Overview of the Fediverse May 2020

The growing problem

I first joined the Fediverse in 2016 back when it was mostly just GNU Social instances. I was frustrated with twitter somewhat, but looking back at it, I don't know what we were complaining about. Compared to the modern tech platform landscape, 2016 was idyllic. Silicon Valley have appointed themselves the unelected dictators of public discourse and are decreasingly shy about abusing their authority, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes truly believing they are doing the right thing and sometimes because they have an agenda of their own, chiefly to make money, but sometimes more. I don't have to convince you Facebook and Twitter and Youtube are evil, it's self evident. Modern tech companies are just plain no good.

Whatever rough edges free alternatives have, they can't be so bad that we should continue to tolerate the abuse of such a big part of our lives any longer than we have to. And I agree, completely switching to the free web is nearly impossible and often impractical. But that doesn't mean you have to accept the current situation, even if you can tolerate it now, it will eventually become intolerable. So let's take a look at some current alternative platforms and my experiences with them. There are many more projects in the works including some I'm working on the very very early stages of, but these examples are some of the most popular and feature complete ones I've come across.

Mastodon/Pleroma

Most of you probably know about mastodon and some of you may have even heard of pleroma. Micro-blogging websites are one of my favorite pastimes, possibly yours too. One in particular is extremely annoying, we hate it, we call it “hellsite” for a reason, but we can't seem to get the fuck away from it. That's part of the torture, all your friends are there. The people who develop it don't know how the vast majority of it's users use it, the people in privileged positions on the network actively hate you and the POTUS is threatening countries with genocide on it. We all know the deal, we endure the horror and we get to spend times with our friends. It's not a good deal.

I know some of you still have some Mastodon accounts that haven't been touched in 3 years or more since the last big twitter exodus so I urge you to either dig out those accounts or make new ones or self host an instance like I did. The Fediverse has grown much since then. With almost 1.4 million active users(from about 4.7 million accounts) it's quite a big place now and the software has improved a bit. Not to mention the Fediverse is not just twitter clones now, there are a lot of other apps that all speak the same protocol and we'll talk about them later on, but it's way more interesting now than it was in 2017.

If you already have an account somewhere and if your server is still active, you most likely are all set. For those of you who didn't take a part in the old exodus, here are some basics:

There are two main implementations: Mastodon and Pleroma. They have different UIs but they're essentially twitter like sites, you post and follow people, etc. There are thousands of Mastodon instances and hundreds of Pleroma instances running right now. Each with their own moderation and blocking policy. And of course should their admins choose to let it, they can all talk to each other. So which one should you choose?

I went with Pleroma because I wanted to host a server just for myself. I don't want to be responsible for other users but I also don't want to be subject to somebody else's moderation policy and so I self-host and Pleroma uses less resources in general on the server so I can use a cheaper VPS.

If you're not going to self-host you should instead be guided by what the moderation policy and the general vibe of the community is. Pick one that seems to vibe with you and don't worry too much about what software they use underneath.

Just be advised that some instances allow content that would more than likely get them blocked by other instances, for example sexual drawings that are not obviously depicting adults while legal in some places is highly illegal in others and most admins take 0 chances with that sort of thing. Other instances have extremely lax moderation standards and they often become problems for their neighbors, so pick something permissive enough that you don't feel your self-expression is hampered, but not so permissive that all your friends get to only talk to you from behind the fence other people put around your waste dump of a community :)

If you do choose to self-host, then you're in luck, because it's actually fairly easy if you know a bit of linux. I would recommend self-hosting a private instance though, one where it's only you and maybe some of your very close friends you trust not to abuse the instance since moderating a public instance is a challenge. But if you're up to it, that's an option as well. My personal bias is towards small instances though, where the moderation policy is easier to tailor to the community rather than the other way around. The Free World is unfortunately more dangerous than the walled garden, but it's totally worth it.

Once you get to the fediverse, you can follow me on my account

Useful links Join Mastodon Pleroma

Peertube

Peertube is essentially the same thing as the above two, but for video. Peertube also utilizes p2p technology to improve streaming performance and it's definitely the most interesting thing happening on the fediverse right now. We all know how fucked up Youtube is. Content just straight up dissapears, people's accounts get wiped due to overeager algorithms and some of the policies are as batshit filled as the bottom of a cave. An actual attempt is being made to provide a viable alternative and it's very exiting. The platform works on the same principle as mastodon/pleroma. There are many servers who all talk to each other so you can subscribe to channels from other instances. Since they use ActivityPub, the same protocol as Mastodon and Pleroma, you can actually comment on videos and subscribe to channels from your ordinary mastodon account. It's rad as hell. You don't even need an account in order to start following content, you just need to subscribe to some channels from a preexisting mastodon account.

But if you are a video creator, there are again many instances you can join or even host your own. They'll need a court order to get rid of your videos if you do, no algo police, real police have to deal with real layers :)

Useful links: Join Peertube

Funkwhale

This one might be my favorite. Like absolutely everybody I started a podcast recently and while I originally hosted it on Soundcloud, I decided that the free tier wasn't quite enough space as I wanted. Plus, I wanted to use my own domain and have more control over my content, so I self-hosted a Funkwhale instance. The deal is exactly the same as the above systems, except it's for audio. It's features include channels, albums, artists, playlists, you can publish your own music or just follow artists you like and because it's just ActivityPub again, you can even subscribe to channels from outside of Funkwhale with your mastodon or Pleroma account. Give it a try.

Also you can listen and subscribe to my podcast here

Useful links: Funkwhale

Writefreely

Writefreely is an adorable little blogging engine that also talks the ActivityPub protocol. It's minimalist and sparse on features, but good enough. You might be reading this post on my private instance, unless you've followed my blog or somebody boosted a post into your timeline, in which case you might be reading it from your mastodon account. It supports markdown, has drafts and is actually dead simple to set up on a server with just a little bit of linux skill. If you've thought about starting a blog, it's a great option.

If you're not reading this on my blog, but somewhere else on the Fediverse, you can subscribe to the blog here

Useful links: Writefreely

Conclusion

These are some of my favorite apps on the Fediverse, but there are many more. Wordpress has an activity pub plugin allowing it to share it's content on the fediverse. The insanely awesome self-hosted cloud storage system NextCloud also has fediverse functionality. I didn't even mention Pixelfed which is a federated image sharing site or hubzilla, and many many others. You can check them all out at fediverse.party and I urge you to do it. The are so many apps listed there I haven't even looked at a 10th of them. This is an extremely exiting and vibrant ecosystem with many bright minds working on it and no single clear hegemonic vision. We're done with the big dick startup founders telling us how to use the web, it's ours now. No rules on our servers but the rules we make ourselves!