Introduction to federated social media

The “enshittification” of social media started around 2016, but it reached new highs in 2023. All chronological feeds and hashtag importance have given way to narrow-AI algorithms and recommendation engines. The result was that reach has become impossible for the common user, and many art creatives lost their livelihoods. Enter the Fediverse.

From Wikipedia: “The fediverse is an ensemble of federated (i.e. interconnected) servers that are used for web publishing (i.e. social networking, microblogging, blogging, or websites) and file hosting, which, while independently hosted, can communicate with each other.

This system has some advantages:

  • It is almost impossible for governments to shut down in its entirety.
  • User load can be shared among different servers (“instances”).
  • Different instances have different rules, so you join the one you agree best with.
  • Generally no spam and fewer bots.
  • A non-aggressive environment as users get along better.
  • No telemetry or ads.
  • Everything is chronological so there are equal chances to be seen, no weird recommendation engines here.

As for the disadvantages:

  • Some instance admins are too twitchy, and can block other servers on a dime (my main gripe with the system).
  • Some users are too sensitive for some topics, and require you to self-censor.
  • The system probably can’t sustain more than 10-20 million active users, because not many people have the expertise to run their own instance and pay for the financial costs before donations start rolling in.
  • If your instance goes down, you’ll have to migrate and re-acquire all your followers from scratch.
  • Your family and friends aren’t on it, and probably never will be.

Here are the Fediverse alternatives to the classic options:

Alternative to Twitter: Mastodon

The biggest federated environment with over 2 million active users. Great for “toots”, and small-sized blogging. Very actively developed. While there’s an official app for it and a third party one called… Shitter, and FediLab, the best way to view it remains the web browser. Alternatives to Mastodon: Pleroma, Diaspora, Misskey/Calckey (they mostly interoperate anyway).

Alternative to Reddit: Lemmy

Since the latest Reddit shenanigans Lemmy has jumped to become the second most used fediverse service. Still under active development, but it works great and it has all major Reddit features. People there are much nicer too! Alternative to Lemmy: Kbin (they interoperate, so Kbin content is available on Lemmy, and vice versa). Apps: Jerboa, Lemming, LiftOff, Summit, Connect.

Alternative to Instagram: Pixelfed

A bit slow compared to the other fedi services, but it’s unique in getting the original Instagram experience. As an artist, I love it. PixelDroid is the mobile app for it.

Alternative to Youtube: PeerTube

Well, there’s TilVids, and then there’s everyone else. TilVids doesn’t want to federate with everyone else, but it does have the most interesting videos (particularly of Linux interest). Spectra.Video and Diode.Zone are also great options to move your videos at. Just note that bandwidth is limited in these free services, so it’s best to upload in 1080p instead of 4k. There are 3-4 mobile apps for it.

Alternative to Medium/Wordpress/SubStack: WriteFreely

Not much to say here, a very modern editor that acts as blogging and article publishing service.

Secure Messaging and IRC/Discord alternatives: Matrix

Matrix is secure messaging end-to-end with being the main provider. It can also act as a community messaging server. Nostr and Jami are the newest such services on the block, but they’re a little bit weird to get into, I still prefer Matrix.

Alternative to TikTok: none

Thank the Olympian gods!

Finally, the best way to deal with some smaller instances going down and losing your account is to get 1-3 different accounts on different instances. I personally have 3 Mastodon accounts, 3 PeerTube ones, and 2 Lemmy/1 Kbin ones.

I used an older $70 phone (Moto G5 Plus) where I have installed the free, and very private Murena /e/ OS. It’s a totally de-googled Android OS (more so than LineageOS) that uses the iOS UI paradigm. In it, I use three app stores that only carry open source apps: F-Droid, IzzyOnDroid, and Obtainium. I avoid as much as possible from installing from the Aurora or the included App Lounge app stores that use the Google Play Store. The OS uses the open source microG service to replace the Google Play Services.

So, I have almost completely left behind the normal social media and moved on to the Fediverse (apart from FB messenger with my mom, and a couple of special-interest subreddits via my laptop). You see, after leaving OSNews 15+ years ago, I became an artist. And social media was the way to get sales back then. I started with Tumblr, and later Instagram and FB. Overall, I had amassed about 340,000 followers across all social media. Sales were good for a while. Then, the enshittification started. The biggest blow was Instagram removing the chronological feed and hashtag importance, and little by little only superstar accounts were pushed by the recommendation engines. By 2020, it was near-impossible to survive online selling your art.

Now, I don’t have any illusions that the Fediverse can replace the golden era of social media (2010-2020). I have calculated that you need a minimum of 100 million active users for various niche business to survive under a fair social media system. And currently, the whole Fediverse only has about 14.5 million accounts, with only about 2.2 million being active. In fact, I don’t expect the fediverse to ever achieve more than 10 million active users…

And yet, I prefer to stay on it. It’s simply a more fair system. It’s not a corporation that changes its policies at a whim, or sells your data. I rather use a “lesser” system in terms of reach and maintain my mental health, than battling Instagram’s algorithms all day long (“no, I don’t want to shoot useless vertical short videos”).

So, come on and join us on the fediverse. The more the merrier!

Note: OSNews is very active on the Fediverse. We have the main OSNews account which posts our stories, and we have a (new and unfinished, have patience!) PeerTube account for video. Thom has a personal account, of course, as does Eugenia, obviously. Adam, our web developer, is there too. If you want some inside information on what we’re up to with the site, the Fediverse is the place to go.


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