The toot that (may or may not have been) heard around the world

This post makes me sad. I, an instance owner with a sizeable population of folks on it, didn’t quite comprehend the idea behind likes and presumed the world was experiencing the experience I was.

They weren’t.

Let’s explore a little bit about the realities of federation and what this means to our users. It’s not just like’s that have quirks around here.

Somewhat Federated

@[email protected] did this incredibly detailed post that everyone should read expressing their concerns about likes – and how the community responds to them. It’s what inspired me to add to their already well thought out story.

It’s important you pay attention to the language in the posts. It’s important that we respect what people expect here. It’s important we listen to our users – the people using the network and having expectations of it.

These are things I’m paying attention to myself.

Can you hear me now?

In November, George Takei joined us with one simple post. And when I say us, I typically meant “the fediverse” or “mastodon”. Or at least, so I thought…

On the surface, we know we don’t see any counts by default. But when a user on clicks through to this post, they see this:

Look at those 5k reblogs and nearly 10,000 likes.

That’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm!!!


It was reported that other instances say 1-2 reblogs and 1-2 likes.

This leads to a lot of questions.

How is this acceptable?

It’s designed like this. Likes only get federated to the instance someone replies from and the source of the post. If someone boosted Takei and they were federated to your server, you may only see 1 boost and as low as 0 likes.

Go check out the thread and see the thousands of replies too (may be slow to load). In addition to under federated likes, you may not have known there were all these replies either.

How can we fix this?

Federate likes :) Relay More. Relay boosts. Relay deletes. Relay Edits. Make the actions we take more assured as much as they can be.

Why don’t we fix this?

It’s intentional.

What is the problem?

FOMO – Fear of missing out. This is an easy one to focus on.

If you weren’t on – you didn’t have the same experience, we did. If you didn’t have the same experience we did, y’all wondered what Byron was talking about with the “toot heard around the world”. That’s so unfortunate.

Worst off, to me – this means choosing instances is choosing something. It matters where you are. It doesn’t matter that we’re federated, heavily relayed and heavily sharing – nope. It matters that you have the right people, right following, right locality and what people want and somehow, they chose universeodon.

The fear of instance selection is real…

All is not lost.

We can address this concern. We can federate likes. We can give users the ability to enable or disable likes/boosts. We could also give instance admins optionality here. Me, being biased to a public instance with public figures and people doing things for public exposure – I’d like to say, “All in on federated”. Instance that don’t have this behavior – may want to be in “limited federated”. Which mode your instance is in should be obvious to those who choose it or are constrained within it.

Beyond this – Elk does a wonderful job here. Elk empowers users to configure their own experience. I don’t think we need to speak for users as instance owners or developers and tell them how their experience should be. They should be able to choose it.

Elk Wellbeing settings

Let’s Explore More

When you go to the Explore tab in Elk or Mastodon – you see more counts. We don’t tend to hide them here because they’re already trending (at least, this is my understanding/interpretation). But these numbers aren’t even federated that deeply.

This doesn’t seem to cause any issues… But the likes… only 6 likes and 19 comments? Let’s open this remote post and see what the real numbers are.

Woah… 272 reblogs and almost 200 likes.

My explore tab isn’t terribly far off on reblogs but off by magnitudes on likes.

As a user – what kind of experience does this create for you?

What is the reason for this behavior?

We’re loosely coupled systems in what we call a federation where likes aren’t federated beyond the server where the post originated and the person liking the post.

The current reality is your choice of instance can have a major impact on your social experience.

We don’t reflect this on join mastodon.

There is FOMO we’re not recognizing.

There is FOMO we’re not respecting.

And I don’t know why it is the way it is or why we don’t give users and instances the ability to configure this and have this setting known.

How I think it should be.

Personal opinion time. I think public posts are public. Let’s start there. I think that if a public post gets lots of likes, boosts and replies and those public posts are on federated servers, that experience of that post should be federated – as well as a loosely coupled system can be federated.

That’s it. That’s kind of the shtick of social media public posts as every other network treats it…

Users shouldn’t have to choose because it’s the main instance.

Users shouldn’t have to choose because it’s got specific users.

If users don’t want to be exposed to public timelines, they should opt in for limited federation servers and the limits of that federation should be imposed in known ways. Or we should preserve “unlisted” types and make it a first-rate citizen so unlisted posts aren’t in trends, aren’t searchable, aren’t indexed on google, aren’t hashtaged discoverable and won’t be boosted/liked to expose people who don’t want these social behaviors. (I believe this undertone sets the precedence for everyone else’s behaviors which is why I’m saying this aloud)

In my mind, if I as an instance owner say I’m a mastodon server with general topics, those general topics should be general across the federation of general topic servers.

I work hard to make this as true as I can by running relays and joining relays and being deeply relayed.

I don’t run a mastodon instance for any other reason than for people to be social. I don’t judge who joins, I don’t restrict who joins, I don’t have qualifications of who joins. I have expected behaviors for those who are here to uphold the values of our federation and the values of our community. We moderate, we uphold our rules, we uphold the mastodon covenants, but my main goal is to assure that the service runs as expected and that people have expected behaviors when on a social network.

It feels like we’re failing at the expected behaviors.

These behaviors may be intentional and by design. I don’t dispute this. It’s my own dumb fault for assuming anything less… Or is it?

How can we hold opposing views at the same time?

Server choice doesn’t matter – but it does. If you want likes.

Server choice doesn’t matter – but it does. If you want reach.

Server choice doesn’t matter – but it does. If you feel you need a specific niche community.

Server choice doesn’t matter – but it does. If you believe servers are here to provide some security/coverage and their own opinion of what social means. (This is the one many struggle with – not that it shouldn’t happen, but it’s not my expected behavior)


Can we do less deciding for users and do more to give them choice? (see elk)

Can we do less deciding for admins and do more to give them choice? (maybe we need federation modes that are clearly presented to users?)

Or if this *is* meant to be federated and server choice doesn’t matter – can we do more to assure that? Federate likes? aggressively federate boosts? Relay more?

The hardest part for me, is as someone trying to build the best social network they can – I have no influence here other than writing a blog. So, here’s my blog.