In the winter of 1994 I bought my first personal computer. A Gateway 2000 with a 486 33SX processor, 170MB hard drive and a 15-inch monitor. At my day job we were using OS/2 Warp and a CASE tool to create new code, so naturally I erased the Windows installation that came on the PC and put Warp in its place.
I no longer remember the name of the web browser that Warp had, but I do vividly remember being on a site hosted somewhere in Australia that let you control a robot arm from your computer. You got a picture from a camera, a still picture, showing you some blocks within reach of the arm. You could enter commands to try and pick up a block and move it. You were allowed 5 minutes control, and then it passed to someone else.
It seemed like the early World Wide Web was filled with new and fascinating destinations. There was the guy who wanted to see how fast he could light charcoal. Using a cheap $2 grill and a 20 pound bag of charcoal and some liquid oxygen, he managed to not only light, but completely consume, the charcoal in about 2 seconds.
Everyday there was another site to explore. Things didn’t always work, connection speeds were glacial, and browser standards were years in the future. Even with all the rough edges it was exciting and invigorating.
Over time the web has become homogenized, parts of it are walled gardens, and very little of it has the same “let’s see what we can do with this” energy. An unexpected side effect of the turmoil at Twitter has been the discovery of a tiny corner of the Internet that has some of that “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” energy. Mastodon.
Quite by happenstance I discovered a small Mastodon instance called Hachyderm.io. Originally a small Mastodon instance for a couple hundred people, it has exploded in size to over 30,000 members in less than a month. This has not been without some growing pains. The core team, led by Kris Nóva (@firstname.lastname@example.org), has risen to the challenge, risen and soared. Through her Twitch channel, The Kris Nova Show, @nova has taken us all along as the Ops team has dealt with scaling from a set of servers in a basement rack, to a co-location service in Germay, with proxy servers geographically spread out.
It has been bumpy at times, but it has been fun too. Seeing how other system administrators deal with production issues in real time has been some of the best stuff I’ve seen online in a very long time.
I now see that my previous social media experience had become a large, often angry, frequently anger inducing, echo chamber. Like a traffic accident that you can’t not look at, Twitter has become an unhealthy place. Moving to Mastodon, and to Hachyderm in particular, has shown me that you can get positive energy from social media. It has also brought back a bit of that “what happens when we try this” feeling the Internet had in 1994.