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 @firstname.lastname@example.org (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.
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., @email@example.com, 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.
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?
* 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.