While watching the implosion of Twitter in real-time over the past week, I noticed more and more people in my Twitter feed sharing links to their Mastodon accounts.

During that time, https://instances.social was posted to Hacker News as a tool to help people find a Mastodon instance to register with. My initial experience with this was quite poor.

Later in the week, a thread was started in the Rust subreddit titled “Rustaceans worth following on Mastodon?” and saw that quite a lot of people were registered on the Hachyderm Mastodon instance. After spending so long playing with the filters on https://instances.social to try to find an instance and coming away empty-handed, I decided to just bite the bullet and register an account on Hachyderm.

As I’m writing this post, Hachyderm has around 5000 users, and let me tell you, this feels like a really sweet spot.

Coming from a service like Twitter, it may be tempting to want to register on the biggest or most popular Mastodon instance to approximate the experience of Twitter (which is after all, a single instance of something where everyone is registered), but in practice I think most people will find this quite frustrating as it is difficult to become part of a community or build a network on a supermassive instance.

Before rejoining Twitter last year, I previously had an account and a respectable following in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and I had managed to build an excellent network of people who had shared interests in Afghanistan, the Middle East and South Asia.

It was around this time that I joined the cult.

Limiting outside contact and systematically reducing the potential and opportunity to build and nurture meaningful connections outside the group are now commonly understood and widely accepted traits of cults and high-control groups.

Without going into too much detail, the cult has a dedicated “communications” department that is, among other things, responsible for policing the individual use of social media, and fosters a culture where members are “gently encouraged” to police each others’ use of social media.

Somebody still on the inside reached out to me last week asking to reconnect on Instagram; they couldn’t remember my Instagram username because, in their own words, “I temporarily deleted all my social media after getting a warning over my [social media service] account”.

It may sound a little extreme, but this is actually not very uncommon at all. In fact, similar circumstances led me to delete my own previously established Twitter account. It is only over the past year, many many years after leaving the cult and rebuilding my life, that I have started to become comfortable with maintaining a social media presence again.

Can you imagine the breadth of the loss, the number of severed connections, snuffed friendships, failed relationships, the increasing depth of isolation that builds every time somebody is gaslit and pressured into scorching the earth and deleting every single digital avenue to the outside world while they live in isolated physical environments?

And so it was against this background that I rejoined Twitter last year. It was unfortunately nothing like that service that I remembered from over a decade ago.

One of the most frustrating parts of my experience on Twitter over the past year was realising just how stacked the entire platform is against young accounts.

It felt like posting into a black hole, which in turn made it seem improbable, if not completely impossible, to start to rebuild any kind of community or network on the platform.

Luke Chadwick, who has ~1500 followers on Twitter, also remarked on this aspect of the Twitter experience.

After also becoming an active TikTok user over the past year, this experience was doubly jarring. On TikTok, I post incredibly niche videos about Afghan culture, music, literature, history and language, and without any serious effort on my part I have managed to amass thousands of regular viewers who interact with my videos.

I won’t go into the specifics of what I think makes the discoverability experience of TikTok so great here, but if you’re interested, a lot of my thoughts are developed on top of commentary by others that I curate and publish on my RSS feed about social media platforms, user generated content and recommendation algorithms.

Let’s just take a look at the numbers.

After a year on Twitter I have 18 followers, it’s incredibly rare for my posts to get more than 10 impressions and my attempts at making or joining conversations on shared interests and topics are rarely fruitful.

After a day on Mastodon, I have 30+ followers, and based on the number of interactions with my posts, way more than 10 impressions, but most importantly for me, my attempts at making or joining conversations on shared interests and topics have been very fruitful.

I’m not sure how long this will last or how much it has to do with the nature of being a relatively early registrant on the Hachyderm instance, but it is a huge breath of fresh air, and I think from now on I will just maintain my Twitter account in life support mode due to the inertia of the platform.