Twitter vs.  Mastodon: from platforms to protocols

The reputational crisis caused on Twitter by Elon Musk’s erratic management, and the consequent flight of users and advertisers, raises concerns about the future of science communication on social networks.

Professor Ignacio López-Goñi has already asked about Twitter and scientific communication here. Along the same lines, Pablo Otero Tranchero, from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, has reflected on what science loses if it loses Twitter.

Beyond the option of Mastodon as an alternative or plan B, the uncertain evolution of Twitter is leading to a profound reconsideration of the way in which both networking between scientific communities and the dissemination of results have been managed until now. research.

Fortunately, the richness and diversity of the digital ecosystem far transcends Twitter. Since Tim Berners-Lee released the software of the world wide web in 1991, the channels for sharing knowledge, expression, information, opinion, denunciation and criticism have only grown and multiplied.

Rethinking science communication online

One of the most important consequences of the Twitter crisis is that it has given its users the opportunity to review how they use the Internet and discover that since the commercial appropriation of the web and the proliferation of application markets, a good part of daily practices on the network are carried out under the orbit of large technological platforms managed with proprietary software.

Researcher Mark Carrigan asks on the blog of the London School of Economics (LSE) whether the time has not come to rethink the academic use of Twitter and other commercial platforms.

The good reception of Mastodon by the scientific communities allows us to glimpse a future for academic networking and the dissemination of science, which will have more to do with the protocols (open versus closed) than with the platforms (free versus proprietary).

Several years before this crisis, Mike Masnick, editor of the Techdirt blog, had formulated – almost in a manifesto – that protocols and not platforms were the correct technological approach to protect freedom of expression, escaping the economic and digital infrastructure. created by large technology companies.

After what Professor Carlos Scolari has called the war of the platforms, it seems that now what is coming is the war of the protocols.

Fotopoulos / Unsplash, CC BY

Twitter vs.  Mastodon: from platforms to protocols

From platforms to protocols

The rise of Mastodon has demonstrated the potential of the open ActivityPub protocol for decentralized social network management. But there are other protocols that also aspire to lead this revolution, such as the Matrix project or the AT protocol, promoted by Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter) under the Bluesky brand, which proposes decentralizing the user experience of social networks, giving them back control over the management of your personal data.

At the same time, Dorsey offers up to one million dollars annually to finance internet projects based on open protocols.

Among the competing protocols, special attention will have to be paid to the nascent Nostr project, which promises to overcome the limitations of Twitter and Mastodon to create a censorship-resistant social network that frees user identities from domain names of the servers on a federated network.

In this process, which goes from platforms to protocols, it is foreseeable that the concern of scientists will accelerate transitions that will be slow and costly for universities to assume.

This is what expert Andy Tattersall points out: “Academics can easily get out of Twitter, but it will be much more difficult for their institutions.”

Take care of the brands and have a plan B

It is evident that the social capital accumulated on Twitter around personal and corporate brands cannot be squandered. But it is also obvious that personal and corporate brands are degrading in an environment that remains mired in chaos and whose future model remains a great unknown.

In this scenario, having a plan B is reasonable. But this decision should not ignore the lessons learned about the Internet model that commercial platforms have built and the lessons that the change towards open protocols to manage our presence and our work on the Internet is leaving in the scientific community. .

This article has been published in ‘The conversation‘.

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