Why we created this community

Why we created this community
Photo by Drew Beamer / Unsplash

Today we are officially launching Penfount, a new fountain pen community on Mastodon, and we invite you to join us!

This year has not been a good year for the health of social media. First there was the debacle that was Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter. Then, in the last few weeks, Reddit announced major negative impactful changes, showing us that Reddit Inc.—which monetizes contributions made by users—is unwilling to listen to users or take constructive criticism, and has become an untrustworthy host of user content.

Many of us fountain pen hobbyists had made our home on Reddit’s r/fountainpens. But when this news came out and it became clear what was at stake, some of us started to look at alternatives.

Today is the last day of open API access to Reddit. Essentially, Reddit is closing off their platform to third party tools, which severely impacts accessibility to the vision-impaired, moderation tools widely used by the mod community, and long-time users who prefer not to use the official Reddit web or mobile clients. There has already been a lot of coverage of this situation across the web, so I'll refer you to the following reading:


Why start a new community?

Twitter and Reddit are just two examples of platforms controlled by a single entity that have been massively impacted in content quality by decisions made by the management. Fountain pens is a niche hobby and the information that we accumulate in such a hobby is too valuable to leave in the hands of an unreliable custodian.

It's time to find a new platform where we have control over that information and aren't artificially limited by the profit motive of the corporate sponsor.

To that end, we decided to start a new fountain pen community on Mastodon called Penfount. We went into open beta two weeks ago, and since then, we've already accumulated 200 members, about half Redditors and half people who were already on Mastodon. And we are officially launching today! We'd love for you to join us.

Why Mastodon?

Why did we pick Mastodon over alternatives?

Existing user base

Mastodon has 1M+ active users, and there are already many fountain pen enthusiasts there, scattered throughout the stationery, writing, journaling, and art communities. All we needed to do was create a specific fountain pen community.

One of the reasons why Reddit was a good fit is that there is a pre-existing user base on Reddit. People have come across our community by chance, lurked for a while, and then bought a fountain pen. We have the same advantage on Mastodon— people can use a tool they already know to discover and explore a new interest.

We aren't beholden to a single for-profit entity

The hosting for the Mastodon server is funded by users, so as long as a community exists and is willing to contribute a small amount toward hosting, the community will continue to survive. Even if the server collapses, because of Mastodon's federation model, most of the posts will still survive on other servers as well as on archive.org.

Each Mastodon server may choose what to focus on

Unlike Twitter, each Mastodon server has a local view that is curated by that server's moderators. If you don't want to be bothered by politics or other off-topic issues, you don't have to be.

There are apps

Apps for Mastodon are available for every platform you can think of, including iOS, Android, PC, Mac, and Linux. You can also use the web interface through a browser if you prefer.

Mature software, operational tools, and API

Mastodon's platform software is mature and well-tested. It has a full, mature API that many tools are already built upon and can be used to extend the functionality of Mastodon. We were able to get an open beta up and running in 48 hours!

What about long-term retention?

We plan to write blog posts that capture the most essential, hard to find information on fountain pens. These will be easily searchable through search engines and will summarize and synthesize valuable information and advice given by members, and will be easy for the wider internet and new fountain pen users to find.

I hate Twitter, will I hate Mastodon?

We have built some functionality that gives Penfount more of a group forum feel rather than the discrete microblogs that Twitter tends to devolve into. You can post to the group without following everyone you want to see posts from.

Mastodon servers are also focused rather than all-purpose like Twitter, so you won't be bombarded with irrelevant trends or news topics if you don't want to be.

Many Mastodon clients handle threads very well and are easy to use if you're familiar with Reddit.

Why not [...]?

Why not some other platform?

Why not just move to Discord?

Discord is great, but it's an entirely different format, real-time chat, rather than a forum and thread model. We're looking for something where you can engage when you want to, like when you check your phone during a break at work, while you're waiting for the subway, or when you’re relaxing at the end of the day.

Why not go to Fountain Pen Network?

Fountain Pen Network, while an extremely valuable resource and the home of many esteemed members of the community, is not viable as an alternative to r/fountainpens. It is not discoverable for new community members, it has no mobile interface, and is in general not a platform that makes sense for an internet that has more users on mobile devices than on computers. Web forums were great in 1998, not so much these days.

Why not a Reddit alternative like Lemmy or Kbin?

We did consider these as options, but in the end rejected them because of these issues:

  • The software is immature and would be operationally costly in terms of time, money, and effort to run.
  • Because they are so new, there's an almost-complete lack of moderation tools.
  • The user base on these two platforms is currently very small (just a few weeks ago, it was in the thousands, though in the wake of the "Reddit migration" they are growing fast). Neither of these currently qualifies as a well-supported or well-known platform.

That said, you can follow Penfount from kbin without issues by following @penfount@penfount.social, as this works via ActivityPub federation, the protocol which is shared by these three platforms. This does not currently work with Lemmy as Lemmy's federation code is buggy and problematic; we hope this will be fixed in future.

I have questions!

Send us questions at @penfount@penfount.social and we’ll do our best to answer them!