A Federated Social Network?
I’m sure there’s no need for me to explain to you what a social network is. You’re probably on Twitter and Facebook, and you’ve probably been on TikTok, Instagram, and other auxiliary social networks.
When you log in to Twitter, you see tweets from other people on Twitter that you follow or that your friends have followed and retweeted. If you’re on Twitter and you want to interact with someone on Facebook, you have to switch websites and post that interaction on Facebook instead. The same goes for just about every other social network.
Imagine if this were true with other forms of communication. You could only call or text people on the carrier as you. You could only email other users who used Gmail. That would be ridiculous, right?
The difference is that email is a common language spoken by different servers all over the internet and Twitter is just a website–a very complex website, but they are still a website that makes their money from your eyeballs on that site.
OK, so what if social networking was more like email? That’s exactly what Federated Social Networks (the Fediverse) are aiming for. Back in 2008, identi.ca tried to create a federated Twitter clone, and since then, many projects have followed in their footsteps. In 2010, diaspora* tried to create a federated Facebook clone, and many projects have also followed in their footsteps.
While the “original” couple of federated social networks are still around, the most successful social protocol out there is ActivityPub. And the most successful ActivityPub-based server software (based on publicly know stats) is Mastodon, a micro-blogging platform.
The beauty of the Fediverse, though, makes it so that someone using my Mastodon server can reply and message with someone using totally different ActiviyPub server software almost like they were both on the same website.
How do you join?
If you’re just looking for a quick place to join and start interacting with other people on the fediverse, feel free to register on my Mastodon instance over at palepanda.club.
But, really, picking where you join the fediverse can be as involved as you want it to be. And, there’s no rule that you can’t create an account using multiple services that can all talk to each other.
If you’re looking for microblogging (think Twitter) then my instance of Mastodon at palepanda.club might be for you. You can also head over to https://joinmastodon.org/ and see if any other servers are a better fit.
If you’re looking for more of a profile-based social network (think Facebook) then I recommend Friendica as the software, and the biggest open server out there is probably libranet.de.
Organization and Research
Actually using one of these alternatives to Twitter or Facebook can take a little getting used to. Your username is modeled after Twitter @ replies had a baby with email addresses. You can find yours or anyone else’s on a profile page right under their display name. My main account is @email@example.com.
Finding someone might take an extra second at first. Because of the federation, servers have to “discover” each other in order for them to act a bit more like local accounts.
This same discovery model means that searching on many services can be a bit… tricky. Mastodon, for example, doesn’t allow you to search the full text of messages. So, for the most part, you’ll want to use hashtags more liberally than you might on Twitter so that it’s easier to interact with people talking about similar things. Users on TikTok sometimes organize like this as well.
This is also a reason that I maintain an alt account on Libranet just because I find the search functionality on Friendica way better than the one on Mastodon even though I like Mastodon for microblogging more in general.
Moderation, Rules, and Ownership
There is another big thing you need to consider when looking for that perfect server of the perfect software for you: the rules. Each instance of each social network software has its own set of admins and moderators and its own set of rules. These can range from “anything goes” to “be kind to one another” to “porn is bad but nazis are OK, I guess.”
Luckily for you, most admins have the ability and will to fully silence instances that tend to fall into that last example.
Over on palepanda.club, I take the approach to silence servers that seem to be plain unsavory and save full-on banning of servers for when things involve violence, doxing, and stuff like that. Some admins are more strict and some are less strict, so you have to look around.
Think of it like this, Twitter is a single website and the fediverse is a whole bunch of websites with everything the internet has to offer both good and bad, so you have to report people to your admins and hope that they, like me, act quickly on reported domains and profiles.
The biggest benefit is that the content you create on most instances is 100% yours. You can take it and go elsewhere, migrate to a new server, or just delete it forever. There’s also no selling data to make a quick buck and no ads.