A seated crowd in the dark facing towards the light in the distance

Misunderstanding Mastodon & the Emergence of Social Blogging – The Audience Asset Issue 1

Is Mastodon the “next big thing” in social networking? Perhaps, but it may signal something even more significant…


Welcome to the first issue of The Audience Asset where we’ll be exploring the craft of serving, creating, and nurturing audiences. If someone shared this issue with you and you’d like to subscribe, you are welcome (and I hope you’ll let me know who sent you so I can thank them!). If you received this by mistake, I apologize, please reply and I’ll take care of it promptly.

My target is to send this out weekly on Wednesday mornings. “real life” intervened, so we are already running late.. here we go :

  • An article on Mastodon and why I think it is may be more important as a new, interactive distribution channel than as yet another social network.
  • A featured disability-related not-for-profit – in this case, one from Joe Pulizzi that I’ve waited to learn the story behind for 2 years.
  • And a request and invitation from me.

Why The Audience Asset?

Partial Answer 1 – My focus for the past 5 years has been to figure out how to “connect the greater disability community and their allies”. My son was diagnosed with autism in 2013. Very rapidly, a world that had been invisible to me was opened up. 1 in 5 Americans – 61 million people – are disabled and there are 1 billion disabled children and adults worldwide. This community of communities of communities is poorly served by our governments, businesses, culture, and schools and I want to do my part to help change that…

Misunderstanding Mastodon and the Emergence of Social Blogging

Mastodon isn’t what you think it is. Well, it is, but that isn’t what may be important.

Mastodon appeared on my radar this past fall when Twitter was melting down and the many members of #DisabilityTwitter were very worried about what would happen to their online community. Mastodon looked like it had a lot of potential as a “federated, open social network” where you could have your own server and no longer be subject to the whims of a billionaire…. so I dove in.

[tech stuff, open source, metrics, blah, blah blah]

If that is what Mastodon really meant. It would be an interesting project to watch. Perhaps set up an account, and see how things play out (so far so good, as of 5 January 2023, there were 7.905 million accounts and 4.508 million active users according to Fediverse.Party – https://fediverse.party/en/fediverse/).

Mastodon is the most popular of a group of applications that all are part of the open “Fediverse”. There are open-source versions of Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, as well as a number of others that do their own thing. These applications talk together using a protocol called ActivityPub and find each other with WebFinger.

Kind of cool… but the interesting thing is that ANYONE can join the Fediverse with ANY application.




Accidental Social Blogging

The curse of traditional blogging and websites and the Internet and marketing, in general, is discoverability or, more directly, getting attention and turning that attention into action – either to join your audience or enter a customer funnel.

Type, Click, Click Type, Click.

There is a lot of friction to pull people in. RSS feeds are great, except that they require sophisticated users. Email subscriptions require work with the added bonus of CAPCHTAs and GDPR hurdles.

Type, Click, Click, Click, Email, Confirm, Click.

The magic of social networks is that they make this easy.

Click to Like
Click to Follow
Click to Repost

It is why so many companies and people spend so much time on social networks, Easy and addictive.

Anyway, as I was working to get smarter about this Mastodon/Fediverse stuff, I stumbled onto a couple of things:

  • You can host your own instance in the Fediverse. This means YOU. Your domain. Just for you. Or your business. Or organization. Or Group. Or whatever (and it is cheap and reasonably easy… and I think it is going to get easier.)
  • You can publish your content to the Fediverse. There are some roll-your-own tools today to post RSS feeds into the Fediverse. There are also some (third-party) connectors for WordPress and Drupal. Both Firefox and Tumblr are joining in.

The key is that “The Fediverse” isn’t a social media platform or platform of platforms. For content creators/publishers, it is an owned distribution channel with built-in, easy discoverability and low-friction audience building.

Blog + Fediverse = Social Blogging

In two years, this will be such a ubiquitous feature of online publishing platforms that we’ll hardly talk about (??? Who talks about RSS except to complain about subscribing to a new podcast?).

If done right, and we are still a long way off, we’ll be able to smoothly link our social media with our “traditional” online media. Publish, interact, and add value, through the customer or audience funnel.

The distinction between “our” followers on someone else’s social platform and our (actual) audience will disappear.

This won’t make marketing easier, but it will remove today’s “marketing to please an algorithm” (mostly).

From Rented Audience to Owned Audience

The longstanding lament of the gurus of Content Marketing is that you “shouldn’t build your business on rented land” or be a “don’t be digital sharecropper”. At its core, the problem isn’t “rented land” (which virtually every traditional retail business has been – EVER), it is “rented audience” (a topic I’ll be exploring in an upcoming issue tentatively titled “Anatomy of an Audience”):

  • You have no direct way of communicating with your “Followers”
  • You are at the mercy of the algorithm (and business whims) of the social platform.

And, even worse, the classic strategy of pulling your followers out of the social platform and onto an owned platform is in inherent conflict with the business goals of the social platform – to keep users on the platform and, typically, serve them more and more and more ads.

* And why savvy marketers have had to innovate with tactics like zero-click marketing.

The “Open Social” model totally upends this. Your followers are yours (Technically, and virtually as good, your audience’s “follows” are theirs). And, because there isn’t (much) of a business model tied to Open Social servers, the feeds and content people see are what they wan the feeds and content to be. They get to see what they want to see.

The Emerging Social Blogging Architecture

To date, the bulk of the development of Fediverse platforms has focused on creating open and open-source versions of traditional social media platforms. Today, you’ve got to do a bit of work with the current tools work to support moving into social blogging. Mastodon supports a “single user” mode (not extensively documented, but a bit here – https://www.garron.blog/notes/mastodon-single-user-mode.html). The platform that may be the most suitable today for aspiring social blogging publishers is Pleroma, or more specifically, the Soapbox/Rebased version by Alex Gleason – https://soapbox.pub/)… I’m looking at setting up a server so we’ll see if I eat my words.

Here is where I see the architecture going:

Hosts – platforms that host multiple (many), individual users. Ideally providing customization, curation, content moderation, and other services. Most similar to the existing Fediverse platforms or upcoming players like Tumblr and Firefox.

SPECULATIVE NOTE: It would not be surprising for browsers and mail clients to offer native support.

Publishers – single account or multi-user platforms. Focused on creating, scheduling, publishing, and promoting content. Metrics and analytics. CRM and automation and personalization. First third-party and then native support in WordPress, Drupal, Substack, Zapier, etc. I’m sure there will be some “Fediverse native” applications.

Communities – technically similar to hosts, but likely with additional value-added features to support the growth and nurturing of the community.

Feeds – special purpose publishers/bots. Aggregators ( like @auctuallyautistic), bots ( @A11yAwareness on Twitter publishes accessibility advice), I’m sure someone will set up an interactive “ChatGPT” bot and “Midjourney” image generation bot or similar).

Individuals – some people will want full control of their social experience for security, privacy, or just because. This may be through a dedicated server or a “managed service” account – just like with email (Gmail vs. Fastmail).

The power of the Fediverse is based on open, core algorithms –

A social web on top of the web.

I suspect that there will be proprietary products that link into the Fediverse, but that the dominant software will be open source with value-added services on top (like WordPress).

Missing pieces

While “Open Social” has been ongoing for a number of years now, we seem to be at an inflection point where public interest and products are intersecting. There do seem to be some missing pieces (though I may be missing things that are out there already)

Secure Posts – Secure account-to-account and broadcast posts on top of the ActivityPub protocol. Directory features for publicizing keys and all the usual “security bits” will be needed.

Search / Directories – finding people and content. Archiving data. Verified/ authoritative directories.

Feed managers – the ability of individual users to have multiple feeds beyond the “Personal / Local / Federated “ feeds.

Plugin-Markets and Architecture – both for individual users and for servers for free and paid value-added components.

Metrics and Analytics – that also respect privacy.

HREF=APUB – to pop me into my “open social browser” like I can today with “mailto:”

I’m sure there are a lot more. If you are working on any of this, shoot me a note and I’ll help spread the word.

Open Social Channel – Not YASN (Yet Another Social Network)

Social blogging shouldn’t be thought of as joining another social network. Mastodon, the Fediverse, Social Blogging can provide an interactive, indirect communication channel between publishers/content creators/influencers /businesses /organizations and individuals. As with all social platforms, there are rewards for early action, but there is no doubt that we are in early days.

I hope I’ve captured what I see as the opportunity for starting Social Blogging and I’m very curious to see what’s next. Both in terms of what people do and what products and services arise to build on this platform. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and anything you discover.

Just as with blogging for business, quality, coherent messaging, and strategy are more likely to lead to success than content spaghetti and cute cat videos.

Though we’re likely to be talking about the outlier cute cat videos as always.

Additional Reading

I think this issue is important and I’ll be following this topic in future issues. You can find additional material and references here.

Featured Disability Not-For-Profit

Almost exactly 2 years ago, I was driving towards a vacation to the snow and listening to the (excellent) “This Old Marketing” podcast. Co-host Joe Pulizzi mentioned his founding and support of the“Orange Effect Foundation” and its support of speech therapy for those in need. I was immediately hooked. But also wanted to know… why?

I finally got his answer. a couple of weeks ago

When our oldest was diagnosed on the autism spectrum we learned how important speech and play therapy were. With no verbal vocabulary at age three, we were told that he would never be able to go to regular schools or live without supervision. After five years of speech therapy, he was able to attend school without a tutor. Today, my oldest is thriving as a junior in college.
Along the way, I learned that many families don’t have the means to afford speech therapy for their children and have to go without it. This is a tragedy, and why Orange Effect Foundation was created. OEF is the “last resort” of funding for children with speech disorders who either cannot afford or cannot fund the therapy in any other way.

– Joe Pulizzi

Orange Effect Foundation

The Orange Effect Foundation is a 501c3 that delivers speech therapy services and technology equipment to children (and families) who need it the most. Since 2014, OEF has delivered over 350 grants to children in 35 states.

Check it out and give them your support.

Giving Back

One of the best parts of becoming an active member of the disability community has been the generosity and mutual support that people provide to each other. In that spirit, I’d like to do my part:

If you have a disability not-for-profit that has touched your life or that of someone in your family, please reply to this email so I can share your story.

If you are a disability freelancer, disabled business owner, or provide products or services that support the disability community, … or anything else, let me know.

How can I help you?

You can reach me via email – moc.eriwaidemytilibasidobfsctd@evets on the web at theaudienceasset.com, leave a message or send a text to 650-539-4884.

… you’ve got this far…

My goal is for this newsletter to be actually useful. Selfishly, simply writing things down hones ideas that just swirl in my head, but nothing sharpens work like questions, comments, and discussion.

What about the audiences would you like to explore together?

Call or text +1-650-539-4884, email – moc.sivadbsobfsctd@evets, or fill out any form with your thoughts at theaudienceasset.com or maybe even coffee if you are in Palo Alto, California sometime.

Thank you.

Steven Davis

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