortly after. So talk of an exodus has caused considerable unease for many in our community. I want to dive in to what’s actually happening. It’s a mark of how things are that although this feels like a long-form essay on a long-term issue, it’s all just this week’s news!
There has been lots of press attention for the seemingly random sackings, including those of key figures associated with moderation, safety and ethics. And to the desperate attempts to get some of those people back when it turned out they were needed to help with all the planned changes. That’s pretty much standard operating procedure for a Musk company.
What are the key changes at Twitter?
The two things I want to highlight here are these. First, Musk’s straight-up statement about ad revenue falling. He is, of course, known for not having a filter on what he says. And for those unfiltered comments to send markets haywire. But this is clearly part of a positioning move. It's setting the scene for Twitter to look somewhere else for a sizeable chunk of revenue (in addition to explaining staffing cuts). That somewhere else, of course, is its $8 a month charge for verification blue ticks. At the moment, blue ticks are there so you know an account you need to rely on (in particular journalist accounts) is genuine. It's basically a guarantee of kinds that the information coming from that account is what it purports to be. While it will still be a means of verification, the new blue tick will lose that primary purpose (which will now, basically, be revenue).
And Musk has been clear where blue ticks are headed. In this interview (from 31.10) he explains that non-verified accounts will get less and less visible in people's timelines.
This is clearly a story that will keep being out of date the moment it's written. But the latest development is the announcement of a ban on all non-labelled parody accounts. I wonder at what point that will cease to matter because this story has rendered parody obsolete.
What is Mastodon?
The place many are leaving for is the decentralised network Mastodon. I say many, and talk about a mass Exodus, but at the time of writing, Mastodon had under half a million new users and under a million in total. A lot, and almost doubling its ranks. But not exactly at the level of TikTok’s nearly 2 billion, say. Mastodon is a very different platform from Twitter. It’s clear that many who are making the move don’t realise quite how different. Whether it works for you is likely to depend on what you liked about Twitter and why you decided you want to leave there. I want to mention the big differences very quickly, to help you start on your journey to making an informed choice. Then I’ll look at what some other platforms are doing that clearly coincide with this time of uncertainty.
The big difference about Mastodon is that it is decentralised. That is, no one person or company owns the whole platform. And there is no big warehouse somewhere housing the servers that power it. Instead, it consists of many different servers, all with different themes (based on interest or location) all run by different people. To join Mastodon, you actually join one of those many servers. While you can follow anyone, on any server, others who have signed up to your particular server for your immediate neighbours. You will see more of them around – so choosing a server is pretty much like being able to choose a physical neighbourhood. And with one of the same criteria. Who do you want to see in your day-to-day business?
What a decentralised platform means for your experience of Mastodon
Which server you choose both does and doesn’t make a difference to your experience of Mastodon. And that’s where it gets tricky. In theory, it makes no difference, because anyone can follow anyone, regardless of the server they are on.
But servers are run by individuals. There is no central command. That means there is no consistent moderation practice. Some writers are already finding that this can mean they very quickly become targets for trolls, with no obvious recourse.
It also means there is no guaranteed continuity of service. If someone running a server decides to shut it down, your account goes.
For many, safety has been a key reason for wanting to leave Twitter. Those from minority groups in particular, worry about the downgrading of moderation. For people thinking of leaving Twitter because of worries over lack of moderation and whether that will lead to increased targeting by trolls, it's important to understand that Mastodon may not be the universally safe haven it might seem.
Patreon, Substack, and Instagram Add New Features for Creators
Other platforms are also making big moves this week that might be of interest. It’s hard to argue that these are responses to the situation at Twitter. Many of them involve big technical changes and will have been months in the planning. But the timing of some long-planned changes certainly looks convenient. In brief:
- Patreon is now offering native video content. That is, you can host paid video content for your Patreon subscribers directly to the site, making it easier to use it as a proper base for your community of fans.
- Substack, meanwhile, is adding more social features. Substack chat will allow writers to hold discussions on the app with their subscribers, and build community that way,
For those of us on Twitter to build a community of fans, both of these are of interest.
Then there are changes at more conventionally social media platform Instagram that might make it more appealing to creators. It is introducing a feature to allow creators to make and sell NFTs within the platform.
Penguin Random House & Simon & Schuster: the latest
Last week’s ruling blocked the $2.2bn takeover of Simon and Schuster by Penguin Random House. At the time of writing, we are still waiting for the (redacted) publication of the judgement. But the ruling focuses on one of the things that caused most eyebrows to be raised during the trial. That is, the number and size of substantial advances. Judges ruled that a merger would lead to a single entity that dominated the market when it came to “commercial books”. This would lead to lower advances and fewer releases. What raised so many eyebrows was the level of advance associated with “commercial books. “ For the judges involved, this was $250,000.
Passive Guy makes an interesting comment in his article on the case. He notes that – at the time he wrote – none of the reports he had seen featured the opinions of writers. Maybe reporters were busy hunting for all those writers currently getting $250,000 advances…Self-publishing News: Writers Leave Twitter for Mastodon as Several Platforms Offer Enticing New Features Click To Tweet