WTF is The Fediverse? by@hellquist
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WTF is The Fediverse?

by Mathias HellquistOctober 28th, 2021
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Instead of using centralized and advertising-algorithm driven social media services that not only consume your private details, but also has affected the outcome in what should have been democratic elections around the globe, you should explore the de-centralized open source alternatives of The Fediverse, such as Mastodon, Pleroma, Friendica etc.

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You might have seen me on Facebook/Twitter saying something along the lines of that you/we/all should stop using "Big Tech" social media services, and look at how you can start using alternative services.

There are many reasons for using alternatives to Facebook and Twitter. The reasons might differ from person to person as well. For me the main reasons are related to privacy and leaking private details. On top of that I also wish to truly own my originally posted content (however mundane that content might be), as it is mine.

This also means that I don't like the theoretical and possible threat of me being banned/blocked/moderated from a service also means I will not be able to access my own content that I have posted. By using, and posting, original content on Facebook/Twitter/YouTube, that will always be a risk.

The debate about "free speech" that has been surrounding the blocking of accounts on both Twitter and later Facebook are merely showing the symptoms of the problem with having big centralised services. For what it is worth I don't consider Twitter/Facebook to have "broken" free speech. They are private companies, not public services, and they removed elements from their "free" services that caused a lot of trouble. It is well within their rights to do so.

Ban-hammers and your post content

But as nice as it has been to be spared the raging lunacy of certain Twitter accounts, the legislation that has governed how/what/when/where the services are "responsible" or not, is being looked in to at this very moment. The big services in turn are responding preemptively, by making sure that they are covered for any eventuality regarding any changes in the law.

All the big tech social media services are now going through all the content shared/communicated on their services. Your content. Your messages. Even your private messages. They do this to ensure you are not breaking rules that will put them in to trouble.

When the alt-right/fascist/conspiracy chase has calmed down a bit the big services will start looking at any and all content, posted by everyone. In fact, it has already started, and even I and some of my friends have been on the wrong end of that too many times. All kinds of content is now being caught in erratic faulty content blocking algorithms, or worse, manually checked by someone under-paid who has absolutely no clue where to find the latest, and currently correct, information on complex topics.

I can't even fault the big tech services for doing "something". They kind of have to. It is just...I don't want to be a part of it. I don't want them to have, and own, all my data, my thoughts and my conversations. I don't need them to know what I like/dislike only for their benefit to place better ads in front of my eyeballs, or to prioritize showing me posts from one user instead of another, thus building and re-enforcing opinion bubbles in their hope of increased interaction, when it instead destabilizes democracy.

Those opinion bubbles are a huge part of the problem in today's society which has been massively divided, on all kinds of topics, and is kept that way thanks to the algorithms of big tech social media services.

Looking at alternatives

All of that possibly kind of makes sense to you, and you now wonder what alternatives you have? Glad you asked (you did, didn't you?), as that is the first step of breaking free, or at least attempting to regain control over your part/contribution in all of it.

Unfortunately here are no quick and easy answers.

Firstly people should probably have a think about how and why they use social media today, and ask themselves if they consider that to actually be the target when looking for new/other services. That will help you set the goalposts and make it easier to work out if you are getting closer to your goal (or further away) when you are looking at features and capabilities of alternative services.

In reality most people have probably not given this much thought at
all. They are using functionality on the services because that functionality exist, not out of preference after having compared to other services. Yet many people on Facebook are not on Twitter (and vice versa) due to some quite specific-to-them reasons.

Therefore, trying to replace Facebook with a Twitter clone might not be the ideal way forward either, and can for sure set people up for disappointment.

Examples of goals you can set to look for in other services:

  • Not have an "algorithm" for the feed, and the feed should be in chronological order
  • No Advertising
  • Be able to share longer posts than Twitter allow for today (which is 280 characters)
  • Be able to upload photos and to find those photos again (document storage and/or photo album)
  • Have interest-focused groups
  • Be able to group your friends and to post to a selection of them
  • Do I like the look/layout of how posts are presented?

Those are just example goals. You might have others. It is probably wise to also set a priority of importance of those things for yourself. Is any single one of the things on your list an absolute "must-have" or a direct "no-no"?

It can also be noted that the Big Tech services out there indeed are very good at what they do. They have invested millions (to make billions) making their services easy to use, and to create a glitch-free experience for their users. That is how they can reel in as many people as possible, which in turn means more advertising money.

Most alternative services are often developed and run by happy amateur groups, working on Open Source projects, that mainly stick together due to a shared conviction "they are doing the right thing", but without any type of pay or monetary reward.

In my search for viable alternatives to the Big Tech services I have signed up for, and used, most of the "alternative" services out there to try them out first-hand, with the main exceptions of Parler and Gab. Basically I have excluded platforms that are infamous for hosting alt-right/fascist/conspiracy people. That is not to say those people aren't spreading out over all the other services. They do, but I have wished to avoid services where they have stated and claimed/announced meeting points as their own.

The Fediverse

Currently my choice has fallen upon using a set of different services within what is commonly referred to as "The Fediverse". You can read this article where they answer "What is the Fediverse?".

In short: The Fediverse is a collective of several separate services, each with their own characteristics, that can talk and interact with most other services on The Fediverse. Much like email, you and your friends can have separate email providers, but you can still send emails to each other. The Fediverse works in a similar way.

Each of those services are "federated". This means there is no central server somewhere that manages everything. They are unified by using the same communication protocols. Each of the services have their own "instances" (servers) and each instance can be as generic or as specific on whatever topic and/or interest group as the administrator of that instance feels like.

There are literally thousands of "instances", with anything from 1 user to hundreds of thousands of users on that instance. There are more than 4 million people in total on the federated services.

4 million is a far cry smaller than Facebook/Twitter, who count users in billions, but honestly, you probably don't talk to most of the people on either of those services, and I doubt very much that you talk to, or interact with, more than a few hundred at most.

This also means that it doesn't really matter where in the Fediverse you join, you can talk/interact with the rest of the users of any Fediverse service, regardless of which service they prefer to use, or where they are.

You can do you, they can do themselves, and you can still interact. Great eh?

I have tried out several of the different Fediverse services and I will possibly be doing a proper write-up of my thoughts and learnings later, but
in short, for me right now, I'm using Friendica as a Facebook "replacement" (it isn't covering all bases, but I don't need all bases to be covered, only a few key ones) and I'm using Pleroma as a Twitter replacement. Also I have started using Pixelfed as an Instagram replacement. All three services are part of "The Fediverse", so unlike Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/YouTube etc etc, most (almost all) of the services in the Fediverse can see, and talk to, and interact with, the other services, "out of the box" so to say.

It could be noted that I am not using Mastodon, which is the absolutely largest Fediverse service (2.8 million users), directly myself. I don't have to, as the Fediverse services I do use can talk and interact directly with Mastodon and its users anyways, and yes, most of my contacts are indeed using Mastodon themselves.

The main reason I'm not using Mastodon is because it requires more of the server it is hosted from, compared to Pleroma. Because I'm a geek I host my own instances of both Friendica and Pleroma, mainly because I can and I'm interested in such things. If managing servers is not your "thing" I would recommend signing up on open/public instances instead, which are hosted by others. That was also how I started out exploring The Fediverse.

I read a great new-user summary of the Fediverse, which said:

"1. What is the fediverse?

mastodon, misskey, pleroma and others are social networks comparable to Facebook in 2010: real human beings sharing mundane things to small audiences of friends, acquaintances or friendly strangers.

Nowadays it seems that the big platforms, especially Youtube and Twitter, have turned into broadcasts where a few big influencers present the talking point of the day to massive audiences who consume those opinions, often without adding anything themselves."

To me that statement has a lot of truth in it. Also, keywords to me would be "2010" and "real human beings", especially now when bots posing as real people are becoming a thing on Twitter and Facebook, that attract sponsorship deals raking in 100's of millions USD, which people on those networks mindlessly consume.

In the Fediverse the users, which indeed are "real human beings", take
responsibility, and the control, over the content they post and the content they read, themselves. If you think you'd like that, you should definitely give it a try. There might be glitches. There might be bugs. Report them and the service will become better.

If you do try out The Fediverse services you can find me here: