The Fediverse is a magical place, and I’ve given an overview of what it is and how it differs from the corporate controlled walled gardens we are used to, but if you already understand the fediverse and just want to get to the part where I walk you through joining Mastodon or Friendica, click one of the links below.
Over and over again, we are perennially disappointed by the actions of the big tech companies we have gleefully handed our identity and lives over to. These companies have trapped us in walled gardens and vacuumed up our data to squeeze out billions in ad revenue in the most brazen social engineering regime in history. And every morning we willingly sign into the services owned by Google, Amazon, Twitter, Apple and Facebook (GATAF) because we don’t see any other way.
There is another way, though. But it’s just not as obvious. When the internet was born, it was free-for-all of free speech and individuality, but it was also a place of high barriers to entry. One had to learn whole new languages and lexicons in order to take advantage of what the internet had to offer. But if you did, for the price of your ISP connection every month (or by the minute if you were on AOL), you could freely access all the information in the world, free of the bombardment of advertisements our online lives have become now, owning your own identity completely.
That internet never went away. But consolidating corporations like the components of GATAF have corralled us into an ever shrinking smattering of curated options that feed their piggy banks through convenience and habit. Breaking their hold on us means breaking our well worn habits, but the rewards will be once again living an online life of independence and freedom.
There is still a pure and independent internet out there, and the fediverse is it’s social side.
What is the fediverse and how does it work?
Wikipedia defines the fediverse as 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, but which, while independently hosted can mutually intercommunicate with each-other.
The word “fediverse” is a portmanteau of “federated” and “universe.” I prefer the term fediweb, but hat hasn’t caught on yet in the community.
The fediverse is a collection of volunteer developed, free and open-source platform projects to standardize communications between nodes on that platform, regardless of who owns that node, and it gets to the very heart of how the internet came to be in the first place. Nobody owns any of the platforms. They’ve been released free to the universe for anyone to use or adapt. Each platform is just free code that can be implemented, and the developers make no money off of it. They differ from the corporate-owned profit-driven walled gardens we have gotten used to handing our identities and speech over to.
When the internet was young, a coding language called hypertext markup language (html) was created to standardize the way that browsers talked to servers so that whatever browser you were using, and whatever server you were accessing, you would be able to access the same content. That content was static and organized and curated by the server’s owner. html is STILL the backbone of content on the internet. The functionality of content on the internet has evolved over the two and a half decades the internet has grown into a utility that almost every living human utilizes, but html, a free, open-source language is still how the majority of browsers and servers talk to one another.
The fediverse applies this logic to the new kinds of functionality of the internet. Over the past nearly three decades, we have gone from hopping around the internet and checking each independent server we are interested in individually to come to expect our online content to be delivered dynamically to us through newsfeeds. Google, Facebook and Twitter, and their subsidiaries have developed proprietary mechanisms for accomplishing this, as long as we hand over all our data and stay in their walled garden. The volunteer coders of the fediverse have sought to develop platforms that allow us to have this dynamic content curated and delivered to our newsfeeds without the walled garden or giving up our data.
A standard newsfeed works by collecting new updates to sources we follow into one place for us to browse. Originally, this also was free when Really Simple Syndication (rss) feed readers were still the rage. But GATAF also compelled us to opt into their walled gardens by making it easy to curate and create our own content, as well as seen the content curated and created by sources we trust and follow. They host these processes and content on their own servers, which cost money, so to pay for those servers, they mix ads into our feeds outside of the content that we intended to follow to generate revenue. The free and open-source platforms of the fediverse don’t have their own servers. Anyone can set up a server and hook it into the platform. The cost of maintaining the platform is spread out between all of the users that opt into it by setting up their own server. they don’t pay for the platform, their only cost is maintaining whatever server they have opted to use, and their ISP cost.
Fediverse platforms like Mastodon and Friendica are therefore able to duplicate the functionality of the Twitter and Facebook experience of delivering to your newsfeed content from whoever you follow regardless of what server they’re on and who owns it, without the walled garden and the data mining. Bad news for GATAF but good news for your independence.
While individual servers in the fediverse platform may create different models for paying for their servers, the platforms themselves are volunteer developed, and have no profit motive. They have no stakeholders to please other than the users of the platform. GATAF, by contrast, have many stakeholders to please. Because they have to sell ads to generate revenue, they have advertisers to please. Because they are for-profit private companies, they have stockholders and regulators to make happy. Users of the platform come fourth in this list. Your identity, safety, security and independence is only considered after the demands of advertisers, stockholders and regulators.
Hate speech is a huge problem on services like YouTube (Google), Facebook and Twitter, and hate speech needs no defenders. But these companies, in their zeal to squash hate speech, start policing all types of speech that isn’t hate speech in order to appear “fair and balanced,” or in order to appear to be removing offensive content, which as we’ve seen with Tumblr, Instagram and soon, Twitter, means perfectly legal expressions of adult sexuality, endangering the livelihoods of legitimate consensual workers in the adult entertainment and services industry. In the effort to ban Nazis, those fighting against Nazis are grouped with them and treated the same. In the effort to ban exploitation, those seeking to control their own careers and not be exploited are grouped with the exploiters and treated the same. The First Amendment does not apply to these walled gardens (nor am I arguing that it should, but rather those of us concerned with defending our first amendment rights should not hand them over so willingly out of convenience, let’s find a non-walled garden to gather in!) .
If you want to join the fediverse, hop on a platform like Mastodon or Friendica and have total control over your experience, obviously the best way to do that is to set up and run your own server running either platform. But this is a high bar for most of us. So all of the major fediverse platforms also have generous hubs where owners of servers have opened up to new members for free to join through them. You host your identity on their server, and as long as you play by their rules, you can keep it there for free. Generally, these rules aren’t too pernicious. Basically, don’t be an abusive dick–your user identity points straight to the server you are hosting it on, and if you make that server look too terrible, other server owners might start blocking your server’s access to content on their server–and don’t take for granted that these people are generously paying for a set up you don’t have to contribute to by uploading massive files to take up space on their servers. But barring this, you can get the full freedom of the fediweb without having to set up your own server. Here is how.
How to Join Mastodon
Mastodon is a microblogging network like Twitter, but it’s free and open-source. The developers have released the code to the software publicly for free so anyone can set up a Mastodon server and start setting up profiles on the network. If you’re not setting up your own server, here is how you can get on Mastodon using an existing server accepting new signups in FIVE steps.
- Go to joinmastodon.org
- Click “Get Started.”
3. Select your language and let the list refresh — optionally you can select an interest like LGBTQ, Regional, Activism or Gaming.
4. Cards will appear describing each server in your category and language. Select one that looks good and click “Join,” and you will be redirected to that server’s sign-up page in a new tab.
5. Fill in the information and you will receive an email with instructions for logging in and setting up your profile. Tweet me at @ReallyPhilReese your Mastodon profile info and I’ll add you. You can also add me on Mastodon, once you’re signed up.
How to join Friendica
Friendica is a free and open-source social network akin to Facebook, (the old) myspace, MeWe, Ello, etc. Users can create and expand an elaborate central profile page, and post content as status updates, which can then be read in the newsfeed of anyone who is following them. If you’re not setting up your own server, here is how you can join an existing instance of Friendica on a server accepting new users in SEVEN steps.
- Go to Friendi.ca.
- Hover over “Use It” or select it from menu
- Click “Find a Server”
4. Select “public services” under “Find a server.”
5. Look for a server using a language you are fluent in. This is because the setup process will be delivered in that language. If you don’t speak German, don’t select a server whose language is listed as Deutsch. Then click “Visit Server,” and you will be redirected to that server’s log-in page.
The little boxes at the top of each little card tell you about the “health” of the server next to a heart icon (100 means it doesn’t have noticeable downtime), the number of users on the server, if they’re running a current stable version of Friendica, and who the admin is. This information isn’t THAT important, but I caution you to select a server with 100 next to the heart running a stable version if you want less headaches in the future.
6. Depending on this particular server owner’s preferences, this page may look a little different on each server, but basically find the “Register” button and click it.
7. The registration page on each server may also look different, but fill out all the required info, and make sure you want to be listed PUBLICLY in the member directory. That way, people can find you when they join Friendica. Then accept the terms and send. Now you wait for an email with confirmation and instructions for logging in and setting up your profile. Check your spam.
And that’s it. It’s only 7 simple steps, but knowing you have to find a server, and then anxiety over selecting which server can be a bit of a barrier. Once past that, though, it’s just like signing up for any old network. If you set up a new Friendica account, tweet me your address at @ReallyPhilReese, and I’ll make sure to follow you. You can also add me on Friendica, once you’re signed up.
Time to get out of the prison!