Support Independent Scholarly Communication Infrastructure This Giving Tuesday

Want the TL;DR? We’re seeking donations to support our Mastodon server! If you believe this is a worthwhile cause and are in a position to help, we would be hugely grateful for your donation.


Academic communities need infrastructure, just as our local communities do. And infrastructure requires investment, which is why this Giving Tuesday we’re asking for your support for a new piece of infrastructure we have recently launched: hcommons.social, our Mastodon server.

Mastodon is an open source, decentralized social network developed by a non-profit that is gaining steam as an alternative to the increasingly unstable Twitter. For better or worse, Twitter has become an established part of the academic infrastructure, and while its issues have never been invisible, especially to those who are most harmed by them, recent events have pushed many to find a new space for their academic and social networks to live and grow.

We’ve long been in the infrastructure game, and see this new commitment as important to our work to ensure there are viable options for researchers, students and educators looking for an alternative to for-profit, extractive social media platforms.

Our experience also means we know that maintaining infrastructure is like the duck feet paddling hard under the surface of the water.

Recently, our Mastodon duck hasn’t been so subtle in its paddling as we find and fix the many kinks that have come with launching and seeing it grow so quickly. We’re thrilled that there has been such great uptake, and want to be sure we can continue to support this growth.

Clearly, though, with that commitment comes costs. And this Giving Tuesday, we’re asking for your help so we can continue to invest time and resources in growing hcommons.social.

Right now, our major costs are hosting and maintenance. The former we are currently covering with DigitalOcean credit and the latter is currently covered by volunteer labour. As a rule, we dislike not paying people for their time, so this is a big piece where we hope you as a community can support us to engage someone (or several someones) more regularly and adequately compensate them for their work. Right now, hosting is estimated at $150 per month and we’ve estimated support and maintenance at an additional $150 per month.

In addition, we are planning to establish a moderator community who can take on duties like responding to reported behaviour, approving new accounts and monitoring for spam. Once again, our goal is to be able to offer these moderators a small honorarium for their contributions. We’ve estimated this cost at $200 a month to start.

With these in mind, our goal for this Giving Tuesday campaign is to fund 6 months of hosting, maintenance and moderation for a total of $3000. Can we do it? There’s only one way to find out!!

If you’re as invested as we are in a future where communities build the product, instead of being the product, and in a position to contribute, we would be hugely grateful for your donation. And if you want to know anything more before making a commitment, please reach out to @hello@hcommons.social on Mastodon, or hello@hcommon.org (good old fashioned email).

Thank you for all your support,

The HCommons Team

Humanities Commons Launches Mastodon Server Open to Scholars

Anyone using or observing Twitter will be well aware of the recent purchase of the company, which throws the future of the platform into, at best, uncertainty, and at worst, turmoil.

In response, many scholars have been considering a move to Mastodon, a non-profit, federated alternative social network. Being federated, Mastodon requires access to a server (here’s more on how Mastodon works), which is where we come in.

In response to community requests and our own recognition of the potential in this moment, we are launching hcommons.social, a Mastodon server open to all scholars (which we take to include: researchers, librarians, instructors, students, staff and anyone else with an active interest in research and education.) While we expect this space to lean Humanities-heavy, we leave it up to users whether it feels like the place they want to be. To start, there will be no limit on sign-ups, though we will review that policy over time as we learn more about the costs and overhead of managing the server.

We’ve moved quickly to get this up and running, and are doing so in the spirit of experimentation. We’ve never done this before. Many of the people who use it will probably not have either. So we’re going to have to figure things out together!

To start, we are putting in place:

  1. Server rules that prioritize harm reduction and will be enforced via…
  2. A clear moderation policy,

And if you’re new to Mastodon, a wonderful HC user has created an excellent guide to getting started.

As the server grows (or doesn’t), we will be reassessing what is needed and will want to hear what you need to get the most from the space. There are lots of outstanding questions around costs, level of interest, support needs and our capacity, but we’re of the opinion that we can best answer those by diving in with you all! We’re also lucky to be launching in a moment where more how-tos are being created than ever before, so we encourage you to draw on those as our expertise and support capacity are still developing.

In that spirit, and to help make this undertaking a little more sustainable for our team, we’re inviting anyone who might be interested in becoming a moderator to register their interest. It is early days figuring out what this looks like and what the needs are, but if you throw your hat in the ring we will reach out when we know more.

More than anything, we are excited to see what you all will do with this opportunity.

As a team, we are deeply invested in creating spaces where community interactions are the focus, not just a front for selling advertising, mining data and extracting value. Whatever anyone’s predictions, the acquisition of Twitter by a billionaire technocrat is just another chapter in a long history of platform commercialization and enclosure, which is inextricable from the trend of increasing harm to minoritised users and communities, predominantly Black, Brown, Disabled, Queer, and Trans people.

This history is not so different from the legacy of publisher gatekeeping, platform monopolisation and data extraction that we at Humanities Commons are combating through the provision of open, values-driven, academy-owned infrastructure for digital scholarly work. 

In other words, we are always on the lookout for opportunities to create spaces of radical possibility. We hope you all have fun exploring this one.