Blogging, tweeting, and . . . tooting on Mastodon?

This is a personal post about social media and blogging, not language, but it does contain a few bilingual puns.

I almost joined Mastodon years ago, but I knew few people using it then, and it didn’t seem worth the trouble. I tend to resist popular time-sinks – like Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok – but I changed my mind about Mastodon.

If you’re there, you can find me at @stancarey@mastodon.ie (more on the address style below).

I used to use Twitter a lot, popping in on work breaks and idle moments. It was a good community and source of information. I even got one of those infamous blue ticks, for my language journalism. But my tolerance for Twitter, and visits to it, dropped steeply years ago, and the recent chaos threatens what remains of its appeal and viability.

Mastodon logo. The name is white sans-serif text on a dark background. Behind the M is a blue, rounded rectangle with white dot, suggesting a elephant's head and eye, with a trunk dangling underneath.So I took another look at Mastodon, to where there was something of an exodus, and was drawn to its friendly feel, lack of advertisements, and decentralized structure. This interview with its creator is worth reading, as is this chat between two journalists about the relative advantages and disadvantages of Mastodon and Twitter.

For the unfamiliar: Mastodon is not a website but an open-source program. Before joining, you have to decide which ‘instance’, or community, to join. This means that a person’s handle looks a lot like an email address (e.g., @stancarey@mastodon.ie, also styled https://mastodon.ie/@stancarey).

Some instances have mastodon in the address (e.g., mastodon.social), some allude to it (e.g., mas.to) and many do neither (e.g., scicomm.xyz). The one I’m on, mastodon.ie, is Irish. The important thing is that all instances can talk to each other, like email, but they have their own servers, admins, and codes of conduct.

The Irish rush to Mastodon was accompanied by the hashtag #Mastodaoine, a punning bilingual blend of Mastodon and daoine, Irish for ‘people’.* The tag has even made national headlines:

Image of headline and subhead in the Irish Times: '#Mastodaoine: Twitter woes prompt Irish Mastodon stampede. Little-known platform once the preserve of a few is now adding 'instances' in the thousands'.

When Twitter first appeared, with its 140-character tweet limit (later doubled to 280) it was described as ‘microblogging’. I’ve seen the same term applied to Mastodon, where the limit is a more expansive 500. Posts are sometimes called ‘toots’, but that may not stick.

Blogging has also re-entered the chat. I’ve seen new blogs start up, others re-emerge from hibernation, and a lot of nostalgic talk about reviving the culture of blogging. I’d love to see it, but it seems unlikely to happen on a large scale. Online habits, expectations, and preoccupations have changed so much.

Blogging has become unfashionable. In 2009 I set up a feed reader to keep track of blogs I followed: it’s a ghost town now, with hundreds abandoned. I admire those who manage to blog more or less daily, like Languagehat and Arnold Zwicky in the lingua-blogosphere. But they’re the exception. I suspect that to most people, blogs feel passé.

I have a huge file of notes on things I’d like to blog about, but my time and motivation are in short supply. New posts are sporadic, but then they were never especially predictable. The same goes for Strong Language, the sweary blog about swearing that I co-founded in 2014.

I began writing Sentence first in June 2008, and I hope to keep it half-alive. I still love the format of blogging, the creative constraints, the hyperlinking, the fun and learning in people’s comments. But comments, visits, and subscriptions have plummeted.

That’s not a complaint, more a wistful acknowledgement of an altered landscape. I seldom comment on other blogs anymore either, and I’ve cut the number I read. Engagement feeds on engagement, and so does its absence. Free time is scarce and precious for us all.

Still. I hope you’ll stick around, if I do. There’s a new post on Irish English in the works. And maybe see you on Mastodon?

Photo of a European robin perched on my hand, preparing to eat some oats and seeds scattered in my palm. It has a bright orange face and breast, white belly, grey sides, brown back, and brown legs splayed in an inverted V. It's looking right at the camera, quizzically. Behind it is an evergreen bush with red berries.

A visit from my boss

*

* A poll to settle on one hashtag to rule them all had a variety of such puns, such as #paddyderm, a play on pachyderm; #TootsDeDanann, a play on toots and the Tuatha Dé Danann from Irish mythology; and #meastodon: meas, pronounced ‘mass’, is Irish for esteem, among other things, and has been borrowed into Irish English.

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17 Responses to Blogging, tweeting, and . . . tooting on Mastodon?

  1. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts for years and am glad you are still publishing them. I’ve been meaning to construct another book spine poem; your recent post inspired me to do it this morning. I’ve posted it over on Mastodon. I am glad you will be over there.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment, Laura. The blog posts will continue, erratically. I joined Mastodon just over a week ago and am settling in, finding my feet. I look forward to seeing your new book spine poem later.

  2. I’ll stick around, reading, if you do, writing. I’ve learned a lot from reading your posts.

    Blogging does feel a bit antique. In 2013 I wrote that “blogging feels so early-twenty-first-century.” But I don’t mind. I do at least two posts every weekday, at least one on Saturday and Sunday. I still find it the most congenial form of social media, and it makes me pay attention.

    (Is that hyphen after earlyright? I hope so.)

    • Stan Carey says:

      Thanks very much, Michael. I’ve always appreciated your thoughtful comments. A dozen posts a week is an impressive rate! My trouble is that I find it difficult to write short posts: everything sprawls. But I agree that it focuses the attention, whatever the post length.

      That hyphen is indeed right. Many would omit it, being averse to compound hyphenation, but careful readers will appreciate the nicety.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Hello, I’m a new reader, so I hope you don’t give up on this blog just yet!

    With regard to blogs having become less popular in recent years, I think it’s more a matter of the form factor rather than a lack of interest in long-form writing per se. What I mean is, people don’t visit individual webpages anymore, and as a result blogs have morphed into email newsletters. Substack.com is brimming with zillions of what are essentially blogs. I think the difference is that most newsletters are written with monetization in mind, which admittedly changes the flavor a bit, often for the worse. But people do still want to write long-form, and others do still want to read it too — the venue’s just changed.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Hello, Elizabeth! Thank you for reading. The form has a lot to do with it, for sure. This is part of what I was skating over in my reference to online habits. A lot of people, probably most, have accepted the switch from blogs to newsletters, and in some respects the two modes are very similar. But the differences are significant to me.

      For one thing, I like to visit blogs rather than read them in my email or reader. I use the reader to see where new material has appeared, then I go visit. (That’s probably an eccentric approach.) I like the different styles of blogs: the link rolls, tag clouds, recent comments, etc., all on one page. It lends more idiosyncrasy to the reading experience compared to newsletters, which, though they permit a certain variety, tend to look more similar. And while newsletters allow comments, these are relatively peripheral: it seems like a medium more of broadcasting than of conversation.

      Maybe I’ll feel differently in the future, but for now I’m still looking back fondly, and in vain, at blogging’s heyday!

  4. mazblast says:

    I’ve learned so much from this blog about English, especially Irish English, and I’d hate to see it disappear. Some of it is in brand new areas for me, some is of the “Why haven’t I thought of that?” variety, and some is from the “I hadn’t thought of that in years, thanks for brnging it up” archives.

    Please keep up the great work, Stan!

    • Stan Carey says:

      That’s great to hear, mazblast, thank you. I’ve found that language as a general theme stops me going wildly off-track but still gives me ample room for variety. I won’t leave it too long before my next post on Irish English – I have a few in mind.

  5. astraya says:

    My blog still gets approx 30 visitors and 40 page views per day (apparently mostly searches which return old posts and not regular readers of new posts). Unfortunately, very few of them ever ‘like’ or comment or otherwise interact. Even 1 meaningful comment per day would keep me going. I’ve been less active recently partly because of this and partly because I’ve got a full-time day job, a side gig and three choirs. Possibly being a mostly-anon/pseudonymous blogger has meant that some people don’t interact with me.

    • Stan Carey says:

      In the linguistics world, I think the blogs that reliably attract a lot of discussion are the ones that have posted more or less daily for a couple of decades. Their prolificacy, quality, and timing helped foster communities that have at least partly survived the waning of the form. Don’t take it personally if your posts don’t get comments – it’s just not something people do much of anymore.

      • astraya says:

        I still read Language Log every day but rarely comment. I used to skim Arnold Zwicky’s occasionally but haven’t for a while. Checking his last posts just now, 7 of the last 10 have received no comments, and the other 3 have 16 between them.

        • Stan Carey says:

          The comment discussions at Zwicky’s blog, when they do occur, are generally very interesting extensions of his posts. But it seems to be principally a place for him to note and analyze things that interest him, no matter the frequency of comments.

          Language Log is a colossus, but because it’s a group blog I didn’t mention it above. I visit regularly but less than I used to, partly for reasons of time and motivation, partly because some of the writers I liked there no longer post much, and also because it’s now so dominated by Chinese-language coverage – which is great for anyone interested in that area, but I’m not.

  6. wyrdbyword says:

    I miss the golden days of blogging and, even more, the spirit and ethos that powered and informed many of them. There is a better timeline where blogs and feed readers and federated social software is the foundational reality. Perhaps there will be a mini blog-renaissance?

    • Stan Carey says:

      I miss them too, though I think I arrived at the tail end. There was a sense of community in blogging then, and some of Web 2.0’s early excitement about creating a new, more comradely kind of online. The growth of Mastodon may be a healthy step towards that alternative timeline you describe. And I wouldn’t rule out a mini blog-renaissance, even if it’s very mini.

  7. ktschwarz says:

    I’ve never understood why anyone thinks blogs are passé. They’re open for everyone to read and comment with no need to sign up (unlike Twitter, which makes it difficult for you if you don’t sign up, and is slooow and clunky even if you do), and they can stay open indefinitely. This is one of many blogs that are valuable to me. Please don’t stop!

    Are you still allowing comments on old posts? I left a comment on “86 that slang etymology” a couple of days ago, it disappeared, I just left another one and it disappeared too. Maybe they’re in a moderation queue. If so, please approve just one, the other is a duplicate.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Blogs have all those advantages and more, but it feels like their time came and went, and that anyone still writing one is a digital relic. Social media in particular fundamentally altered the rhythms and norms of online discussion, consigning blogs to a kind of niche, outmoded hinterland. I’ve always been grateful to any reader who takes time out of their day to visit here, perhaps leave a comment, and that goes double now.

      Old posts are still open to comments; in fact the bulk of my traffic goes straight to the archives. Your first comment on ‘86 that slang etymology‘ was caught by the spam filter because of its multiple links, and the filter must have rejected your second having decided you were not to be trusted =)
      I went through a few pages of spam and found them (and approved and replied to the first). Thanks for your patience and persistence.

  8. […] a recent post here, I said that time and motivation to blog had been scarce. That goes double for Strong Language, so […]

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