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Misunderstanding Mastodon & the Emergence of Social Blogging – The Audience Asset Issue 1

By Steve / 2023-01-12
Posted in ,
Is Mastodon the “next big thing” in social networking? Perhaps, but it may signal something even more significant…

Welcome to the first issue of The Audience Asset where we’ll be exploring the craft of serving, creating, and nurturing audiences. If someone shared this issue with you and you’d like to subscribe, you are welcome (and I hope you’ll let me know who sent you so I can thank them!). If you received this by mistake, I apologize, please reply and I’ll take care of it promptly.

My target is to send this out weekly on Wednesday mornings. “real life” intervened, so we are already running late.. here we go :

  • An article on Mastodon and why I think it is may be more important as a new, interactive distribution channel than as yet another social network.
  • A featured disability-related not-for-profit – in this case, one from Joe Pulizzi that I’ve waited to learn the story behind for 2 years.
  • And a request and invitation from me.

Why The Audience Asset?

Partial Answer 1 – My focus for the past 5 years has been to figure out how to “connect the greater disability community and their allies”. My son was diagnosed with autism in 2013. Very rapidly, a world that had been invisible to me was opened up. 1 in 5 Americans – 61 million people – are disabled and there are 1 billion disabled children and adults worldwide. This community of communities of communities is poorly served by our governments, businesses, culture, and schools and I want to do my part to help change that…

Misunderstanding Mastodon and the Emergence of Social Blogging

Mastodon isn’t what you think it is. Well, it is, but that isn’t what may be important.

Mastodon appeared on my radar this past fall when Twitter was melting down and the many members of #DisabilityTwitter were very worried about what would happen to their online community. Mastodon looked like it had a lot of potential as a “federated, open social network” where you could have your own server and no longer be subject to the whims of a billionaire…. so I dove in.

[tech stuff, open source, metrics, blah, blah blah]

If that is what Mastodon really meant. It would be an interesting project to watch. Perhaps set up an account, and see how things play out (so far so good, as of 5 January 2023, there were 7.905 million accounts and 4.508 million active users according to Fediverse.Party –

Mastodon is the most popular of a group of applications that all are part of the open “Fediverse”. There are open-source versions of Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, as well as a number of others that do their own thing. These applications talk together using a protocol called ActivityPub and find each other with WebFinger.

Kind of cool… but the interesting thing is that ANYONE can join the Fediverse with ANY application.




Accidental Social Blogging

The curse of traditional blogging and websites and the Internet and marketing, in general, is discoverability or, more directly, getting attention and turning that attention into action – either to join your audience or enter a customer funnel.

Type, Click, Click Type, Click.

There is a lot of friction to pull people in. RSS feeds are great, except that they require sophisticated users. Email subscriptions require work with the added bonus of CAPCHTAs and GDPR hurdles.

Type, Click, Click, Click, Email, Confirm, Click.

The magic of social networks is that they make this easy.

Click to Like
Click to Follow
Click to Repost

It is why so many companies and people spend so much time on social networks, Easy and addictive.

Anyway, as I was working to get smarter about this Mastodon/Fediverse stuff, I stumbled onto a couple of things:

  • You can host your own instance in the Fediverse. This means YOU. Your domain. Just for you. Or your business. Or organization. Or Group. Or whatever (and it is cheap and reasonably easy… and I think it is going to get easier.)
  • You can publish your content to the Fediverse. There are some roll-your-own tools today to post RSS feeds into the Fediverse. There are also some (third-party) connectors for WordPress and Drupal. Both Firefox and Tumblr are joining in.

The key is that “The Fediverse” isn’t a social media platform or platform of platforms. For content creators/publishers, it is an owned distribution channel with built-in, easy discoverability and low-friction audience building.

Blog + Fediverse = Social Blogging

In two years, this will be such a ubiquitous feature of online publishing platforms that we’ll hardly talk about (??? Who talks about RSS except to complain about subscribing to a new podcast?).

If done right, and we are still a long way off, we’ll be able to smoothly link our social media with our “traditional” online media. Publish, interact, and add value, through the customer or audience funnel.

The distinction between “our” followers on someone else’s social platform and our (actual) audience will disappear.

This won’t make marketing easier, but it will remove today’s “marketing to please an algorithm” (mostly).

From Rented Audience to Owned Audience

The longstanding lament of the gurus of Content Marketing is that you “shouldn’t build your business on rented land” or be a “don’t be digital sharecropper”. At its core, the problem isn’t “rented land” (which virtually every traditional retail business has been – EVER), it is “rented audience” (a topic I’ll be exploring in an upcoming issue tentatively titled “Anatomy of an Audience”):

  • You have no direct way of communicating with your “Followers”
  • You are at the mercy of the algorithm (and business whims) of the social platform.

And, even worse, the classic strategy of pulling your followers out of the social platform and onto an owned platform is in inherent conflict with the business goals of the social platform – to keep users on the platform and, typically, serve them more and more and more ads.

* And why savvy marketers have had to innovate with tactics like zero-click marketing.

The “Open Social” model totally upends this. Your followers are yours (Technically, and virtually as good, your audience’s “follows” are theirs). And, because there isn’t (much) of a business model tied to Open Social servers, the feeds and content people see are what they wan the feeds and content to be. They get to see what they want to see.

The Emerging Social Blogging Architecture

To date, the bulk of the development of Fediverse platforms has focused on creating open and open-source versions of traditional social media platforms. Today, you’ve got to do a bit of work with the current tools work to support moving into social blogging. Mastodon supports a “single user” mode (not extensively documented, but a bit here – The platform that may be the most suitable today for aspiring social blogging publishers is Pleroma, or more specifically, the Soapbox/Rebased version by Alex Gleason –… I’m looking at setting up a server so we’ll see if I eat my words.

Here is where I see the architecture going:

Hosts – platforms that host multiple (many), individual users. Ideally providing customization, curation, content moderation, and other services. Most similar to the existing Fediverse platforms or upcoming players like Tumblr and Firefox.

SPECULATIVE NOTE: It would not be surprising for browsers and mail clients to offer native support.

Publishers – single account or multi-user platforms. Focused on creating, scheduling, publishing, and promoting content. Metrics and analytics. CRM and automation and personalization. First third-party and then native support in WordPress, Drupal, Substack, Zapier, etc. I’m sure there will be some “Fediverse native” applications.

Communities – technically similar to hosts, but likely with additional value-added features to support the growth and nurturing of the community.

Feeds – special purpose publishers/bots. Aggregators ( like @auctuallyautistic), bots ( @A11yAwareness on Twitter publishes accessibility advice), I’m sure someone will set up an interactive “ChatGPT” bot and “Midjourney” image generation bot or similar).

Individuals – some people will want full control of their social experience for security, privacy, or just because. This may be through a dedicated server or a “managed service” account – just like with email (Gmail vs. Fastmail).

The power of the Fediverse is based on open, core algorithms –

A social web on top of the web.

I suspect that there will be proprietary products that link into the Fediverse, but that the dominant software will be open source with value-added services on top (like WordPress).

Missing pieces

While “Open Social” has been ongoing for a number of years now, we seem to be at an inflection point where public interest and products are intersecting. There do seem to be some missing pieces (though I may be missing things that are out there already)

Secure Posts – Secure account-to-account and broadcast posts on top of the ActivityPub protocol. Directory features for publicizing keys and all the usual “security bits” will be needed.

Search / Directories – finding people and content. Archiving data. Verified/ authoritative directories.

Feed managers – the ability of individual users to have multiple feeds beyond the “Personal / Local / Federated “ feeds.

Plugin-Markets and Architecture – both for individual users and for servers for free and paid value-added components.

Metrics and Analytics – that also respect privacy.

HREF=APUB – to pop me into my “open social browser” like I can today with “mailto:”

I’m sure there are a lot more. If you are working on any of this, shoot me a note and I’ll help spread the word.

Open Social Channel – Not YASN (Yet Another Social Network)

Social blogging shouldn’t be thought of as joining another social network. Mastodon, the Fediverse, Social Blogging can provide an interactive, indirect communication channel between publishers/content creators/influencers /businesses /organizations and individuals. As with all social platforms, there are rewards for early action, but there is no doubt that we are in early days.

I hope I’ve captured what I see as the opportunity for starting Social Blogging and I’m very curious to see what’s next. Both in terms of what people do and what products and services arise to build on this platform. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and anything you discover.

Just as with blogging for business, quality, coherent messaging, and strategy are more likely to lead to success than content spaghetti and cute cat videos.

Though we’re likely to be talking about the outlier cute cat videos as always.

Additional Reading

I think this issue is important and I’ll be following this topic in future issues. You can find additional material and references here.

Featured Disability Not-For-Profit

Almost exactly 2 years ago, I was driving towards a vacation to the snow and listening to the (excellent) “This Old Marketing” podcast. Co-host Joe Pulizzi mentioned his founding and support of the“Orange Effect Foundation” and its support of speech therapy for those in need. I was immediately hooked. But also wanted to know… why?

I finally got his answer. a couple of weeks ago

When our oldest was diagnosed on the autism spectrum we learned how important speech and play therapy were. With no verbal vocabulary at age three, we were told that he would never be able to go to regular schools or live without supervision. After five years of speech therapy, he was able to attend school without a tutor. Today, my oldest is thriving as a junior in college.
Along the way, I learned that many families don’t have the means to afford speech therapy for their children and have to go without it. This is a tragedy, and why Orange Effect Foundation was created. OEF is the “last resort” of funding for children with speech disorders who either cannot afford or cannot fund the therapy in any other way.

– Joe Pulizzi

Orange Effect Foundation

The Orange Effect Foundation is a 501c3 that delivers speech therapy services and technology equipment to children (and families) who need it the most. Since 2014, OEF has delivered over 350 grants to children in 35 states.

Check it out and give them your support.

Giving Back

One of the best parts of becoming an active member of the disability community has been the generosity and mutual support that people provide to each other. In that spirit, I’d like to do my part:

If you have a disability not-for-profit that has touched your life or that of someone in your family, please reply to this email so I can share your story.

If you are a disability freelancer, disabled business owner, or provide products or services that support the disability community, … or anything else, let me know.

How can I help you?

You can reach me via email – on the web at, leave a message or send a text to 650-539-4884.

… you’ve got this far…

My goal is for this newsletter to be actually useful. Selfishly, simply writing things down hones ideas that just swirl in my head, but nothing sharpens work like questions, comments, and discussion.

What about the audiences would you like to explore together?

Call or text +1-650-539-4884, email –, or fill out any form with your thoughts at or maybe even coffee if you are in Palo Alto, California sometime.

Thank you.

Steven Davis


Start Direct Social Publishing Today – the real meaning of Mastodon

By Steve / 2022-12-16
Posted in

@ElonJet grounded. Creator funds cut. TikTok banned (maybe). Algorithms changed (again and again).

Social networks and discovery platforms depend on the work of highly motivated creators, influencers, brands, and advertisers.

But those creators and their needs are barely considered. If anything, creators are treated like Content Kleenex – to used as convenient and thrown away. Easily replaced by another one seeking fame, followers, and fans.

Success is your problem.

Get off the hamster wheel and start owning your social feed. Start directly publishing your social content into the open social Fediverse.

What is the Fediverse?

The turmoil at Twitter has made Mastodon a bit famous.

But while Mastodon looks like a social network with an Open Source twist… that isn’t the magic.

The magic is the Fediverse and ActivityPub.

The ActivityPub protocol allows anyone to publish and send content to their Fediverse followers and those followers to share and amplify that content.

… and the Fediverse includes Mastodon, but it also includes a number of other open social networks. PeerTube (video), Funkwhale (audio), Pixelfed (images), and GNUSocial, Friendica, Hubzilla, Misskey, diaspora, Pleroma, and, most interestingly…


All you need is a user address on a server:


Direct Social Publishing

Even better, you don’t need to actually use any of these networks or their software (though you can always set up a server just for you). You can connect with your own platform. There are WordPress and Drupal plugins to connect you to the Fediverse. You can roll your own with 493 (and counting as of today) Github projects in various flavors.

And, if you are a bit careful, your content will be viewable by virtually any user using any of these open social platforms within the Fediverse.

Your content will be delivered to the primary time-stamped feed of your followers.

No algorithm to game.

And you are just one click away from adding more followers (no cutting and pasting an RSS feed or entering a mail address in a form).

Don’t Forget Direct Messaging

There is even a cherry on top….Direct messaging.

Though immature, there is a direct messaging feature within Mastodon (at least) that allows you to send messages to individuals… another, stable direct connection to your community.

The Fediverse Potential

The key to social network platforms is the size of their user base and the Fediverse is growing:

7.3 million accounts

3.9 million active users

(as of 11/28/2022)

And every stumble of a corporate social platform adds users, creators, developers, and business attention.

If creators moved to directly publish their content to the Fediverse, this trend would only accelerate. Today, the tools and support to build a business in the Fediverse are pretty immature, but that will change with the growth of the platform.

Don’t wait.

Resources – Fediverse Main Page with current metrics and links to the different current platforms and selected instances. – WordPress ActivityPub plugin. There are several related plugins. I would not be surprised if there are other plugins coming from other providers. – Drupal ActivityPub plugin. – List of ActivityPub pr – article on sending DMs in Matodon.


Mastodon Strategy for Brands, Businesses, and Influencers

By Steve / 2022-12-16
Posted in

Twitter is in turmoil and Mastodon is the next social media thing – maybe.

But, if you are a brand or influencer, should you make the leap to Mastodon?

… and can it help you?

Don’t Panic

If you don’t get started with Mastodon today, you can always start tomorrow. This isn’t urgent (Mostly…there are some near-term possibilities that may go away). You can set up a personal or business account. You can move it around. Play with the platform. See if you like it and if it works for you.

Watch and see if Mastodon takes off and you want to get more serious about its possibilities.

But first, some bad news.

The (big) bad news

Mastodon won’t give you explosive discoverability and virality for you or your content.

Our modern, major social media companies have been accelerating away from creating extended “social networks” towards delivering algorithmic “social content discovery” – feeding our feeds to maximize action and stimulation…

We’ve become addicted to the dopamine hit of our “likes” and “follows”
….both as creators and consumers.

Mastodon doesn’t deliver that. It is old school. It is simple. It is a federated social network platform. If it becomes successful, it is likely to remain so for a long time.

There is real power in being the home of a person’s “social graph” (as Facebook once knew).

There are some other risks and downsides for Mastodon which I’ll cover later.

What is Mastodon?

Mastodon is a network of independent, interlinked servers which host microblog users and posts that other users can comment on or repost (

Alternatively, imagine if Internet Relay Chat and early WordPress had a baby and were given a 21st-century interface (and a more sophisticated backend messaging system based on ActivityPub – – and WebFinger-

Discoverability and Virality – Mastodon Style

Unlike a traditional blog, Mastodon content is distributed and discovered via time-sorted feeds as well as limited search:

  • The Main feed of those you follow and other posts they “boost” (share).
  • A Local feed for all the posts and re-posts from users on the server where your account lives.
  • A Federated feed of the latest posts from all the servers and accounts which are connected to your local host.
  • Hashtag search – search based on #hashtag markers which users add to their posts
  • User/Profile search – by account name (@accountname@server) or handle (“Whatever You Want”) which isn’t necessarily unique.

Likes, Favorites, Bookmarks, Clicks, and Views – aren’t a factor in Mastodon’s feeds or search results.

And time marches on, so old posts just get old unless they are boosted or republished.

Getting old sucks in Mastodon.

If you want to play the social media fame game of follows and likes, you are going to have to do the work yourself. Connect with others. Deliver content (hopefully valuable, and repeatedly, but not so much that you annoy people).

NOTE for Twitter Refugees: There are several tools to allow you to export your Twitter Followers/Follows into Mastodon if they happen to have an account – see the Resources section at the end of this article.

Hashtag Search Engine Optimization (HSEO)

As a lot of people don’t regularly use hashtags because of convenience, there is the potential to drive visibility with aggressive and consistent use of hashtags. This is probably going to play out like meta tags on web pages and be abused quickly – but still survive in the long term because it is convenient. It will be curious to see when or if full text search across servers arrives.

Social Media Sovereignty – Mastodon and Rented Land

One of the good things about the federated open-source model is that you can host your own Mastodon server, even if it is just for yourself (there are a couple of service providers now and I’m sure we’ll see an avalanche of these offerings from ISPs in the coming weeks and months).

This has a lot of potential. You can ensure that you aren’t banned (see the Dangers below) and can also host and manage a community (or your organization or business) as you see fit.

The Mastodon Application Ecosystem – not yet (and this is a problem)

It is very early days for value-added services for Mastodon. There is an API and the source code is available, so, if you are up to it, you can do what you want (it is written in Ruby and PostgreSQL, though there are API libraries for a number of other languages –

There isn’t (yet) a market for plugins and themes (as with WordPress), so you are going to have to roll your own. It could be exciting to see how this evolves with value-added components both for individual users and server operators.

Full-text search is available on a server-by-server basis (if you run your own server) and you can tunnel Mastodon over Tor.

Features that it would be great to see (please contact me as these and others are implemented):

Webhooks and Zapier Integration – to connect Mastodon more easily to other services, for example, if someone registers on your Mastodon server, they get added to an email list.

Closed Communities – where user posts do not necessarily get distributed beyond their host

Encrypted Posts – only accessible to authorized users (though this would likely require a whole security infrastructure for identity and cryptography).

Individual User and Server Themes

User, Administrator, and Server Plugins

RSS feeds – by user, server, search term, hashtags – this could allow alternately structured access to information. RSS feeds focus on sources and content type, followed by time, while the standard social feed is primarily “time” based (or the algorithm of the provider).

Mastodon Strategies

What is your overall social media strategy and how does Mastodon fit in it?

As I noted at the top, you can set up an account and get a feel for the platform today and there is no real penalty as you can move your connections (but not your posts) to another server (including your own).

Own Your Mastodon Presence – You can fairly easily setup yourself or your organization with your own Mastodon server. It is not a big investment and does allow you to “own” your presence in the service. If you’ve run a modern website, you probably can run a Mastodon server.

If you have access to developer skills, you can customize your server to do what you want (re-post, customize visitor’s experience, create a chat bot, link with AI since everyone else is doing that this week, …)

Because it is a social network, hosting an online group in Mastodon is naturally “leaky” – content from your group will be shared to the Federated timeline as well as to the followers of the users on your site.

This gives a different, low barrier to sharing content to others – no need to click ”share” as your affinity group’s followers will see what your group members are up to.

Gateway Community / Fan Club – there are plenty of excellent membership community platforms. Mastodon has nothing on any of them – except that it is naturally “permeable” to non-members. Thus, a Mastodon server can help gracefully pull non-members into your community and amplify your content through your members.

NOTE: There is an interesting opportunity while Mastodon is relatively small to create “affinity servers” around broad topics that people self-identify with (e.g.,

Classic Social Community – why not host a social community for all of the traditional community reasons – your extended family, pickleball league, neighborhood association, etc. (or provide a service to host these types of communities)? It is what people used to use social networks for and a shared platform for members that also is open to people from other servers is pretty perfect.

… and finally some more bad news

If Mastodon gets popular, it is likely going to start having all of the abuse problems we’ve had elsewhere, but without someone to blame or hold accountable:

  • Spam
  • Banning and account theft
  • Harassment
  • Protecting Kids

Spam – Efficient global(ish) content distribution will, no doubt, lead to spam and worse. It is likely that white list/black list systems will wind up being established (there is already filtering by server, but with more and more servers, this is going to be harder to manage).

Harassment – The directory system looks like it is public which may make targeting people a big problem (there is still the ability to control who you see and allow to follow you but the lack of control of identity may make it easier to circumvent those controls).

Banning accounts or account theft. You live at the discretion of your host server administrators. They can do what they will with your account. As many current servers are volunteer operations, things may get exciting.

Protecting Kids. As there is no control over how accounts are issued, business liability concerns such as targeting minors is also going to be a problem. You are going to be responsible and you won’t be able to transfer liability to Mastodon.

Open Social Networks or another generation of proprietary platforms – or both?

Blogs and podcasts were built on the backbone of open technology (RSS). The open standards for Social Networks haven’t really taken off. WordPress came to lead and dominate the market of blog platforms by providing a stable, free, open-source platform with a vibrant market for tools and services on top of it.

So far, we’ve had a small number of leading social network platforms with modest opportunities to develop value-added businesses and a large number of proprietary community platforms. Open standards have had little impact.

Mastodon, or someone else (or even a Mastodon fork), may have a chance to bridge that gap.

Stay tuned.

Resources and References

Getting Started on Mastodon

Mastodon Help – – a good overview of what Mastodon is, how it works, and what to do with it.

A beginner’s guide to Mastodon, the open source Twitter alternative –

How to search on Mastodon: Everything you need to know – – a good article on finding your way around.

Mastodon Tools

Instances Directory –

Trunk –– help you jump start connecting with people and topics

Fedi.Directory – – curated list of accounts to follow in different areas. – – help you find an instance to join

Help for Your Twitter Transition

Fedifinder – – find and connect with your Twitter network on the Mastodon network.

Debirdify – – help you find the people you follow on Twitter on Mastodon

Twitter Cross Posting – Moa Party ( and Mastodon Twitter Crossposter ( – these are looking pretty rough right now (12/2022)

Mastodon Hosting Providers

From Mastodon –

Roll your own server on AWS –