📅 16 May 2021~ 9 min read
When we talk about new social media platforms, people may often refer to them as “Facebook Killers” or “Twitter Slayers”. Generally, I think this is a pretty moot point for comparison. However, I believe that what I will be introducing to you in this post, the fediverse, perhaps has a better chance to replace these sites which already have millions and billions of users than any other alternative that I have seen.
Having said that, I’m almost certain that this collection of interconnected services, will get no way near the number of users that Facebook has. The beautiful thing is that it doesn’t have to.
Take a moment to imagine what it would take to topple these social media giants. Facebook has already killed enough of the internet, that a “Facebook Killer” would just be another Facebook. A much better solution would be to have tens of thousands of smaller community run social media websites that can communicate with each other. That is the fediverse in a nutshell.
The magic of the fediverse is that its success is not based on how many users it has, how much money it can make advertising to its users, or by selling their data to the highest bidder. The success of the fediverse is determined by the communities that are built and the interactions they have. This was the original promise of social media, before it became easier to say “everyone you know is already here” and if you’re not here you’ll miss out.
People who post on the fediverse share because they want to share in a way that’s different from those on Twitter and Instagram. On Mastodon and Pixelfed, nobody is trying to go viral or reach certain like counts. In fact, Pixelfed has recently disabled public like counts and allows you to hide your follower count. I think this is a great move as young people see social media as a popularity contest and it’s widely know the impact that comparing themselves with others online can have on their mental health.
What is the fediverse?
Technically speaking, the fediverse is a collective term for a series of decentralised social networking/media platforms. By decentralised, I mean that everything is not stored on the servers of one company. There are thousands of servers that make up the fediverse, and anyone can set up their own server and join the network.
I’ve seen people making a comparison with email when talking about the distributed nature of these platforms. Nowadays, we often take it for granted that Gmail users can engage with Outlook users who can in turn have conversations with people on their work’s own email system, and they can all have grouped conversations with each other.
When it comes to social media, there are new platforms popping up all the time, and you may feel you need to join all of them if you want to stay connected with all your friends. In fact you can quickly find you’re spreading yourself thin if you try to keep up with what everybody’s posting on their app of choice. Now imagine if the people you want to follow could just use their favourite site and you could just use yours.
Facebook is actually already working on (or perhaps has already implemented) a way for Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp users to talk freely with each other. It’s a good idea in theory, but the way they’re going about it, namely breaking Whatsapp’s end-to-end encryption is a big problem. Howerver, I won’t talk about it here as I don’t want this post to go to off-topic.
The fediverse however, was designed with this sort of functionality in mind. Not only can users of Mastodon, a Twitter parallel, interact with users of other Mastodon servers, they can also follow and engage with users of Pixelfed, the fediverse’s Instagram alternative.
There are already thousands of communities for you to join. Or you can set up your own for you and your mates, or based on any of your interests and you will still be able to follow and interact with the millions of users already using compatible software.
This all sounds great, but I have two questions. Can I poke people? And does it have stories?
As the fediverse is many different platforms that use the same underlying technology, there is nothing stopping a developer from building a platform with these features. In fact, Pixelfed already has stories.
Developers can choose what features to add to their software, but there are some that are more or less constant across the fediverse.
These services generally avoid many of the problems that users of traditional social media face.
- Fediverse platforms are free of adverts
- They don’t spy on and track your every move
- They’re not designed to keep you on their websites for as long as possible
On a technical level, these are some of the main advantages of the fediverse. However, I believe that the biggest feature of the fediverse is the communities it fosters, the wealth of knowledge available and the willingness of people to share it.
Many of the popular services that make up the fediverse take advantage of the ActivityPub protocol. In theory, this means that developers can design new tools without having to reinvent the wheel, whilst bringing the added benefit of interoperabilty between servers regardless of exactly which software they’re running.
I have the most experience with the following three platforms:
Without question, Mastodon is the grandaddy of the fediverse. The closest comparison would be with Twitter. For the most part I would say that it is a fair comparison, but Mastodon is closer to what Twitter was like a few years ago.
For my personal use case, Mastodon is superior to Twitter in almost every way.
I feel as though Twitter has been turning into Facebook lately, both in terms of features as well as content. Perhaps I will talk about that more in a future post.
Mastodon generally has a 500 character limit per post, but this can be changed by each server’s administator.
Instagram users should feel right at home on Pixelfed. It’s another great service and one that you should definitely consider.
The developer seems to be aiming for feature parity with Instagram and I think that is grear for new users. I’m excited for the launch of the official Pixelfed mobile app as it should be able to bring lots of new users on board.
This is the newest service that I’ve started using. It can be considered an alternative to GoodReads. Bookwyrm is definitely a young platform, but I believe it has great potential.
I have never used GoodReads, so I can’t make a direct comparison of features or look and feel. All I can say is that I have been impressed with this piece of software in the short amount of time I have spent with it.
I’m trying to build a good reading habit this year, and I think it’s great that there’s a place where I can engage in discussion on books. Bookwyrm also has good integration with Mastodon, even at this early stage.
Despite Bookwyrm still being in its infancy, this is a service that I’m going to keep on using and hopefully it can continue to grow in popularity.
There are so many great projects that make up this network and I have not had a chance to use them all.
- Peertube: A video sharing platform similar to Youtube
- Lemmy: A link aggregator similar to Reddit
- Friendica: Similar to Facebook or Myspace
A list of software that makes up the fediverse
On choosing an instance
An instance is the name used to describe a server that makes up part of the fediverse network. Each network has their own rules, and their own specialities. The great things is that making an account on an instance does not bind you to that instance. There are great tools for exporting your posts and following list so you can upload them to your new home, or you can directly migrate your account to another server and your followers won’t even notice.
In my time on the fediverse, I have had accounts on three Mastodon servers. Why did I decide to move?
My first instance, that I used for over a year, was a great introduction to Mastodon. It had a great local community who were passionate about topics I am interested in and I started building up a list of people I follow on this instance and many others.
The main problem was that it was very slow for me. I understand that this is based on the geographic proximity, so I went looking for a new home.
After having a look online, I found a relatively large instance with incredibly fast loading times for where I am. However, the problem with this instance was that I saw a lot less posts that I was interested in on the local timeline.
Finally, I joined my current instance - mastodon.online. It strikes a good balance between being fast, and despite it being more of an all-purpose instance, I find that after setting up some filters, there is a lot of interesting post on my local timeline.
Here is a link to my instance and my profile:
My Mastodon instance
My Mastodon profile
Similarly to when I ditched Windows in favour of Linux, when I left Facebook, reduced the amount of time I spent on other platforms and made an account on Mastodon, I knew that there was going to be some degree of sacrifice. This definitely was the case, as I didn’t know anybody on the platform, and it was initially quite unusual and daunting.
However, just like with my switch to Linux, I’ve realised that this switch was the right decsion for me. There are so many things about the way that the fediverse works, that make it a superior choice for me, and I could never see myself moving back.
I must have stopped posting on Facebook and Twitter in 2010 and 2015 respectively, and ever since then I just haven’t really wanted to share anything online. The only real online presence I have had in the last five years or so was being part of the social media team for my old football team.
However, I now feel as though I’ve managed to find a home on the internet. I’ve been lurking on Mastodon for almost three years, but as I’ve gotten deeper into the fediverse, it inspired me to want to start posting more, it inspired me to set up my own website and start writing more in a way that nothing had managed to before.
💬 Looking for comments?
I don't have comments on this site as they're difficult to manage and take up too much time. I'd rather concentrate on producing content than managing comments.
Instead of leaving a comment, feel free to contact me ✉️ contact me instead.