WordPress, MovableType

Kara Swish­er inter­viewed Matt Mul­len­weg on Recode Decode! It’s extreme­ly sad how excit­ed I was to see this in my pod­cast feed (and that I’m already writ­ing about it before the post has actu­al­ly gone up on Recode, itself.)

We Called it Guten­berg for a Rea­son

They dis­cussed Mov­able­Type briefly, which was revived in 2013 and now has a 50% Japan­ese lan­guage user­ship, and I’d real­ly like to know how that hap­pened.

Also, I had no idea his and Word­Press’ com­pa­ny, Automat­tic owned Lon­greads and Atavist. Hilar­i­ous­ly, I also found out his old blog themes are now avail­able in the Word­Press theme direc­to­ry. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I had to wait a whole darned week for a “light­ly-edit­ed tran­script” [local back­up] of this episode, but frankly, I’m just glad they decid­ed it was worth tran­scrib­ing at all, con­sid­er­ing Word­Press’ out-of-the-excitable-for-dab­blers sta­tus. I mean… it was prob­a­bly a bit cru­el to place Mullenweg’s episode in direct fol­lowup to Kara Swisher’s inter­view with Mark Zucker­berg the pre­vi­ous week, which — for obvi­ous and entire­ly-jus­ti­fied rea­sons — will sure­ly be the most-lis­tened-to Recode Decode episode by far in its recent his­to­ry, at least. 

I’ve been doing Word­Press for 15 years and I’d like to do it the rest of my life.”

Yiokes! Ya know? You’re damned right, “oof.”

I think every tech com­pa­ny should have an edi­to­r­i­al team.”

Out of sign­f­i­cant and near­ly-unbear­ably heavy bias, I must agree whole­heart­ed­ly with this state­ment — and Mullenweg’s req­ui­site elab­o­ra­tion — and I must leave you with the expres­sion of one final wish: that Zucker­berg had been inter­viewed post-Matt, instead, and Kara Swish­er would’ve brought this up with him.

Mastodon Creator Eugen Rochko

The saga of Twit­ter, Inc. has been reju­ve­nat­ed in 2017 by Tump’s antics, cor­po­rate dra­ma, and an amal­gam of user and non-user dis­qui­et with its deci­sions, though its finan­cial via­bil­i­ty has been in promi­nent indus­try con­ver­sa­tion for half a decade. Since its pre-2010 out­set, many ‘a’ fea­ture has accu­mu­lat­ed on its orig­i­nal, still-icon­ic skele­tal soft­ware, and — though the net is undoubt­ed­ly pos­i­tive — a few have gone. Last Thurs­day, the com­pa­ny revised in brava­do its poul­tri­an default pro­file pic­ture and its sys­tem of replies to exclude @s on all of Twitter’s pro­pri­etary ser­vices, dras­ti­cal­ly chang­ing two of its visu­al main­stays, and prod­ding a par­tic­u­lar­ly lucent cacoph­o­ny. Turn your ear, and you’ll hear many famil­iar terms in the chants: lim­its, chains, strings, harass­ment, feed­back, gamer­gate, nazis, etc. Of course, these con­ver­sa­tions are impor­tant, but they’ve got­ten awful­ly stale. As the old, undy­ing buzz has gone on in the past few weeks, how­ev­er, the most care­ful lis­ten­ers have begun inter­cept­ing a new one: Mastodon.

It’s the open source brain­child of Eugen Rochko — known col­lo­qui­al­ly as Gar­gron — and he has had one hell of a week. In between the night of our first emails and our con­ver­sa­tion, his flag­ship mastadon.social instance had dou­bled in users. Less than two hours after we said our good­byes, his name was on The Verge’s front page. Yet despite the urgency of it all, he gra­cious­ly lent me his time just after break­fast on Tues­day to dis­cuss him­self and the sto­ry behind the project, while the most sig­nif­i­cant day of his life was build­ing around him.

Despite the urgency of it all, he gra­cious­ly lent me his time just after break­fast on Tues­day to dis­cuss him­self and the sto­ry behind the project, while the most sig­nif­i­cant day of his life was build­ing around him.

I’m per­fect­ly fine with being called Eugene by Amer­i­cans.”

(Though the ink on his comp­sci diplo­ma is no doubt still fresh, he’s clear­ly pre­pared for the Amer­i­can press.)

Mastodon Total User Data as of April 5th

What’s the sto­ry behind the project? Do you remem­ber the spe­cif­ic moment when you decid­ed to do this?

Many years ago, I had a friend that was real­ly into fed­er­at­ed net­works when they were a new thing. That was when identi.ca was first cre­at­ed — at the very begin­ning of my devel­op­er knowl­edge and career.

A good por­tion of the sto­ries writ­ten so far on his plat­form have framed it as an alter­na­tive to Twit­ter, which ear­ly Mas­to adopters refer to as “Hell­bird,” or “the bird web­site.” Eugen isn’t afraid to acknowl­edge his invest­ment in the for­mat.

I was a heavy Twit­ter user and I wasn’t hap­py with where Twit­ter was going, so I decid­ed to check on how the fed­er­at­ed stuff was doing in the mean­time. I found it in a very sad state, but thought I could con­tribute.

So he began build­ing his own, with Tweetdeck’s stan­dard as his frame of ref­er­ence.

I thought ‘if I’m going to do some­thing, it needs to have real­time updates and it needs to have columns.’ I start­ed with a bare-bones pro­to­type while still [at Uni­ver­si­ty] in May or April of last year. It had no user inter­face, only an API that I was using from the com­mand line. And I thought ‘okay, it works. that’s great.’ Then, exams came.

Aca­d­e­mics had to come before the project at first, but it soon sup­plied an ample post-grad­u­a­­tion diver­sion. He focused his ener­gy on build­ing some­thing more com­plete and even­tu­al­ly launched a Patre­on page.

I announced it on Hack­erNews, and that was the first pub­lic release of the project. That’s when I got my first users who weren’t my friends, and some who were new to fed­er­at­ed net­works.

In just the 100 or so days since the announce­ment, Gar­gron has seen the first col­lab­o­ra­tive feed­back of the project accu­mu­late.

I start­ed work­ing on the first fea­ture requests, shap­ing the project a bit dif­fer­ent­ly. Peo­ple were a lot more focused on pri­va­cy fea­tures than I thought they would be, although in ret­ro­spect, it makes sense. The pre­vi­ous [fed­er­at­ed] project — GNU social — did not real­ly have a focus on pri­va­cy fea­tures, or any­thing built in by default.

It sounds obvi­ous, but it can­not be suf­fi­cient­ly empha­sized how essen­tial The Com­mu­ni­ty behind an open source project is to its suc­cess. That is, the com­mu­ni­ty is the project’s entire exis­tence. The frame­work of incen­tives for the con­trib­u­tors in this devel­op­ment mod­el will always remain infi­nite­ly more tru­ly aligned with the inter­ests of all par­ties involved. His­tor­i­cal­ly, just about every sin­gle failed, aban­doned, and/or fum­bled open source devel­op­ment project suc­cumbed or sur­vived with its cul­ture. (The over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of them, just in case you haven’t heard The Word.) Though it’s com­plete­ly impos­si­ble to be cer­tain, Mastodon’s infant­hood so far seems to vouch extra­or­di­nar­i­ly for its fam­i­ly. Rochko had giv­en its pro­to­type to the world, act­ed on its first few respons­es, and pushed the revi­sions to the devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ty, who hoist­ed their dig­i­tal thumbs — and thus, the first full cycle between orig­i­na­tor and his would-be peo­ple was a suc­cess, and the foun­da­tions had been layed for the pro­duc­tion of a tru­ly spe­cial piece of social net­work­ing soft­ware.

Over time, I kept work­ing on new fea­tures, and waves of new users came when it went viral in cer­tain cir­cles. The first was Hack­erNews and Prod­uct Hunt. Aral Balkan — a Twit­ter user with over 30,000 fol­low­ers — picked up the project, gave it a shout out, and even did a give­away of his app. He had a lot of fol­low­ers from Hol­land; the Mastodon time­lines became most­ly Dutch.

Next was Marx­ist Ani­me Twit­ter, of which many Extra­tone friends are a proud part of.

Lots of fur­ries; lots of LGBT peo­ple. That’s when I real­ly focused on pri­va­cy fea­tures and mak­ing sure all blocks worked because these indi­vid­u­als need­ed a safer plat­form than Twit­ter could offer.

Side­kick dash­board back­ground pro­cess­ing jobs as of Tues­day morn­ing.

As you can see, the first bump is Hack­erNews, the sec­ond is Aral Balkan, and then anime/Marxist Twit­ter,” Eugen clar­i­fies in the pause it takes me to assim­i­late the visu­al infor­ma­tion from the above gen­er­al busy­ness chart enough to real­ize just how sig­nif­i­cant this whole move­ment was for him.

What’s the sto­ry behind the name?

It’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing. I’m a pro­gres­sive met­al fan, and I lis­ten to Mastodon some­times. They have a real­ly cool name that refers to a real­ly cool ani­mal. It’s a fluffy ele­phant! What’s not to love? It’s also the inspi­ra­tion for Mastodon’s mas­cot, which was penned by Rochko’s YouTu­ber friend Dopat­wo after he real­ized how urgent­ly he required an error page.

What does “fed­er­at­ed” mean to you?

The biggest prob­lem with this term is that it’s new for lots of peo­ple. Peo­ple who’ve come across fed­er­at­ed net­works in the past instant­ly under­stand what it means and how it works, and peo­ple who are new to the con­cept have a lot of trou­ble before it clicks. But when Twit­ter first start­ed, peo­ple didn’t under­stand what ‘retweet­ing’ meant, so it’s not a unique prob­lem domain. I don’t know where it comes from — maybe Bit­Tor­rent — but peo­ple seem to think that when some­thing is ‘decen­tral­ized,’ every­body gets the same thing; that it’s all syn­chro­nized one to one. In actu­al­i­ty, ‘fed­er­at­ed’ means that peo­ple in dif­fer­ent instances can talk to each oth­er, but the con­tent is dif­fer­ent depend­ing on the users there, what they do, and who they fol­low.

Though instances are infra­struc­tural­ly inde­pen­dent, they ship with the abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate with one anoth­er.

What if Twit­ter comes to you in the near future with a job offer?

[Rochko laughs.] If it was any oth­er com­pa­ny, I would think about it. A job is a sta­ble source of income, and — depend­ing on the com­pa­ny — could involve doing some­thing impor­tant, but I have zero faith in Twit­ter.

Does this mean that I final­ly get to live out my serif Twit­ter dream?

Yes, I sup­pose on your own instance, you could change the stylesheet…

So if I set up my own instance and start­ed charg­ing for its use, I’d be in the clear, legal­ly?

Yes, that’s okay. The code is licensed under AGPL ver­sion three, which I picked because oth­er projects in the same space are using it. The dif­fer­ence between AGPL and GPL is that [the for­mer] forces you to con­tribute back to the app­stream code repos­i­to­ry if you make any break­ing changes.

For exam­ple, Eugen explained that What­sApp orig­i­nal­ly used XMPP for its chat pro­to­col, which meant that Face­book and Google Talk users could con­nect to it, too. How­ev­er, the com­pa­ny pro­gres­sive­ly locked down the plat­form over time, leav­ing vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing vis­i­ble that was unique to XMPP in its cur­rent iter­a­tion.

To pre­vent some­body tak­ing Mastodon code, plac­ing it behind locks, and strip­ping out the fed­er­a­tion part to make Twit­ter II, I’m using this license.The thing to remem­ber about free soft­ware is that ‘free’ means free­dom of the user, not that it’s zero cost. It’s per­fect­ly fine to charge for free soft­ware because devel­op­ers need to live, too.”

I’ve seen a lot of mul­ti­lin­gual ‘toot­ing’ these past few weeks. Can we expect an in-app trans­late func­tion like Twitter’s on Mastodon?

I don’t think I could put in a ‘trans­late this toot’ but­ton because APIs from Google and Bing are quite expen­sive at scale. I’m not 100% promis­ing this, but I can prob­a­bly put some­thing in where peo­ple can select which lan­guage they post in, and then just fil­ter the time­lines. That would at least solve the prob­lem of being con­front­ed with lots of French posts, with­out know­ing any French.

The only com­plaint about Twit­ter I remem­ber that hasn’t already been addressed here is the capa­bil­i­ty of editable ‘toots.’ Is that a pos­si­bil­i­ty?

That won’t hap­pen. There’s actu­al­ly a good rea­son why they don’t do that. It’s sim­ply because you could make a toot about one thing, have peo­ple favorite it and share it, link it from oth­er places, and then sud­den­ly, it says ‘Heil Hitler,’ or some­thing.

It’s a bit pre­pos­ter­ous to con­tin­ue the con­ver­sa­tion as if Twit­ter and Mastodon are inter­change­able enti­ties. They exist in sep­a­rate ide­o­log­i­cal and mechan­i­cal spheres, and will both con­tin­ue to do so for a very long time. That said, the fun­da­men­tal user inter­face design and cur­rent cross-com­mu­ni­ty user sat­u­ra­tion do war­rant com­par­isons between their func­tions. More like­ly than not, you’ll cre­ate a Mastodon account because a link found you on Twit­ter, use it because you pre­fer its type of ecosys­tem, and you’ll stay after real­iz­ing that near­ly all of your age-old qualms have been addressed, if not already rec­ti­fied. While FOSS and Fed­er­at­ed may seem at times like jejune ide­olo­gies, their advan­tages are espe­cial­ly tan­gi­ble in this con­text. Should you find your­self need­ing to com­plain about some­thing, you’ll find an audi­ence. Per­haps it’ll be your com­mand line.

It’s noth­ing but neg­li­gent to describe Mastodon as an “alter­na­tive” or “clone,” and it’s begin­ning to feel expo­nen­tial­ly more igno­rant too: Mastodon has great poten­tial to be Twitter’s vast­ly-supe­ri­or heir.

It’s lean­er, quick­er-to-change, much more flex­i­ble & democ­ra­tized, and less cor­rupt. Though I didn’t ask its cre­ator what he intend­ed to gain from all his effort, I think his com­mit­ment itself denotes a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with progress. Those of you who’ve been let down by the tools you’ve been giv­en to con­trol your words’ expo­sure will find star­tling com­pe­tence in your abil­i­ty to deter­mine per-toot pri­va­cy, or reserve your rau­cous pho­tos and ter­ri­ble memes from fol­low­ers who are not nec­es­sar­i­ly com­plic­it con­sumers. Nat­u­ral­ly, it’s also much less depend­able, though a sin­gle instance out­age will nev­er leave you tru­ly, com­plete­ly silent. And the sup­port will come.

It’s been a priv­i­lege to be observ­er and par­tic­i­pant in the first light­en­ing of a new online com­mu­ni­ty. In the moment, we enjoy our laven­der haze — when the spaces are fill­ing pri­mar­i­ly with users who are sin­cere­ly inter­est­ed enough in dis­course to have sought it out. Sarah Jeong’s account of her Twit­ter exile is a good, long read if you’re crav­ing more specifics, and Eugen’s Medi­um turned Offi­cial Mastodon Blog offer more com­plete analy­sis of fed­er­a­tion and its place in the indus­try, straight from the source. Appar­ent­ly, he’s just as artic­u­late with words as he is with code, and if I’d have­ta haz­ard a guess, I’d bet it’s not the last we’ll hear from him.