Guide for GPlus refugees to choose a new social network in the Fediverse

If you’re still looking for an alternative social network to replace G+ here is a guide to the Fediverse that helps you choose.

Time is running out for GPlus refugees. G+ will close on April 2nd. So to help people that haven’t decided yet where to go in the Fediverse I made some pointers.

I divided this guide in a number of sections. Each section describes a certain use of social networks and which networks are most suitable for this specific use. Combine this with your preferred use of a social network and you should be able make a decision.

The Fediverse logo
Fediverse logo

Micro- or macroblog

In general a macroblogger writes longer posts with longer intermittent periods while a microblogger writes short bursts on a daily basis. Microblog networks typically have a maximum post length of hundreds of characters. The macroblogger can choose between Diaspora*, Socialhome, Friendica, Hubzilla and Osada. The microblogger can choose between Mastodon, Pleroma, Misskey or GNU Social.

user interface

Arguably the most important part of a social network is the interface. Lot’s of G+ users like the smooth interface with the grid layout, the stream with updates on people, collections and communities that you follow and the lack of ads. G+ has an algorithm but unlike FB my stream felt mostly relevant with interesting posts (ok, lets forget about discover which I never used because it mostly served me rubbish).

First, none of the social networks of the Fediverse show ads or have some kind of algorithm to influence the stream of posts. All macroblog social networks (see above) have a stream only with updates on people and topics (tags in Diaspora*) that you! follow. The interface of Mastodon is very different from G+ and has more similarities with Twitter. It allows you the follow users but not topics (although the user can search for tags). Nevertheless the interface of Mastodon works very well and might be an important reason that this social network is currently by far the most popular of the Fediverse.

If the grid-like layout of G+ is important to you, Socialhome features a similar grid-like layout.

Mobile

If mobile is important it’s good to know that some social network are supported by multiple mobile apps while others (mostly the newer social network) current don’t have a mobile app. I believe that Mastodon is best supported with multiple mobile apps. Diaspora*, Friendica, Hubzilla, GNU Social and Pleroma have at least one mobile app. As far as I know Socialhome and Osada lack a mobile app.

Support for Diaspora* protocol

If it’s important to connect with friends on Diaspora* it’s good to know that currently not all social networks in the Fediverse enable you to do that. Socialhome is based on the Diaspora* protocol while Friendica and Hubzilla support it. Friendica and Hubzilla are the only social networks that’s able to connect with (I believe) all social networks of the Fediverse.

Photo/Video

If photo’s are very important to you (think Instagram) Pixelfed is designed with photo sharing in mind. The same can be said about PeerTube for video.

Sharing/castinG

If your interested in sharing more than discussing or having a conversation you either need to choose for a social network with the largest number of users or a social network that can connect with all other networks. The best choice for that is either Mastodon or for the latter Friendica or perhaps Pleroma or Hubzilla.

Discover/be inspired

If you want to discover what’s going on in the Fediverse you’ll either want to choose Mastodon because of its size or a network that connects with most other social networks. I believe that in the latter case Friendica is the best choice but if you’re less interested in the Diaspora* side of things you can also choose Hubzilla, Osada or Pleroma.

Shared interest

G+ was the shared interest network and that gap is hard to fill. Nevertheless there are options. Mastodon has servers that are for people interested in specific topics like art (mastodon.art), open source (Fosstodon), Linux (linuxrocks.online), technology (mastodon.technology)) or science (scholar.social). Diaspora* takes a different approach where contacts can be ordered in aspects. By default the aspects are Family, Friends, Acquaintances and Work (social circles) but special interests aspects such as Science op OpenSource can very well be added. The groups in Friendica have a similar working.

Private message

Social networks such as Mastodon, Diaspora, Friendica and Hubzilla can be used for private messages but keep in mind that if you’re on Diaspora you can’t send a private message to someone on Mastodon vice versa.

Connect with G+ friends

G+ users went everywhere but the’re some likely places where you can meet old G+ friends. The most prominent is likely the Diaspora* instance (=server) Pluspora. As the name indicates Pluspora is especially created for G+ refugees so there’s a good chance you’ll find friends over there. It may be good to point out that Pluspora is part of the Diaspora* network. I’ve also seen some of my old G+ friends surfacing on either Mastodon or on Diaspora*.

There is no denying that G+ filled a gap in the market of social media networks. G+ was a shared interest network where the user could follow multiple persons on collections or I could join a community around a specific interest. This gap isn’t easy to fill by any social media network. Now my last tip is this. Take your time to look around in your new network, don’t expect it to be like G+ but keep an open mind and judge it on its own merits. After some time you’ll discover that this new social network has its own qualities that you start to care about and love.

Link to my blog post about FLOSS tools to create a community or forum: http://homehack.nl/floss-tools-to-create-a-forum-or-community/

Link to a blog post about distributed social networks: http://homehack.nl/distributed-social-networks/

When to use Friendica over Diaspora*

This post contains some use cases where Friendica could be a better choice than Diaspora*

Lately I’ve came across discussions and questions about the difference between Diaspora* and Friendica. So, after an earlier reply today describing when it’s worthwile to use Friendica instead of Diaspora, I decided to expand on that post. On the surface both social networks look similar, they’re allow for blogging with a markup language to structure text, the interface shows similarities and they share most of the functionality. Although they were both released in 2010 Diaspora is much better known and has more users. So why use Friendica at all?

I therefore defined some typical use cases where Friendica could be benificial:

  1. Being able to connect and communicate with contacts from various social networks of the Fediverse. Friendica supports different social networking protocols and federates with Mastodon, Diaspora* and Pleroma and others.
  2. Being able to automatically post from Friendica to several social networks (even non-federated and even to your WordPress blog) e.g. important for people that cast on mulitple social networks at once. This service alone is one that some people are willing to pay for.
  3. Being able to follow and discuss certain hashtags over multiple social networks. See 1). Important if you don’t want to miss anything 😉
  4. To setup a forum for a certain purpose for multiple people to join.
  5. Being able to fine tune the Stream (/network in Friendica) in great detail e.g following a person but not on every topic, collapse all the images or collapse all reshares. I wrote an earlier blog post about this: http://homehack.nl/filtering-options-in-the-friendica-social-network/

The’re also features that Friendica is missing.

  1. A link to a website doesn’t show a preview on my current Friendica server squeet.me. This is for some people a very important feature that’s missing.
  2. The upload limit for a photo can be lower depending on the server. On the popular server squeet.me it is 781.25Kb this is way lower than the 4.2 Mb of Diaspora*. I guess the message is to carefully choose a server for your account.

All additional features of Friendica come at a price, complexity of the UI. This is I think the reason that Friendica is harder to master than Diaspora. Diaspora fulfills the needs of most people and the simplicity of the interface is in fact one of the strong suits of this social network. Friendica on the other hand is more for power users or people that absolutely need one of the use cases mentioned above.

Full disclosure I use both Friendica and Diaspora* and currently I don’t prefer one over the other.

Distributed social networks

Read about the Fediverse where you own your data instead of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. This post explains about the different social networks in de Fediverse and how you can get an account, no strings attached.

Centralized networks

Chances are you have a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account. All three very popular free (as in free beer) social networks that have something in common. They are centralized services owned by a single commercial entity and that entity wants to make profit. In fact they want to make as much profit as possible. Unfortunately this profit comes at a loss, your loss. The social networks gathers your data this is called data mining. This data is mined to create a profile of you to serve you ads. Also they sell your data to third parties and who knows what they’ll do with it.

Ok, you probably all know this but what can you do about it? First, if you don’t care about all this you can stop reading and continue posting kitty pics on Facebook. If you do care please read on because the’re good alternatives.  Alternatives that aren’t centralized, aren’t commercial, don’t maximize profit, in fact they don’t make a profit at all. Is this possible? Yes, welcome to the distributed social networks.

The federated universe better known as the Fediverse. Image taken from the Fediverse.party website which reads like a who is who in the Fediverse and has detailed information about the different social networks.

Distributed networks

Now what are distributed social networks? These networks are full featured social networks that do what social networks are supposed to do, enable you to interact socially over the internet, have a chat, have a conversation, discuss, blog and share. But the services are decentralized or distributed over distinct providers. Every provider maintains a server (or multiple servers) and interacts with the other distinct servers thus creating a joined service. Hence the name federated network also know by the name Fediverse.

The lack of a single commercial entity provides huge advantages for the user of the Fediverse.

  • Since the’re is no single owner it can’t mine your data. This means that the data is yours and not the owner’s. You decide what you want to share e.g in your profile and who you want to share it with. This ensures a better protection of your privacy.
  • No owner can decide to close the social network. This is what happened to G+. But even if a distinct provider of the Fediverse closes his server you can take your profile and move it to another server and continue like nothing happened.
  • No government can block the Fediverse nor can an ISP boycot the Fediverse. Remember what happened to Gab where ISP’s and other parties boycotted the service. An ISP can close a server but the Fediverse consists of thousands of distinct servers all around the world.
  • If your server doesn’t meet particular needs you can hop to another taking your data with you and never leave the social network. NOTE: this is not available for the Diaspora social network.
  • No ads. Servers of a distributed network cost money but this money doesn’t come from ads shown to the user. People that maintain the servers either pay this out of their own pocket or you can support them with donations (which I highly recommend).

With all these advantages you may be wondering who are these social networks and how can I get an account. For a full overview you can go to fediverse.party where you can find detailed information about more than ten social networks. I’ll mention the biggest four here:

  • Mastodon. By far the biggest of the federated networks. It’s a free, federated alternative to Twitter with a Tweetdeck like interface. A post, called a ‘toot’ can have a maximum of 500 characters.
  • Diaspora. In size second after Mastodon with a Facebook like interface but in terms of content more an anti-Facebook social network. Diaspora is lightweight making it very fast on even old PC’s.
  • Friendica. Diaspora and Mastodon use different communication protocols and can’t interact with each other. Friendica solves that by supporting several protocols. It can therefore serve as a hub to communicate with several networks. Apart from that Friendica could be considered as a Diaspora with additional features.
  • Hubzilla. Offers the same benefits as Friendica but uses some cutting edge features not present in Friendica. Probably beneficial for power users.

Conclusions

The Fediverse is a great place for social interaction. People in general are nice and the conversation are good. Yes they don’t have billions of users but it’s the quality of the interaction that counts. Sign up to one of these network, no strings attached garanteed and allow yourself some time to get acquainted. If you don’t like it try another one. The experience differ greatly over the different social networks. I’m sure that after a while you’ll find the right network that you will call home.