Edgeryders meets Mastodon

Recently, like many people, I started curating a personal Mastodon profile. I have a lot going on on Twitter, and that’s become an unstable environment, so better hedge by creating an outpost on Mastodon.

For those who are not familiar with Mastodon, it is a microblogging platform that lives in many mutually federated servers insteads of one single large, corporate walled garden (Twitter). From a user perspective point of view, it has a feature that does not exist in Twitter: on top of your home feed (the people you follow), it also gives you access to the local timeline (the people on your same instance). This meshes well with the “many communities” architecture of Mastodon, which encourages people with similar interests to make camp on the same instances: Many mathematicians, for example, are on Mathstodon, an instance which boasts integrated LaTEX rendering for people who often share mathematical formulae; many Italian speakers are on Uno, and so on.

The instance I chose is mastodon.green: based in Germany, EU-centric and with support for all EU official languages, focused on the environment and climate in particular. It costs 1.5 EUR per month. Since I had an invitation available, I used it for Edgeryders, which then acquired its own Mastodon outpost. Both accounts are verified, and I would like to note that Mastodon has an elegant, decentralized system for account verification.

I was thinking that, if we were to create a company chat now, we would probably spin our own Mastodon instance instead of a Matrix one. It would be cool to have a convergence between social media ands company chat, though I am not completely clear as to how we would maintain a “company only” channel. But then, Mastodon is open source, and I am sure there are ways to do it.

Any thoughts? @matthias?

There’s an alternative way: Discourse now has its own Chat Plugin, a little box for short-form messaging right in the Discourse forum. (It’s live for logged-in users on the meta.discourse.org forum, for those who want to try it. Try the top-right bubble icon.)

So we could have all our company-internal communications covered by Discourse, and have our public and semi-public communications on Mastodon (even on our own instance, but there does not seem to be a need for that as it’s for public stuff only then).

That seems quite elegant to me, except that I don’t really know how well Discourse Chat notifications would reach people on the go. The current notification options of that plugin can be seen on a screenshot here, and basically, on desktop browsers, sounds and push notification popups are supported. Not bad. That would not work on mobile browsers when the phone is in standby, so people would have to rely on the e-mail notification function about chat messages. A solution can be found to play a distinctive sound when such an e-mail message arrives, but that is quite a clunky solution. There does not seem to be a native mobile app that would solve this notification issue … but then again, it’s open source and we could make one.

So, not too sure at this point if we should make the switch, but it seems promising.

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Well, certainly it would be clean to have all our tools in the same place.

Ok let’s try the Discourse chat plugin when we have it in our installation (which will be with the next major Discourse upgrade, early next year). Then we’ll see if we like it and what to do next …

Yes, let’s stay in test mode for now. The main thing is, indeed, how chats are supported on mobile. The philosophy of Discourse so far is based on a fantastic mobile site, no app. If they can make the chat work… I’m all for it.

Hmm … to me it feels like MASTODON is a much more open and federated solution then the DISCOURSE platform. MASTODON allows to mesh conversations across different instances and allows users to move there profiles between instances. So we should direct the discussion not towards a “chat feature” but “openness” and “meshing”. What do you think?

These are worthy and interesting topics, but here we are trying to do something much simpler: rationalize the suite of digital communication tools for one strange company/collective in particular. Mundane, I know, and yet important for the well-being of the people that use these tools every day. :slight_smile:

I see. Here just some thoughts related to chat as we use it: Within the Langhuus community we decided to go for TELEGRAM as a chat tool (originally we used WHATSAPP). We are still not fully happy with it: an open source distributed solution probably would fit better. On the other hand we use chat within TRELLO for exchange related to the topics to be discussed and things to be done. The TRELLO chat is more formal and directed whereas the TELEGRAM chat ist more open and general (just a few TELEGRAM groups and one channel for the announcement of events). The TELEGRAM chat is joined by a larger audience wheres TRELLO chat is more for the inner circles to get things done.

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That’s pretty aligned with what we discussed above as a good way of cutting the communication space: one chat tool for internal business communication (Trello chat for you, Discourse chat for us) and one tool for more open-ended, semi-public or even public discussions among a larger audience (Telegram for you, possibly Mastodon for us).

We actually do have the Discourse forum for these open-ended public discussions, but we found and understand that people will only create an account there when having something of major importance to discuss, not the usual short-form social media postings. That is the gap we have right now, and orienting towards Mastodon could be right for that.

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I am not sure that Telegram and Mastodon are the same. Telegram works around the concepts of groups and channels. With groups easily replicated in Discourse itself, the added value of Telegram or WhatsApp remains the channel, where you talk and others comment. It can work, though you must overcome the problem of getting people to sign up to your channel.

Mastodon is microblogging, much more similar to Twitter. It’s much more conversational, with clear hooks for interacting with strangers. To me, it’s quite nice how it doubles up as

  1. verification tool: if you have an account on mastodon.edgeryders.eu, you are a verified Edgeryders partner or employee. The European Union, for example, has its own instance.
  2. internal chat tool: if you find a way to seal off your local timeline (should be possible, since everything is open source), you can use it as the company chat, and use the home and global timelines for interacting with people outside the company. The main point is to eliminate one of the tools (currently Matrix/Element).

The solution of the Discourse chat plugin also allows us to drop Matrix. Then we can still use Mastodon as a microblogging platform, and give employees who wish to be on Mastodon accounts from our own instance for verification purposes… or just ignore the verification, and maintain our own outpost on Green.

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That’s currently my favourite. If there is no strict need for maintaining an own Mastodon instance, then let’s not do it. With Matrix we had that strict need, namely to keep all company internal communications on our own server. With Discourse chat replacing Matrix, we would not have that need for Mastodon anymore.

Mastodon would be as much server admin work for 20-50 people in the company as it would be for 2000-5000, so it’s quite expensive and tiring for quite a small audience, and would not use economies of scale properly. Discontinuing our own Matrix server and replacing it with an own Mastodon server makes no difference for the admin. While, when replacing it with Discourse chat, we truly get rid of one tool we’d have to maintain ourselves.

No argument. There is another path to verification in Mastodon, and the Edgeryders Mastodon account is already using it. Currently, being on Green costs 1.5 EUR a month, which is effectively nothing. Green is a one-man operation; with over 10,000 accounts, even if many of them are unpaid, it’s comfortably viable, and we can expect Johan to keep the server running smoothly.

So the plan is clear:

  • At next update, we install the chat plugin on edgeryders.eu. I did a very quick test and also the mobile version is good enough.
  • We shut down our Matrix server.
  • And then we have social media, mostly Twitter and Linkedin, now also a bit of Mastodon. The latter will hopefully become our main social media channel, but that depends on whether it catches up.
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For the aficionados of alternative social media, there’s a new kid on the block now: Nostr.

Quite elegant, tech-wise. Not sure if they can achieve any reach, of course. But if nothing else, the description in their README of problems in other approaches to resilient social media is accurate.

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