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To me, there are two different ways to think and talk about Cohost.

One is that it’s like any other li’l community, like any old phpBB site or mailing list. A dunbar-ish amount of people, 150 or so maybe, have meaningful conversations on such a forum site. Nothing unsustainable or wrong with that. People will naturally drift on and off since too large of a forum site stops being fun. I have some random accounts on TRPG discussion sites like Giant in the Playground or The Piazza, or even corporate ones like Paizo’s own forum. Fun, great, no problem. Yeah, yeah, forum sites can get dangerous when it’s coupled with a database and becomes the singular monolith source-of-truth site like BGG or IMDb, those are problematic. If this is how you approach Cohost, maybe it’s fine. As just another site online, not out to rule the world. Good luck, have fun.

The other is when people talk about Cohost as if it were a competitor to email, fedi, XMPP, IRC, blogs. You know, like Facebook and Twitter. That’s danger zone. And this is how I see most people talk about Cohost. It’s not a forum, it’s social media—you’re not there to only ever talk about guitars or Pathfinder or horse roleplay or spooky fanfic, you’re there with personal blogs. They even bill it as “cohost is a new social media platform”.

Basically the higher the “have to use it”–factor a site has, the more problematic that is. The more it becomes infrastructure.

But the company is so charming, friendly and human? Yeah. Can’t argue with that. It’s an LLC (and it’s difficult to check whether an LLC is filing as non-profit or for-profit). They might well be honestly trying to make the world better. I feel guilty as all heck even writing this essay.

And in the case of Cohost, the blog posts are still world-readable, you can still link to them, is it really worse than Jekyll or Hugo or Flounder or Angelfire or any other blog app or hosting site? Yeah, it is. It’s not just isolated blogs, it’s a whole connected system with comments and likes etc. (Similar to Tumblr and LiveJournal.)

It is infrastructure.

Centralization does have a lot of advantages, but running centralized infrastructure responsibly and democratically is a difficult thing to get right. Just ask Wikipedia or

Like Signal, Cohost describes themselves as a not-for-profit LLC.

Corporate sites have historically been super interoperable good online citizens in the beginning. Then the RSS feeds are shut off. Then you need to be logged in to view. Now, an LLC is not a corporation but, for example, now there’s talk of running ads.

I guess the question I tend to ask myself is: what would happen if every single human on Earth used this? Would I feel OK if this piece of infrastructure vital to the entire planet was in the hands of this particular organization?

That’s why I was happy to see Fedi shrink down to cozy, small, but overlapping-rather-than-isolated bubbles. That’s why I feel fear when I wanted to rent a room but they only gave a Facebook id as their only means of contact.

I’m not used to the American way. I came up in the age of publicly owned companies, like how the Swedish phone company or postal company used to be. Owned by us, the people, and our vote mattered. It doesn’t have to be state-affiliates, either, as Wikipedia and Debian both show. If that’s where Cohost is heading, that might be fine, but it’s not there yet.

I feel like their hearts are in the right places but I wanna stick with Atom and Fedi for publishing and email for just hanging out.