In case you have been living under a rock, or live in the alternative reality of facebook world, or have a good dose of selfcare and live more in the real world than social media, you will have noticed that twitter is melting down at the moment. Or more precisely, it’s new owner is melting down.
There’s a whole story there so I’ll leave that for another day. But there’s heaps of info online about that if you want to look into it. The upshot is that millions of people have been migrating from Twitter to other social media platforms. A large swathe of those have been attracted to the promises of Mastodon and platforms of that ilk, for the promise of corporate manipulation free social media – no ads, no algorithms, and since the recent Twitter takeover, the appeal of no inexplicable suspensions and arbitrary rule making.
The Fediverse: A Viable Alternative to Corporate Owned Social Media
So firstly let’s address the Pachyderm in the room. Specifically the Mastodon and related Fediverse species. With the imminent demise (some gleefully, if prematurely, predict) of Twitter, people have been flocking to a till now little known social media alternative called Mastodon. Mastodon is the most predominant of a range of social media platforms grouped under the taxonomy of open source interoperable social media platforms. What this means is that members of different platforms can follow, like and share content to and from other platforms that share the same protocol. In practice this would be like if you could follow twitter accounts on your facebook, or share your instagram pics to twitter.
There are a few different protocols but the one that has gained the most ground and has the most mature suite of features is ActivityPub. An example of platforms that use ActivityPub include Mastodon, Pixelfed, Peertube (respectively modelled loosely on Twitter, Instagram and Youtube). Collectively, ActivityPub platforms are called The Fediverse.
Some existing social media and web based companies are also planning to implement ActivityPub which would bring them into the Fediverse: Tumblr, Flickr, Mozilla (so far). There are also plugins to bring your WordPress site into the Fediverse. Then there are a bunch of other smaller platforms. ActivityPub is free and open source and anyone with the skill and inclination can design a platform that utilises ActivityPub.
You don’t have to design your own platform though to run your own social media service. Most of the platforms are open source and free; for example anyone can install their own Mastodon server. A Mastodon server (or pixelfed, hubzilla etc) is called an ‘Instance’, and is the end user’s ‘home’ on the Fediverse; when you join the Fediverse, you choose an instance to sign up to.
Anyone on any instance that uses ActivityPub can talk to, follow and be followed by anyone on any other Instance. There’s one caveat here; because anyone can run an instance, and because some instances operate under rules and moderation practices that other instances find questionable, an instance may decide to ‘defederate’ from a given instance. For example Trump’s social media network Truth.Social uses the ActivityPub protocol. In fact, it’s a Mastodon instance. However almost all other Mastodon and ActivityPub platforms have defederated Truth.Social.
So while most Instances are part of a global federation, there are examples of Instances which been excluded from this general federation. For most intents and purposes, most people in refuge from Twitter joining Mastodon or other ActivityPub instances will be fine with not having access to the few defederated instances.
Because there are many providers of Instances, none of which rely on any central authority, the network is decentralised. Communities can grow up around a given Fediverse instance without any corporate oversight, without ads or ad targeting, and without algorithms dictating who’s posts you see. Communities can manage their own moderation. Communities can federate with as many or as few other Instances as they like. They can potentially federate only with Instances that share common goals or interests. Or they can federate with everyone.
There is still room for improvement in ActivityPub and the many available platforms. Maybe something will take over Mastodon as the most popular Fediverse platform. But for now the pachyderm is leading the charge.
So How Does One Get Involved in the Fediverse?
I will follow up this article with an in depth explanation of how to join the Fediverse and what to expect when you do. But short answer is, join an instance that roughly matches your interests.
These two are a good place to start if you are keen to get going. However I advice doing some research first (or wait for my next article) before leaping in:
If you want a twitter like interface, try Mastodon: https://joinmastodon.org/#getting-started
If you want an Instagram like interface try Pixelfed: https://pixelfed.org/servers
Good luck, and happy hunting!