My time as moderator here has convinced me thusly: Mastodon will never achieve any sort of real success, for two reasons: 1) the same reason Twitter can’t get rid of Nazis, and 2) Elon Musk (or well, folks like him.)
There are too many people who genuinely don’t care about what they post or what others think. Nazis post on Twitter because the odds that their words will ever have consequences are slim to none, but the very nature of twitter allows them to respond to prominent, significant members of society and borrow some of their whuffie to have their irrelevance amplified. This is doubly true for those who respond with garbage bacause that amplification will create irrelevant (to them) conflict and strife. They get to make the ants scurry, and it’s fun, and has zero cost or consequence for them.
Discourse started out with a lot of features that operate from the position that fostering good-faith conversations (and providing the tools to do so) will result in more good conversation. But this is one of the oldest Discourse instances that exist, and it’s become increasingly clear that the issues this forum (and others like it) face are people who aren’t interested in discussion at all, they’re interested in upsetting people for fun, because they can walk away whenever, and people cannot ignore others on the internet. So, they have a neverending stream of free energy from both good-natured folks who are trying to have a genuine conversation with people that don’t care, and from people who are fed up, tired of fighting on every front, but still can’t stop feeding the energy leeches when they appear.
When you distribute authority for a discussion network to, basically, anyone who wants to run an instance, you make it nearly impossible to get rid of these people. There are an ever-increasing number of places they can choose to call home in Mastodon, and they don’t care if their account (or instance) is banned, they’ll just go to another location that can reach the same people and keep peddling shit, or, find a new source of energy to leech from. Decentalization makes this worse, not better.
But the second reason is that as long as there are people who believe that “free speech as defined by the law” is reasonable, they are giving the group of people in reason #1 a voice. Groups will consolidate (or already have) around evolving ideas of “permitted” speech and will eventually end up with a heavily moderated environment that has a cap on how large it can grow due to moderator cost and effort (Hello, BBS!), or, run into the same problems Twitter has and realize the only way to grow big is to accept that the people in reason #1 are going to be on your network.
So you end up with little mastodon groups that never get enough critical mass to matter, or open mastodon groups that quickly become too much of a cesspool to matter, or, another Twiter that fails everyone by trying to please everyone.
There’s no doubt that mastodon gives everyone the opportunity to move to the community they want and to move on when they want to move on, but make no mistake, those same strengths will prevent it ever being anything more than it is today, unless where it ends up looks an awful lot like Twitter.
Until someone figures out a way to finance a heavily moderated, principled and speech-restricted community that we can all adopt, communities larger than this BBS will always, eventually, turn to shit.