An escape pod was jettisoned during the fighting

They say a week is a long time in politics, but it’s a lifetime on the internet. Like everyone else, we’ve been watching the goings on at Twitter with interest, and more than a dash of concern. Then the layoffs happened. It was time to get a lifeboat ready. After a lot of debate here at Pi Towers, we’ve now spun up our own Mastodon instance. The best thing about it? It’s running on a Raspberry Pi 4 hosted at Mythic Beasts.

It’s running on a Pi in the Sky ☁️.

Green links are good (verified) links, they’re how you can tell this is us on Mastodon.

Last week, Elon Musk walked into Twitter HQ carrying a kitchen sink, and within hours he had laid off half of Twitter’s staff. The lawsuits, then rehiring, started almost immediately afterwards. With the content moderation team cut to the bone, anecdotally at least, folks also started to see an uptick in abuse, spam, and other things. The changes in the way verification is going to work are worrying, and confusing. There are even discussions ongoing about putting the entire site behind a paywall.

That’s a lot of change in a short amount of time. So if you no longer feel like Twitter is a place to be, as some celebrities and academics have already, then you can now also follow us over on Mastodon.

If you haven’t yet joined you can sign up over at Mastodon.

What’s Mastodon? 🐘

Mastodon is yet another social media platform.

That doesn’t tell you a lot, does it? Let’s try that again.

Mastodon is an open-sourced Twitter alternative running as part of something called “the Fediverse.” Unlike platforms like Twitter or Facebook, Mastodon is federated. That means it’s decentralised. There isn’t just one central site where you can go and sign up, like you do for Twitter; instead there are lots of sites all of which talk to each other using a protocol called ActivityPub.

You can sign up to any Mastodon site — which are called instances — and you can follow folks who are on your own, or on any other, instance which is part of the fediverse. Instances all talk to each other, so which instance you’re on doesn’t generally make much of a difference to who you can follow, or who can follow you.

However, your instance is your “local community.” The instance you join could be for you and your friends, or it could be about what you do in your spare time, or for work. For instance, there are communities built around special interest groups like open-source software or cyber security, and geographical ones, like Scotland.

Why did you join Mastodon?

There are two main practical concerns. One is sociological, one is technical.

The changes coming to Twitter look to fundamentally change the way the site feels. The dramatic cuts that the moderation team seems to have taken will open up the platform to spam, scams, and other things that we don’t want to have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. But there are also issues around identity, and I’ve been thinking a lot about identity verification and trust since the announcements.

The announcements around Twitter Blue are concerning not because they give wider access to identity verification; we’d welcome that. Instead they seem to do the opposite. It comes down to what identity itself means: a blue tick next to someone on Twitter no longer means that their identity has been verified by an employee of the company; it means that they can afford $8 a month. That’s not the same thing.

But putting all of that aside, Twitter is going to face technical problems. It probably won’t be a sudden and catastrophic collapse — in my head I have an image of a disk slowly filling up somewhere in Twitter’s data centre, and the site going down hard when it is full — it’s far more likely to be an accumulation of technical debt. Issues will pile up as the backlog of maintenance tasks and fixes that the reduced workforce just can’t get ahead of increases, and eventually, the site will end up as an unstable wreck. That isn’t good for any of us.

How do I join?

There are two ways you can join Mastodon. You can create an account on an existing instance, or you can create your own instance to host your own community and join the fediverse that way.

Because Mastodon is federated, joining an existing instance isn’t quite as simple joining a monolithic service like Twitter. You can sign up to any Mastodon instance to join the fediverse, and you should probably take a little bit of time to find a community that is right for you. On the other hand, you could start out by joining one of the “big” general servers, like mastodon.social, and then migrating to another instance later. Because moving between instances, and keeping your followers as you move, is something that’s entirely supported.

Alternatively, you can run your own server, and spin up your own Mastodon instance.

Why do you have your own instance?

We’ve opted to host our own instance. We’ve done this because, with multiple instances out there, we had to decide how to make sure people following us knew that our Raspberry Pi account was the “real” one.

Distributed systems are an interesting corner case when it comes to trust. Because when it comes to identity, you eventually have to trust someone. Whether that’s a corporation, like Twitter, or a government, or the person themselves. Trust is needed.

With Mastodon the root of trust for identity is the admin of the instance you’re on, and the admins on all the other instances, where you’re trusting them to remove “fake” accounts. Or, if you’re running your own instance, then it’s the domain name registrars. The details of our domain registration of the raspberrypi.social domain may be redacted for privacy, but our domain registrar knows who we are, and is the same registrar we use for all our other domains. They trust our government-issued identity to prove that we are Raspberry Pi Ltd. You can trust them, they trust the government, and ultimately the government trusts us because they can use Ultima Ratio Regum, the last argument of kings.

Although we are hosting our own instance, the development of the platform is all done by the folks at Mastodon. Mastodon itself, that’s the company behind the network, is a non-profit corporation based in Germany which is supported by both its sponsors and patreons, and because we’re committed to supporting platforms that support us, we’re putting our money where our mouth is and have become a platinum sponsor of Mastodon.

Are you leaving Twitter?

No. We’re not leaving Twitter: we like it there. It’s been our home these many years, but if the worst comes to the worst, we’re now part of the #TwitterMigration.

You’ll see us posting very similar stuff on both platforms, although Mastodon does offer us a bit more flexibility, including larger character counts and moderation that we own ourselves. So you’re going to see more content from us on Mastodon than you might on Twitter.

Because, right now, the way Mastodon presents posts is much more to our tastes: we have always preferred to see a feed made up of what the people we follow have to say when they say it. Twitter’s decision to curate the tweets in your feed never sat particularly well with us.

It is, however, vanishingly unlikely that you will ever hear any of us use the word “Toot” in conversation.

But I don’t know anyone?

You know us? But if you’re anything like us, you have probably spent a bunch of time trying to figure out who you want to follow on Twitter so that your timeline is full of kittens and puppies rather than Nazis and book burning. You’re not alone there, so people have gone off and built tools to help you migrate from Twitter into the fediverse. There are actually a bunch of tools, but the one we’ve used ourselves is called Debirdify. It uses some clever searches of people’s Twitter profiles to try and figure out if they’re also on Mastodon, and if so where.

Can I host my own instance?

Yes, but you’ll need your own server to do that. Our instance is running on a Raspberry Pi 4 hosted in a rack at Mythic Beasts in London, and it’s going to be rather interesting to see how it scales up.

That’s 96 Raspberry Pi 4 boards in a 3U rack unit.

You don’t have to host your instance on a Raspberry Pi, but if you can, why not? Right now both our instance, and Mythic Beasts‘ own instance, are hosted on Raspberry Pi 4.

Full details are coming later, probably sometime next week, when we’re going to do a full walk-through of how to host your own instance, including talking about how to do IPv6 natively with Mastodon. Because if your computer costs $35, your IP address shouldn’t have to cost $50.

If you want to host your own instance with Mythic Beasts, you can. Their host your own Raspberry Pi service is £7.65 per month, which comes awfully close to the new price point for Twitter Blue, and comes with 20GB of disk space. Alternatively, if you need to host a larger community, they’ve also committed to offering fully managed Mastodon instances. You can contact them for more information.

Either way, see you in the fediverse?

Update: We’ve now posted that promised follow up post, with full details of how we’re hosting our own instance on a Raspberry Pi 4 in the cloud.

40 comments
Jump to the comment form

Avatar

I’m looking forward to the write up – it’ll be interesting to see how it differs from x86. I created a semi-automated installer (https://github.com/techbitsio/MastodonInstaller) and was looking to expand it to more OSs/platforms so maybe I can use your instructions to expand that.

Reply to techbits

Avatar

Why redact your address on the domain registration when it’s visible on Companies House? It’s not like it brings you a privacy benefit like it would bring a private individual, but does add another layer of verification for the domain. I’m always wary that owners of domains hiding behind a privacy service aren’t actually who they claim.

Reply to Dominic Davis-Foster

Liz Upton

Because we get people turning up at the office when it’s easy for them to look up where it is, or when they stumble upon it. And they’re not always very friendly. (I speak from grim experience; I’ve been here eleven years.)

Reply to Liz Upton

Avatar

That’s terrible! I’m so sorry to hear that happened to you Liz.

Reply to Rich Lewis

Alasdair Allan

It’s redacted in the WHOIS information because that the default for our domain registrar, and we were lazy and didn’t click the box to not redact it.

Reply to Alasdair Allan

Avatar

“in my head I have an image of a disk slowly filling up somewhere in Twitter’s data centre”
Alsdair has clearly been through the chaos of a acquisition & mass layoff before. That’s exactly where my mind went as well :)

Reply to Sean O'Steen

Liz Upton

My personal headcanon is someone with a big mortgage and an unsanctioned killswitch.

Reply to Liz Upton

Avatar

I honestly don’t understand the hand wringing. What has it been? 2 weeks now? And its not like Elon has a poor track record with major business takeovers. Twitter hasn’t been profitable for years. That only works as long as their is endless investment money floating around, and that no longer seems to be the world we find ourselves in. Notice Meta just laid off 11,000 employees so I guess advertisers should flee the platform as well?
As for mastadon, i like OS software and am happy to see the interest in it. But the people who are “fleeing” twitter expect to have strong moderation and fact checking on a distributed OS server model are living a pipe dream. There will be entire servers devoted to stuff that would have instantly gotten them banned on centralized platforms. As for users in other countries with oppressive governments, expect to see honeypot servers designed to find, track and scoop up dissidents. Most people won’t realize how difficult it is to truely be anonymous when the server itself is controlled by a dangerous entity and all it takes is one mistake to leak IP info for example.

Reply to Ben

Alasdair Allan

Twitter has been my home page for the last decade. It is, it was, the stream of human consciousness, it was the place where you went to see the world go by and maybe nudge it a little. There is no hand-wringing here, I think the chaos in the company speaks for itself. The user experience there has been severely degraded since the takeover was announced, and only gotten worse in the last two weeks. Starting social networks is hard, not because writing the code is hard, it’s because getting all those people in one place talking to each other is hard. Keeping them there is harder.

Reply to Alasdair Allan

Avatar

Would you consider adding the fediverse plugin to your blogs? This would allow mastodon users to comment on posts from their, users to follow your blogs from their, and for you to boost posts on your mastodon account so followers can find out about new posts easier and/or quicker.

Reply to Minecraftchest1

Liz Upton

That’s actually new to me – thanks. We’ll look into it.

Reply to Liz Upton

Avatar

Not taking signups on your instance?, I really can’t find a suitable instance on mastadons page (mastadon.social not allowing any new ones) and having @raspberrypi.social would be the coolest

Reply to Steve Goodenough

Liz Upton

It’s a single-user instance which we’re using as a proof of identity, as you’ll see from the blog post. We might revisit that later, but we’re not planning to right now.

Reply to Liz Upton

Avatar

Thanks Liz, as always I don’t know how you have the time to keep on top of all these pi things :) Yup, makes sense, thanks, I’ll go looking again and keep an eye on things.

Reply to Steve Goodenough

Avatar

An option to have the best of both worlds (proof of identity, and community signups) would be to have a community.raspberrypi.social subdomain that users could sign up on. Granted, I know next to nothing about Mastodon, and even less about admistering an instance, so I don’t know how proof of identity works, so I don’t know if what I suggested would work. I guess having a raspberrypi.community domain would also work.

Reply to Minecraftchest1

Avatar

I believe mstdn.social and mastodon.online are both also run by the Mastodon creator.

Reply to name

Avatar

Anyone can join mastodon.social if they have an invite link. Alasdair put one in the blog post – you can click on the ‘mastodon.social’ link under ‘how do I join?’

Reply to tramcrazy

Avatar

The title of this blog post is exquisite.

Reply to Jim King

Liz Upton

Ha! That was my contribution! (The rest of the blog post’s pretty bloody good too.)

Reply to Liz Upton

Avatar

Seems tech does go around in circles. In the 90’s we would use open source php base forum solutions. And there was a ‘ring’ as they called it where when signed up your service would show links to others and others links to you. Seems Mastodon is the same thing, although I suspect it’s more ‘interactive’ than the old forum tech.
One question I do have (real one, not a dig at Mastodon), what’s the difference between Mastodon and a discord server?

I hope the mastodon client is more reliable on Linux than the discord one, that has, for years, at random times just completely frozen my system up. Impressive it can do that. LoL.

In my experience when there are so many options the community becomes fragmented.

Reply to Richard collins

Avatar

The bigest difference between mastodon and discord is the function. Discord is designed for real time chat, either text or audio based. Mastodon is closer to a Twitter nock off then a chat platform like discord.

The nice think about mastodon is that, while there is an offical client (it is actually very new, just getting published lat month), you don’t have to. There are many clients you can use. I personally use the fedilab app (it is a few dollars on Google Play Store, but the developer also publishes it free of charge on F-Droid), but there is a whole list at https://joinmastodon.org/apps. One think to note is that many of the third party apps have features that the offical one does not have. For instance, fedilab added edits recently, a feature that is not in the offical app afaik.

Reply to Minecraftchest1

Avatar

This seems very off-brand and does not apply to making hardware and selling the product.

Reply to Troy Goodsell

Alasdair Allan

Was being on Twitter off-brand? If not, why is being on Mastodon off-brand? Same thing.

Reply to Alasdair Allan

Liz Upton

I think this may be something to do with a culture war that’s happening in another country. Also bemused. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Reply to Liz Upton

Avatar

It feels quite on-brand for a Linux-adjacent company to be talking about open source alternatives to avoid being locked into commercial offerings.

Reply to Matt Thomason

Avatar

You don’t need to host your own instance to verify an account as authentic (link below). Biggest cost is probably the bandwidth to pull in the fediverse.
https://twitter.com/joinmastodon/status/1588959499708432384

Reply to name

Avatar

This article flagged as containing misinformation and fud.

Reply to Gene

Helen Lynn

Oh, interesting – flagged to whom?

Reply to Helen Lynn

Liz Upton

Wasn’t me. Or you. Or Alasdair. Or anybody else here. God – does this mean Big Brother is watching us? And that this guy has access to his…flags?

(Could just be he’s talking a load of horse poo, of course.)

Reply to Liz Upton

Avatar

I’m new to this Mastodon thing. Does joining Raspi Mastodon means the discussion is limited to RPi or can I just post things in general? How do you handle off forum topics?

My biggest success in online community was G+, but Google pulled the plug on that one.

Reply to Harry Hardjono

Liz Upton

No, you can post things in general. https://www.wsj.com/articles/dont-have-44-billion-for-your-own-social-media-network-try-mastodon-11668002451 is a great intro if you’re coming to Mastodon fresh.

Reply to Liz Upton

Avatar

As far as I know about Twitter Blue, the verification should be done between Twitter and the user, with an ID.
If that’s correct, the check-mark would imply someone at Twitter actually verified the people wearing the verified mark. And what these users decide to display on Twitter (name, tag name), it’s up to them.

Reply to Nick

Avatar

I’ve never had a Twitter account nor Mastodon account. I’m not even sure why this is bothering so many people

Reply to Silly Otter

Liz Upton

Wild guess: probably because you’ve never had a Twitter or Mastodon account.

Reply to Liz Upton

Avatar

Just one comment about pricing – the £7.65 is ex VAT, so is actually £9.18 inc VAT.
…which is still better value than £8 to get a blue tick and some algorithmic jiggery pokery to inflate your posts and ego

Reply to Flibblebot

Alasdair Allan

I did say “comes awfully close”…

Reply to Alasdair Allan

Avatar

I too am picturing some kind of hard down scenario in the future for Twitter. It’s a familiar story, and they likely have no clue the wealth of knowledge, experience, and human checks that got lost through the cracks when they suddenly laid off that many people.

Reply to Spinx

Avatar

I’d be interested to see about DDNS hosting at home. You can get that for £0.99p a month , set up a DNZ and run all your social through it! Even better if I can run it off a Zero – I used to run 300 client stations and 3 servers with MS Exchange, Web servers etc with less resources than a Zero!

Reply to Tom

Alasdair Allan

Yup. Should be entirely possible. Although now we’ve had a week of run time having an account with a high number of followers could get problematic. There are definitely CPU spikes as images from our posts are synced across the fediverse.

Reply to Alasdair Allan

Avatar

Just one query – do you know anywhere where you can get a Raspberry Pi 4 for $35? Or more realistically, the £ equivalent? All the big vendors are saying “No stock till next summer”, and your local store is only selling the £80 kits, which isn’t much help for embedding a Pi in a Radio, where all I need is a Waveshare PoE hat.

Reply to Gray

Leave a Comment