The internet is constantly evolving. As large, centralized social networks like Twitter come under new ownership, many users look for alternatives that align better with their values. This has sparked renewed interest in an approach called the “fediverse”.
You may have heard of sites like Mastodon and wondered what exactly they are. The key is that these sites are part of decentralized, federated networks. They provide an alternative model to the dominant centralized platforms we’ve grown used to. So what exactly is the fediverse and how does it work?
At its core, the fediverse is a way of building social networks that give more control and options back to users. Keep reading and I’ll explain the basic concepts of federation and decentralization, using simple analogies like islands and bridges. By the end, you’ll understand how the fediverse provides an alternative model for online social networking.
What is the fediverse?
The fediverse (a blend of federation and universe) is a way for people to connect online that is different from big social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. On the fediverse, there are lots of small websites instead of one big website that everyone uses. These websites can all talk to each other, so you can interact with people on different websites.
Let’s imagine the fediverse is a bunch of islands. On each island is a different website where people can share posts, pictures, and chat. The islands have bridges between them so people can visit other islands and talk to those people too. You can pick which island you want to live on. Some islands have lots of rules and some have very few rules. There are big islands and small islands. If you don’t like your island, you can move to a different one but still visit all the same places.
This means no one company controls everything or gets to make all the rules. You have more choice and freedom about how you get to interact online. The websites are also allowed to talk to each other and work together because they use the same language to communicate.
For example, let’s say Island A and Island B both use the fediverse language. I live on Island A but my friend lives on Island B. I can post a picture from my island and my friend on Island B can see and comment on my post, even though we are on different websites. We can still be friends and interact even though we choose different islands.
So what can I do?
I know it can be confusing as you think about yet another tool with a funny name, but to me, the potential change in power structures, organization, and data portability is important.
In truth, you already have experience with another tool that relatively easily lets you move from one instance to another, email. You can start up a new email service, oftentimes for free, and move your messages over to the new server. You can send messages from one email server (for example gMail) to another email server (AOL Mail), and to another email server (your work email) without even thinking about it.
What other federated options do I have?
There are a ton of different options when you’re considering the fediverse. For me, I think about the tools, platforms, and spaces I hang out online. From there, I try to identify other options that I might use. Here’s some options you might want to check out.
- Pixelfed — An image-sharing microblogging server, kind of like Instagram. Here I am on Pixelfed.
- Peertube — A video sharing server. Upload your videos and other people can watch them. Think Youtube.
- WriteFreely — A blogging application that can participate in the Fediverse. Can be used as a personal blog or a sign-up-and-go community blog, kind of like Blogger. Built to encourage long-form writing.
- Plume — Another federated blogging application.
- Funkwhale — An audio and music-sharing server that can participate in the Fediverse. Think Soundcloud or Grooveshark.
If you’re looking for a cool visual to explore the options, check this site out.
The fediverse gives people more options, freedom, and control over their online social experiences. Give it a test drive and let me know what you think.