Ben Werdmüller, on Mastodon and the future of Twitter:
“Twitter, but decentralized” is an example of a solution to a problem that has been defined in technical or ideological terms, but doesn’t come from a direct user need. As ideological proponents of decentralization, we might want the user to need federated Twitter, we might think they need it, but without a deep understanding of the users, all we’re doing is projecting our hopes and dreams onto them. Is their need decentralized Twitter, is it a network where they can connect to breaking news but also feel safe from abuse, or is it something else entirely?
This lesson is one that it took me a long time to learn. It’s the reason that all of the Facebook alternatives from 5-10 years ago (Ello, anyone? Diaspora?) never took off, and why you can’t convince any of your friends to start using your open-source app even though it is more secure. It’s why 99% of people will happily click the “Log in with Google” button for any random site or service rather than setting up their own account.
All of these services may be better than what they are intended to replace, but the problems they solve are second-order problems for users. Telling people to switch to a different app because it is open-source, or because it decentralized, or because it is built and supported by a nonprofit entity requires them to understand all of that and to think through those issues.
Maybe you think they should be doing that anyway, but I don’t think most people want their use (or not) of some app or website to involve a worldview or a philosophy. They just want to see photos of their grandkids, or post their own photos, or say what they had for lunch.