Hobby - Running a Mastodon Server
As I was navigating the relative chaos of choosing a Mastodon server during my sign up, several people recommended that I "just start your own". Being open source, it is relatively straightforward to just build an instance. I've done it for my Ghost blogs (here), and the Wordpress sites I host (for my Wife, my main domain (tralfaz.com) and one fun site for my dogs) so, how hard could it be?
Turns out that it isn't difficult. Masto.host will do a hosted server for you up to a scale that you are comfortable paying for, while handling all the fiddly bits on the back end. Digital Ocean, the company that I rent my "droplets" from for this and my other sites, has a 1 click install for Mastodon. d
But this has some potential pitfalls.
As I was toying with the idea of just rolling my own instance, I was reading some of the official documentation, and one of the recommendations was to set up a cloud based object storage solution (like AWS's S3) to handle things like user uploads of images and videos. Apparently, if you get real traffic, with enough users, the storage can add up, and you likely do not want to run with enough attached storage for this (because $$$).
But it is difficult to get a good read of how much you need.
I was able to find a modestly sized server that had upgraded to support their influx of users in the twitter-pocalyse, currently they are at about 20K active users, and they upgraded to a 6 server cluster, 112 cores, 1TB RAM. Looking at VPS solutions, and that is a bit pricey, about $1K per server at today's (11/13/2022) rates. Granted I would likely never get to that scale, but that is far beyond "hobbyist" level.
At that scale, you are likely to begin to bump up against the included bandwidth allocation, and have some extra charges there.
One thing I didn't consider was how diligent you need to be on security. My small-ish blogs are low traffic, and it was/is pretty easy to lock down the Linux install on them as it is me posting, and the world reading.
But with a social network, you need a lot of interactivity with users, and that provides a lot of attack surfaces for those who like to make life hell for IT people.
A few people I know have started servers, and have commented that very quickly the attacks were inbound, highlighting the nature of the beast, that you can't just set it and forget it, you are constantly on vigilance to guard against a growing array of attack vectors.
Sure, if you are using a service like Masto.host, their network security team handles the details of this, but that is not how I roll.
One thing I do know is that I am not up to the task of constantly battling off attacks. Not my core strength.
Not long after Mastodon went live, there was a write up on the New York Magazine's "Intelligencer" titled "Can Upstart Twitter-CLone Mastodon Create a Nazi-Free Space Online" as to which the answer is clearly "No".
Again, from the accounts of a very tech savvy person I know, once you are attached to the fediverse (the loose amalgamated network of Mastodon servers) you start seeing some really heinous things.
Turns out that the "un-platformed" have just created their new place to let their hair down and dish out metric tons of hate, antisemitism, misogynistic rants, and other really shitty things.
So, you get to "moderate" other servers in the fediverse out of your sphere, even reporting some as they get aggressive, and that brings a wall of trolls to your door.
Thus, if you are running an instance, expect to have a heavy lift for moderation, and seeing a lot of shit come across the timeline.
While I like having geek-y hobbies, this is one that I am going to avoid. It sounds like a sure path to hell, and also to be very un-fun.
From the cost, to having to swat Nazi's, to fending off cyber attacks, this is a lose-lose proposition.
And without some real path to monetization, I just do not see how Mastodon's Fediverse can ever scale to replace Twitter.