Similar writing elsewhere

As this was sitting in my drafts space waiting to be published, Xe Iaso wrote a satirical post about email that I’m guessing is trying to make the same arguments that I am. Assuming that is correct, she goes into a lot more detail with the various frustrations.

I could also be misreading her post . That’s the trouble with satire.

Epistemic Status: seedling Sprouting


I recently found out about Takahē. I haven’t explored it yet, but it’s supposed to be able to support bringing your own domain, which might solve my big complaint below.

I haven’t jumped into the whole federated social media space yet. I was never really that involved on Twitter, and Facebook/Meta is something I’d prefer to have less and less to do with. I do think that public conversations can be productive, assuming they don’t devolve into whatever Twitter/𝕏 is these days.

Mastodon seems like the popular new thing, but there’s an aspect of it that bothers me and I haven’t gotten a good answer on. Maybe it’s just something that hasn’t been considered yet, or maybe it has and I’m unaware of the solution already existing.

To explain, I need to talk about email.

Email, the first federated social media?

It could be argued that email was the first federated social media service. You don’t need to use an app from a single company to use it, you don’t have to rely on anyone else to host it if you don’t want to. And you can usually send an email to anyone as long as you know their address.

In some ways, that sounds like the definition of federated social media:

  • no centralized application or server required
  • regardless of what you use to host your content, anyone can reach you as long as they know your identifier

But there’s another thing that email allows you to do that, as far as I can see, none of the new federated media solutions offer.

I’ve been using the same email address for almost 20 years now. That doesn’t mean it has been hosted in the same place for all of those years. For a large portion of that time it was hosted by Google, using a free Google Suite account. After they planned to eliminate that I started looking for other hosting options. For a year, I gave a try. I’ve written about the reasons that I moved away from them even though I think they were great, and now I’m using Proton Mail.

I never had to change my email address because I own it. With an email like you don’t own that, it’s owned by Google.1 While you can export your emails, you can’t take that address with you.

I own my email address because it’s attached to my domain. Where my email is hosted is determined by the MX records in my DNS configuration.

You can’t easily own your Mastodon address

When you create an account on a Mastodon instance, you get an address very similar to an email address. For example, something like @johndoe@hachyderm.io2 isn’t owned by you, and you can’t take it with you if you want to move to a different server. Unless I want to take up the work of hosting my own server and dealing with whether the rest of the network will allow me to connect, I don’t have an option to delegate that without giving up on owning my address.

This is a similar pain that faces most who try to host their own email server. At some point you have to deal with the rest of the world wrongly considering your emails as spam and blocking you. Dylan Beattie discusses this issue and mentions that it’s why he stopped hosting his own email server.

But because email and DSN grew up together, they were able to include support for indicating what server should be responsible for the email going to a domain, via the MX record type. Mastodon and other ActivityPub services don’t have that luxury.

There may not be any way to support this at the protocol layer, I’d have to take a look, but if true makes me less optimistic about its future. Anything at the DNS layer would have to be tacked on, at least in the short term, and that’s hampered by those that complain about DNS being centralized.

And so I haven’t started using it, because I don’t want to have to change addresses later. I might change my mind, but for now I’ll sit on the sidelines.


  1. This is similar to why I don’t use Google or Facebook or anything else for login at other services, because if those login services ever decide to ban your account, you’ve now lost access to all those other services you used them to login with. It’s great for situations like companies using SSO, but then, those things also don’t belong to you. Just use a password manager to handle all your accounts for you.

  2. I’m not picking on Hackyderm here, I’m just using it as an example.