A Month In The FediverseTechnology Fediverse
Just over a month ago, I joined the Fediverse.
Wait, stop. What?
Since I am sharing this with people outside of the Fediverse, a brief explanation is needed. Let’s begin with that.
What is the Fediverse?
Wikipedia knows this one!
The Fediverse is an ensemble of federated servers that are used for web publishing and file hosting, but which, while independently hosted, can communicate with each other.
That makes sense to me. But, just in case, let’s look at a picture. It is a proposed logo for the Fediverse:
Look at that for a second.
You notice that there is no dot in the middle, but the other dots are still (inter)connected? That’s what the Fediverse is about. Decentralization. This is not exactly new, although Twitter is trying to play on the Recency Effect to claim they will be the first. I won’t even link to that story, because it is a joke.
Speaking of Twitter, imagine for a second that instead of everyone connecting to Twitter (.com) they could connect to, say, a, Italian version of it. Or a Twitter just for their university. That is cool. They would have an online nick that would advertise what school they went to. The profs could have the same thing. But, they won’t be alone in a bubble, they will be (if they want to) connected to other bubbles. That is the “federated” part of the fediverse.
There is not just one thing either. There is a Twitter-like (Mastodon), a Facebook-like (Friendica), a YouTube (PeerTube), and the list goes on! And these different platforms are also part of the Fediverse, so they can be interconnected:
I think the concept is great, but I won’t spend any more time talking about. The goal here is to share my experience with you.
One Month in The Fediverse
I am not a social media person. I tried Twitter long ago and quit it for more than one reason. I could have gone back, but I missed nothing about it. Especially with Nitter now available to browse Twitter when I need to.
I had attempted to join the Fediverse before, and didn’t find any immediate satisfaction there. Then, about a month ago, I took another swing at Mastodon.
Mastodon is a microblogging platform akin to Twitter. The twist, however, is that it is part of the Fediverse. That means that there is not one single Mastodon. There are many communities, called “instances” in the Fedi-jargon. Each instance, like a community, has a similar interest. There are instances for politically-oriented folks, instances for activists and hackers, even instances for furries and food!
After a lot of thought, I settled on Fosstodon because the one-line intro sounded like me:
The whole point of Fosstodon is to be a community of like-minded people who enjoy Free & Open Source Software (FOSS).
I have used Linux as my main operating system since 2006. I use as many free and open source software as I can. I don’t even have Google Maps on my phone! In fact, I don’t even have the Google Play Store on my phone. So, I thought I might as well start out with some people who might think like me. It was a fine decision. There is really only one other instance that I considered joining, and, you know what? I could do that if I really wanted. Nobody will shame you for joining multiple instances. Most of the apps have that in mind too.
(Since this is a Federated collective of applications, some instances of other apps (PeerTube and Pixelfed, for example) will automatically share your posts through Mastodon.)
It would be understandable for someone not to fully grok the procedure. The Mastodon website walks you through it. You find a community, you sign up, you log in. The rest of it is understanding some of the jargon.
A Toot, for example, is a Tweet. You have a classic Home feed and Notifications, but also a Local and Federated feed. The Local feed is just the people on the same instance as you, the Federated feed includes people outside of your instance, or bubble.
The onboarding to a Mastodon instance comes with a bonus: the other people in the instance. You introduce yourself. That is it. The rest works like Twitter but a little better. This is because you are in a bubble, an instance, of people with a similar (but not exact same) interest as you. I joined Fosstodon, but I cannot programme. I am fairly certain that I wouldn’t know the difference between BASIC and Rust. That does not stop me from commenting or sharing (Boosting, in the language of Mastodon) nor does it mean there is gatekeeping.
Gatekeeping is a fairly common practice on the Internet. It can take the form of a simple interaction:
A: I listen to metal.
B: Me too! What do you listen to?
B: Tool? That isn’t metal. They’re almost pop! They play Tool on the radio!
Now, it is common knowledge that Tool is not as metal as other bands. They are heavy progressive rock. But, they are a stepping stone towards other metal bands and genres. Never crap on someone’s taste in music.
Over in Fosstodon, the gatekeeping is…not there. It might be, but the gatekeepers are discreet I guess. Or nobody cares. In the world of Linux users, Ubuntu is the Tool. It is Linux, but it is a very mainstream Linux. Ubuntu users are not shunned on Fosstodon. In fact, Windows users are not shunned, nor are the Mac users.
I think there must be instances where things are more heated. But, the beauty of there being so many instances is that you can quit one and join another. Like in real life, you may have voted for party X all your life, except for that one time you voted Y as a protest vote, nothing is stopping you from changing your opinion one day and voting for Z. If you are on an instance that is LGBTQ+ friendly, but is also hypocritically insensitive towards another group or individual, maybe you switch.
Point being, the onboarding process is near-perfect. You get in, test the water, go deeper, and settle in for a relaxing backstroke. You float around and look at the other swimmers. You paths cross. It is social media, with a safety bubble to start off with. After a bit, you might go out to the drop-off and venture into the Federated feed to see who else is out there.
Here I was “chatting” with randos from around the world when I was struck by a curious thought: Why have I never done more than just use this software and knowledge for work?
It is a good question. I know how to do a few things on computers. Hell, I have been using computers forever. Nothing is too complicated. It is time I did something, even if it is just for fun.
I started blogging. It felt good. I was happy to do it, and it was good quiet activity. It wasn’t about followers or anything like that. It was just about putting something out there. I started doing the #100DaysToOffload challenge.
Then came the “meme-du-jour”. Within the span of a handful of days, an Internet protocol called Gemini became an obsession (not just for me). First, there was a video, then two, then more. I watched one of them and realised I could do it too. I made a “capsule” and it was fun.
That had me motivated.
I was having nice nerdy fun, making mistakes, learning from them, and not learning how to code or anything like that. I did, however, buy a domain name. It had me thinking again. Maybe I should also use that domain name for a blog or website of some sort.
Another software that people on Fosstodon mention is Hugo. Hugo is quite easy. Not as easy as it makes itself sound, but still, pretty easy in comparison to something like WordPress. I got my head around Hugo, and a few other bits and bobs, and presto, this website was born. You may have noticed that it is not fast. That is because this website is run on a little computer called a Raspberry Pi. It is plugged into my router/modem with an old USB cable from a long-dead Kodak digital camera. I connect to it from another computer in my apartment to add posts, like this one.
You have probably understood by now that I have a positive opinion of the Fediverse, at least concerning Mastodon. If you don’t use Mastodon, look up some videos on the Fediverse. There is certainly a PeerTube or Pixelfed instance for you out there. Today, as I type this, things are happening in the world. Facebook is having issues in Australia, and #DeleteFacebook is trending again. Perhaps you are fed up with that network too and you want to find another community. A community for gamers, for readers, for foodies, for anything. Go take a look. They are out there.
This is the first post from this blog that I am sharing outside of the Fediverse. If you have made it this far in post, let me know. Not by commenting, or liking, or sharing, but by coming over to the decentralized side of things. Bring your friends with you. Bring your family. You are already using open source technology, you might not know it, it is called Linux.
- It runs the web. W3Techs reports that Linux is used on 70% of the top 10 million Alexa domains.
- It runs the public cloud. On Amazon EC2, Linux makes up 92% of servers, with over 350,000 individual instances.
- It runs the fastest computers in the world. All of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers are running Linux.
- It goes to space. The Falcon 9 rocket’s flight computers run Linux.
- It’s in your pocket. At the heart of Google’s Android is a Linux kernel. There are over 2.5 billion active Android devices. That includes Chromebooks and other devices. (And at the heart of Apple’s iOS is code directly descended from the Unix variant developed at the University of California, Berkeley called the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD). So, regardless of your smartphone preference, they both rely on elements from Unix-like operating systems.)
- It powers your smarthome. Got a smart gadget in your home? It almost certainly runs an embedded Linux.
- It runs your network. The majority of managed switches, wireless access points, and routers run on embedded Linux.
- It powers your telecoms. Got a VOIP phone on your desk or a telephone switch in the comms room? They probably run embedded Linux.
- It is inside your computer. Even if you don’t run a Linux desktop, Microsoft is including a Linux kernel in version 2.0 of Windows 10’s Windows Subsystem for Linux.
- It’s inside vehicles. Tesla (and other auto manufacturers) use Linux in their vehicles. 1
My final thoughts on the Fediverse are that it is a welcoming and inspiring place. There are lots of opportunities here. I am positive that someone reading this might be moved to test it out. My recommendations, for the Fediverse and for individuals, is to find a problem for this type of software to solve.
- Use Federated software at the university level: Get students off of Facebook. Stop using Teams. Install your own instance at your university. The students will be safer and the professors will be more keen on interacting with students via a platform that is run by the school, for the students and staff. It could create value for the students, the same way that Facebook was originally for students of elite schools, your school could have its own special social network.
- Use Federated software at the family (or friend) level: Family members bugging you for photos? Want to share the vacation pics but don’t want to deal with privacy configurations. Start a Pixelfed with your family, or your own XMPP instance for chatting (it is much more secure compared to WhatsApp and Telegram). Do you have a group of gamer buddies? Put your overpriced computers to use and make your own PeerTube instance for your videos. There are lots of things that a creative person could do.
- Use Federated software for yourself: Jumping into a new network is not intimidating, especially when you can 100% delete your presence if you don’t like what you find. Look at the options. Don’t just click on the links that I shared. If you are more technically minded you can go further. You can have your own Google Drive if you want, it is called Nextcloud. That is useful for students and teachers and individuals. Back up your photos on something that does not belong to Microsoft, Google or Amazon. They are your photos, so keep them private. You can find people with the same political leanings as you on the Fediverse, the same hobbies, and learn from them. And, someday, when you have had enough you can delete your account. And they won’t make you wait 30 days or three months to permanently delete it.
If you want to contact me about this, you can find me on Fosstodon (see link below) or on XMPP (email@example.com)
This is post 14 of 100 of #100DaysToOffload
For more information visit https://100daystooffload.com/
“Did Linux Kill Commercial Unix?” https://www.howtogeek.com/440147/did-linux-kill-commercial-unix/ ↩︎