Quoting the internet

Published January 29, 2023

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I’ve only been on Mastodon for just a couple of days but already been very curious about the discussion over ‘quote tweeting’. On Twitter, the quote tweet is a much-used feature that allows you to embed a previous tweet in your own and add thoughts. It was brought in to help users share other posts without eating too much into your own character count. This hasn’t been a feature on Mastodon (helped by the fact the character count is higher anyway!) but now more people are flooding to the service, it’s become a highly requested addition.

I’m not really fussed either way - if you could quote posts, I probably would, but it’s not a feature I’ve been missing so far. I do think it’s a really interesting turn of events though, indicative of the difficulties running a potential social media phenomenon.

The reason Mastodon haven’t gone for quote-tooting (I guess that’s what we’re calling it?) is that it has been a tool that cyberbullies have made good use of. It has been cited as a part of Twitter’s toxicity, so understandable that it might be something you want to steer clear of. You can’t be an alternative to Twitter if you make all the same moves and mistakes as they did. Many people use quoting for good, but not everyone, and that’s where the problem lies.

At the moment, Mastodon is made up of good people and they can be trusted to quote responsibly, and they want to have the option to do so. It makes sense that there are now rumblings that it’s being looked at for the future roadmap.

There are a few ways this could play out otherwise:

  • it’s open source software, so someone will fork it and do it on their own
  • apps and clients will find workarounds to make quoting possible and the web experience becomes poorer, so may as well do it
  • founders get hassled into submission because there’s so much noise about it (you can’t mute everybody)

It’s such a fascinating problem, because if you made the site to be something and so many users want something else, do you stick to your guns or go with the flow? Does it end up being something you didn’t quite imagine it would be? Is that the price of success?

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