Last time I used the Fediverse, I ended up sending £10 via Paypal to a suicidal teen Canadian non-binary furry. Or possibly to a suicidal non-binary furry Canadian teen. Are words supposed to go in a specific order? Are there rules for when there are this many descriptors?
The Crow has nothing against teens or furries, or even Canadians, and my only issue with non-binaries is that the pronouns tend to fuck up sentence structure and readability – but there seemed to be quite a lot of suicidal appeals for cash popping up on my feed, and the thought that someone might die because of my inaction was… troubling. After sending a fistful of dosh over the pond, I took a look at the account I had donated to. And then I took my instance offline, popped the SD card, and donated the dedicated 2GB Pi on which my instance was running to my seven year old nephew.
It was the Crow’s second adventure with the Fediverse – the first ending after a short flirtation with Nextcloud Social.
This time, I’m going to stay. The Fediverse is a mess. It’s not particularly intuitive, and it’s very easy to get lost. But, I kind of like it, and I’m not sure that I can say why.
What the hell is social media anyway?
I have used social media before. I’m just not very good at it. I had a Facebook account for probably around five years, and I have experimented with Twitter a couple of times. I’ve just never really understood the actual point of it.
I think it’s supposed to be a way of keeping in touch with friends and family when you can’t be bothered popping round for a cup of tea or picking up the phone. In my experience, it’s always descended into shit-posting, memes, selfies, racism and being forced to talk to people people who think you are their friend. But The Crow is an antisocial bird and is friends with only three or four people to whom he isn’t related.
And then there’s the unfortunate fact that conventional social media exists as a tool for hoovering up all of the shit-posting, memes, selfies, racism, and connections to better build a marketing profile which can be sold on to people whose idea of ethics does not align with my own.
Finally, there’s the idea that anything you put onto a platform owned by someone else then belongs to them. Facebook owns your data. Twitter owns your data. Google owns your data.
It’s an old, tired story that has been repeated dozens of times and doesn’t need restating. Do we even need to start with censorship?
It’s not my bag, baby.
Into The Fediverse.
The Fediverse entered the Crow’s consciousness in 2018 in the form of the Mastodon service as a microblogging alternative to Twitter – which I didn’t really use anyway. Mastodon had been around for two years by that point, and it seemed neat. Search for mastodon on Google, and first posts you’ll see are about a large, hairy prehistoric creature. Second you’ll see hot takes from four years ago such as: “What Is Mastodon & Why Are People Leaving Twitter to Join It?” Similar headlines had existed almost from Mastodon’s launch, and they still persist now. Here’s one from November 2019: What Is Mastodon & Why Are People Leaving Twitter to Join It?
These are years old, and they’re still ranking highly. Whatever Mastodon is, not much seems to have happened to it between launch and now. four years later.
Apart from the occasional tech journalist rattling off the exact same story every six months, it hasn’t really entered the public consciousness.
The Fediverse isn’t only about Mastodon – although Mastodon is by far the most popular service. It also provides the backbone for Friendica – touted in 2012 as an “alternative to Google+ and Facebook”; Peertube – a self-hosted video sharing platform; and Pleroma – another microblogging platform.
All of these services can interact with each other as they all use the same ActivityPub protocol. You can even write your own if your skills and interests lie in that direction – hence my first interaction with the Fediverse through Nextcloud Social, which is neither Mastodon, nor Pleroma, but which will play nicely with both of them.
I also approve of the default background and have no intention of changing it.
It occurred to me last week that I need to interact with people beyond my immediate and very limited physical social network, and which doesn’t involve blasting out thousand word essays on the various sites I write for. Comment sections aren’t the best place for civilised discourse. The Fediverse seemed the obvious choice, and I determined to make a proper go of it this time.
The Fediverse is not Twitter, and finding people is hard. There isn’t a central database of users because there is no centralised server. Everyone exists on separate servers which are capable of interacting with each other (federating), and some allow you to search their members. Some don’t, but will allow you to see who has been posting recently. Others are locked down entirely and not searchable.
If you want to join the Fediverse through someone else’s server, you need to find one which is accepting new members or which is willing to extend an invitation to you.
Or you could host an instance yourself. Nextcloud Social allows you to do this with the click of a button, but it wasn’t quite right for The Crow, and I chose to spin up a Pleroma instance. It’s a little more lightweight than Mastodon, and more suited to running on a Rasberry Pi along with Photoprism, NC19, Jellyfin, Pihole, FreshRSS, and this very site. It’s not hogging resources and everything is running smooth as silk.
Right now I’m following 21 accounts, and have three followers – not that I’ve said anything particularly interesting yet. The people I’m following include Spanish anarchists, Indian soapmakers, various computer type people, the President of Venezuela, and a few major news outlets. I’ve had a couple of replies and retoots.
And it isn’t all about antisocial individuals eavesdropping on conversations. Did you know that the New York Times has an active presence in the Fediverse? It does. As does New Scientist, TechCrunch, Wired, Nextcloud (obviously) and others. You won’t see the Fediverse in the ‘follow us on social media’ section of their main websites, but they’re there.
It’s great to see big name publications, but the sheer volume of shit they push out onto the network makes following them a chore. We’re specifically looking at CNet and Techcrunch here. It’s nice that you’re producing so much quality content, but you don’t need to drop it all at once. On the hour, every hour.
Users re-toot statuses from other users, and these may end up on my feed. If they’re interesting, I may end up following or even interacting with the original tooter. Which is why I ended up sending £10 to a suicidal teen last time. Yes, the terminology is weird and a little cringey, but is ‘tooting’ really that much worse than ‘tweeting’ on Twitter? You sound like an idiot either way. I’m finding users organically – which is really the only way I can do it in the absence of a user directory. And believe it or not, I’m having fun.
I’m also finding people who have their own blogs or websites. If they’re worth reading, they’ll end up being fed into FreshRSS for me to read at leisure later.
And who owns the toots which I toot? I do. Who can censor what I say on my own server? No-one. Sure, I can be blocked from other servers, but ultimately, what I say is mine. The terms of service are mine, and I can set them to say whatever I want. It’s a semi-social network where I am in control. If I pull the SD card, my toots no longer exist.*
So yeah. This is meandering kind of article, but the Fediverse is a meandering kind of place.
edit 9th October 2020 – accidentally scrambled my server. Starting again from scratch. This is hard.
*Unless someone archives them. Obviously.