The Fediverse

Originally posted February 5, 2019

Back in April last year I posted a long update on facebook describing my rookie understanding of distributed and federated networks and my opinions on the options that I had tried at the time. Of course, chances are no-one actually saw the post due to Facebook's algorithms but there we are, the original post has been reproduced here.

Since then I've built and destroyed multiple instances of various flavours of federated social media:

In addition I've built a nextcloud server, matrix synapse, an xmpp server and a mumble server, as well as self-hosting all of my email accounts.

There are other types of federated services such as FunkWhale, Prismo and GetTogether that I haven't even had a chance to properly explore and I am perpetually on the lookout for a federated photo album application which can replace my koken photo website (even briefly considered writing it myself!).

Why bother doing any of this, when most of these services are already provided by Google, Facebook or Twitter?

READ A NEWSPAPER!

I am done with being harvested for marketing data or for national election\referenda manipulation.. I don't want an algorithm to decide what content (that has been shared with me) I am or am not permitted to see.. I am sick and tired of opening an app on my phone and being presented with ads for products and services that the app should not know are suitable (or not) for me.. and I don't want my daughter and any future kids to be no more than a cog in a data machine, inadvertently being harvested by corrupt mega corporations for profit or indeed, worse.

As such, I've decided to provide alternative services for those of my family and close friends who wish to use them as privacy focussed, decentralised alternatives. It may well be that they have little to no interest and that's fine, but should they be curious or change their mind then I have their back - and if they don't trust me with their data more than they do Facebook then, I will happily help them set up their own self-hosted services.

So why have I chosen the services I am currently hosting?

  1. They are privacy and security focused by default and being self-hosted, hardened where possible by myself.
  2. They are federated services built on the ActivityPub protocol. This means that the different sites speak the same language and therefore can communicate with each other despite providing different services. So a pleroma user can follow a friendica user or a mastodon user, a pixelfed user or a writefreely user etc.
  3. They are distributed services. Rather than being in one global corporations' data centre(s) the network is comprised of thousands of smaller, often self-hosted installations. This makes them less vulnerable to attacks, and much harder to censor.
  4. They are open-source applications. The source code is available for anyone to verify it, report bugs/flaws and strengthen the application on a community basis.
  5. They can be self-hosted, which means I am in complete control of my content.
  6. They are free - though buying the developers, moderators, hosts and contributors a coffee would be appreciated.
  7. There are no ads, no algorithms and complete transparency.

The services which I currently host

  1. Pleroma - this is my main social media site, it is a micro-blogging site (think twitter) with several front end options. It is light enough to run on a raspberry pi on a home network (though mine currently doesn't it may be a future consideration). The devs are very approachable and are very active.
  2. Pixelfed - an instagram replacement, it is still under development though basically functional, the next beta update (due very soon) should bring a lot more functionality and the following update will bring instagram & tumbler import functionality.
  3. Peertube - a distributed, peer-to-peer alternative to youtube. I am primarily just using this to host 'hidden' videos of my daughter that I can share on blog posts and don't really have plans at the moment to open this up to friends and family. This is due to the cost of storage, but in the future if I transfer the hosting to in-house then I'll have access to a lot more disk space and may invite folks to join.
  4. Matrix - It can provide audio, video and text chat as well as conferencing.. rooms can be bridged to other services such as RSS feeds, IRC etc. It could be a replacement for WhatsApp, LINE and Telegram but has a little more work to do for multi-user encryption.
  5. XMPP - A simple enough FB messenger replacement, a chat service with file sharing capabilities, fully end-to-end encrypted.
  6. Mumble - an audio chat service, primarily for my gaming friends.
  7. Nextcloud - this is a home cloud system with a huge amount of customisation and applications including text, audio, video chat, social media (via ActivityPub), distributed filesharing and collaboration, phone tracking, email client, phone backups, rss reader, calendar, audio player etc. This is just for use in our house but potentially in the future I may re-create a shared talk/social media nextcloud server with limited storage quotas.

The website switching.social has a lot more information about different alternatives to centralised services, written in plain, non-techy language, however here are some of the main alternatives (disclaimer: in various states of active development)

Good Guys Wank
pleroma, mastodon, osada, friendica, diaspora facebook, twitter
pixelfed instagram
peertube youtube
write freely, plume medium, blogger
nextcloud dropbox, google drive, onedrive, box
xmpp, matrix messenger, whatsapp, LINE, telegram

I recently saw a post via pleroma:

Friend: Are you OK? You haven't posted on Instagram in ages

Me: I quit FB, Instagram, and Twitter.

Friend: Why'd you quit the internet?

Me: Actually I've rejoined the Internet.

This about sums it up for me, I've left the data harvesting silos but I've re-joined the internet.

One common observation of those on "the fediverse" is that everyone is much friendlier.. that's because we're not being manipulated, our timelines are not manufactured and we're able to have genuine discourse with humans free of corporate interference. There are still asshats and bots but you have the ability to curate your own timeline and have the support of an admin who cares about his instance who will assist if required.. and if you don't feel that your admin has your back.. then you can just move to another instance or make your own.

As a side note: I have also replaced Google's android on my phone with LineageOS without any google services and have deleted my google, facebook (including whatsapp & instagram) and twitter accounts. In April, I'll hopefully take delivery of a Purism Librem 5 phone which is built on a security and privacy focused linux distribution and not android at all.