The following is an adaptation of a thread I wrote on Mastodon in July, 2018.
Original thread: https://manowar.social/@zatnosk/100329291127427013
I can't help but join in with the current "discourse" spawned by a follow-recommendation feature in the latest RC version of Mastodon. I've seen some take it as an attempted movement towards better user retention, and talk about why people come to mastodon and why they (don't) stay.
To add my view here, I think there's fundamentally two ways of using microblogging:
Peer-oriented microblogging is my name for using microblogging to talk to your equals / peers. Everyone is assumed to be more or less approachable, and number of followers is a meaningless metric. Most of the "old guard" of mastodon (I include myself here) are avid practioners of this, since this kind of microblogging can bootstrap itself in an empty space, by connecting with whomever else happened to be around.
Celebrity-oriented microblogging is my name for using microblogging to follow a number of people you find interesting, without expecting any direct interaction. This slowly leads to interesting people accumulating followers, which leads to follower counts being a metric for "interestingness". And thus two classes of users are born; followers and celebrities.
The celebrity-oriented approach is what dominates Twitter today, although I think even twitter started as peer-oriented among the early adopters. And the celebrity-oriented approach has mostly been in minority on Mastodon, afaik. (I can only see a corner of the english speaking network, though, so I might be wrong). But it's dominant on twitter, most people are used to the celebrity-oriented approach and struggle with (or are uninterested in) switching to peer-oriented.
This resistance towards adopting peer-oriented contributes to perceived bad user-retention on mastodon, since there's very few recognizable celebrities, so there's very little value on mastodon from a celebrity-oriented perspective. Combine this with the fact that much of the toxicity that Mastodon is designed to avoid is directly related to celebrity-oriented microblogging, it's either switch to peer-oriented or don't use mastodon.
This ultimatum is kinda problematic because (and this is guesswork, I don't have any statistics) most people aren't interested in talking with random strangers on the internet.
Existing friends, yes.
Experts in your field, yes.
Fellow niche enthusiasts, yes.
Random strangers, no.
Peer-oriented microblogging excels at connecting with random strangers.
Celebrity-oriented microblogging excels at connecting with experts in your field.
But since (if we accept my previous postulations) celebrity-oriented is almost always a highway to toxicity, and peer-oriented is optimized for something most people don't want, how do we build a social network for the masses without toxicity?
My answer: give up on context-free microblogging. Build features that support intentional communities instead of singular relations between people. Groups would be a great starting point for this.