Boundaries. Your space or mine? (wiki)

@Ryuno-Ki passed this fine discussion on the social dynamic of people being marked “Reply Guys” and the expectations on Boundaries and who ‘owns’ a discussion…


TODO: Create a bullet list of the important observations in the ultra-long thread.

Problem statement

TODO: Describe the major

Possible solutions

Discussion highlights

Note: I started ‘quoting’ the most valuable parts of the public discussion before realizing how long it was. And I found that also doesn’t work for Mastodon (archiving is another controversial issue on the fedi). The fleety nature of microblogging means that these toots can disappear at any moment. […] there are definitely two types of people: repliers who regard the replies as their space, and those who regard it as the OP’s space. On mastodon if you encounter the posting HOA, they very much regard your posts as intruding on their experience; any reply they give is therefore fair game.

I do a lot of replying on here (I’m doing it now!), and sometimes I might be a bad guest, but I try to view myself as a guest in someone else’s replies, and I seem to have a lot of success with that. When someone very obviously sees replies to someone else’s post as their own space where the OP has already intruded, it leads to a lot of conflict and just generally incomprehensibly rude behavior.

Prior to social media, this was much clearer given the affordances of blogs. The comments on A’s blog are very clearly A’s space. If B is being an ass there, they get booted and nobody is confused about why. But on both Twitter and Mastodon, it’s annoyingly vague and there’s no social consensus. I think mastodon might benefit from giving this sort of control to posters, so that people can curate their own audience interactions without running their own patched single-user instance.

A follow-up adds an observation on the data structure of a toot thread that facilitates the behavior: fundamentally we think the structural decision in the platforms that reinforces the current state of things is that everything is flat

like in terms of navigation features and data model, everything is basically just tweets/toots. replies to tweets and toots are themselves tweets and toots. all replies are of the same type (compare BobaBoard and Tumblr). thread navigation features try to make a little sense of it, but that requires extra attention to get anything from.

the result is that social norms which would be obvious if a stranger were walking into your home and shouting at you, or even interrupting you as you walked past them on a public sidewalk, are not immediately obvious to everyone and must be actively constructed.

this flattening isn’t an accident; it had to be actively invented. older platforms didn’t do it to the same degree. the likely core motivation for it is that it drives engagement. more than that, though, someone could even have invented the flattening thinking of it as a good thing for society; erasing distinctions is part and parcel with cyberneticism, which was an active driver in the structure of the early internet.

The flattening is indeed an issue. Replies often go off on a tangent, or repeat things already discussed in another (flattened) fork of the thread, and these replies are treated as OP’s by other people seeing the toot in their timeline, thus reinforcing the dynamic of “everyone’s space” and increasing outrage of true OP, if they have other expectation.

Another person elaborates the key observations further… I want to start off by saying I agree completely – nay, ardently – with this observation that conversation on the Fediverse is largely pathological because there is no sense of people having spaces that are theirs. There’s two important parts of this.

There’s the “flatness”, as you’ve put it, @irenes: the user experience here simply doesn’t communicate that there are different spaces one is moving between. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say there aren’t spaces.

In any event, users haven’t got a prayer of having any sense that they are in somebody else’s space – much less realized they should moderate their conduct accordingly – unless they come from some other online world, such as blogs, and carry over that paradigm.

Another way of putting this is that there are no visible boundaries. Good fences, the poet wrote, make good neighbors. Boundaries aren’t just for keeping people in or out, they’re lintels and doorways.

Boundaries let us know when we’re supposed to toggle our behavior from one mode into another. When you enter the library, you lower your voice. When you enter the house party, you go to greet the host. Visible boundaries let us know when we’re free to treat a place like our own, and when we are to conduct ourselves as guests in somebody else’s space.

We don’t have those here.

And the thing is, there are plenty of people out there in the face-to-face who even when they have all the signposts and fences in the world are still a little confused by the idea that different spaces, different contexts, actually have different norms and require different conduct.

So my theory as to how and why this happened here is a little different. I think it was something of an accident, but it was glommed onto by users who LIKE this.

I mean, this problem here is directly inherited from Twitter. The people who built this thing built it to be like Twitter in this particular way.

I think that this flatness of Twitter and now of Mastodon is actually regarded as a feature by a certain population of users.

I think that out there are users who like the idea of not having to be a guest in other people’s spaces to interact with them, who like the absence of boundaries.

A response notes absence of boundaries (bad) vs. absence of power hierarchies (good)… I want to be clear that the tone I am saying this with is reverence and enthusiastic agreement with everything you’ve said in this thread, but if I may “yes, and” a bit: there’s a very fine line between the absence of boundaries (very bad) and the absence of arbitrary hierarchies of power (very good) and unfortunately a lot of design decisions that get you one also get you the other

Next is an observation how online UX patterns don’t match day-to-day offline activities… so we’ve chewed a lot on this and we think that current platforms make access decisions in a kind of ongoing, forever-until-changed kind of way

which does not at all match social patterns that work well in physical reality. when you invite someone to a party you’re hosting that is a one-time decision. you aren’t making a binding ruling on who they can hang out with elsewhere or later, only on this one event.

we need to create online spaces whose metaphors facilitate these recurring, one-time opt-in things, rather than ongoing ones. make it an active decision who you spend time with.

hard block will always need to be there (for example, for the angry ex-partner threat model), but the goal should be to architect everything so that it’s very rarely needed


  • Also discussed at FSDL Social Coding chatroom where among others @Houkime added some good insights to consider.
  • Cross-referencing to RadiFedi idea wrt giving more opportunity to UX designers to think about innovative UI patterns for the fedi.
    • Also mentioned an idea to organize “Design Jam’s” similar to @Houkime’s Fedijam concept, but for UX design sketches, going from problem statement + solution directions.