FLOSS tools to create a forum or community

With G+ closing in a couple of months community owners are searching for alternatives. I provide a number of FLOSS options.

Introduction

With the demise of G+ a lot of community owners are suddenly looking for a new home. Since a lot of G+ users despise FaceBook (and rightfully so) other social networks are mentioned. The problem with a lot of these networks is that they are centralized and proprietary making the users depending on the whims of the owner of the network. Below I summerize the FLOSS options for people interested in setting up a community. This is not an exhaustive list. I encountered these options after discussions often on G+ and I experimented with some of these options during the last couple of months.

Self-hosted or not

An important decisions is whether or not to host the forum or community yourself. If you want to host it yourself you’ll keep full control of the server however the maintenance is considerably more labor-intensive than with a non-selfhosted solution. You also need to install the software on a server and configure it.

Friendica and Osada (self-hosting possible)

Both are macroblogging social media networks that offer the possibility to create a forum. I found the Osada forum particularly easy to set-up and maintain. The UI of both doesn’t look very modern but the functionality needed to use and maintain a forum is all there.

Movim (self-hosting possible)

Movim is social platform that let you share and chat. But it’s also possible once you’ve created an account to create a community. The UI looks modern but some forum admin features are missing (or I couldn’t find them). As an example as an owner I couldn’t ban someone from the community.

Mastodon (self-hosting possible)

Mastodon is a microblog social network that has a TweetDeck like interface. I was hesitant to add it to this list because the UI and the dynamic experience differ from a classical forum where the same post remains in the viewport for days or weeks. However when joining the right instance (=server) or create one yourself it may very well become a great dedicated community.

Flarum (only self-hosting)

Open source forum software that is currently in beta. Nice, modern UI. I’ve read some concerns about the beta status and the stability of Flarum.

NodeBB (self-hosting possible)

Open source forum software with a modern UI. You can either self host for free or use a NodeBB hosting plan that comes with a price tag.

MeWe worse than Facebook?

I signed-up on MeWe, the “no ads”, “no spyware”, “no BS” social network. The experience was not good at all and deleted my account after a week. This is my verdict on MeWe.

Let’s try MeWe

With the demise of G+ users were and still are looking for other options. Most of them appear to dislike Facebook otherwise they would have been on that platform a long time ago. It surprised that MeWe, a new social network was mentioned a lot on G+. I got curious and I visited the website where I was welcomed the following text “no ads”, “no spyware” and “no BS”. So now I was really interested and I decided to give it a shot and signed up. I deleted my account a week later. Is MeWe worse than Facebook?

Deleting the account had nothing to do the dull interface or the constant email messages I was getting from MeWe. I just realized that MeWe is very bad idea.  To begin with it’s a proprietary closed network which will be disastrous for any community trying to share information with a wide audience. Anything you post there is hidden from the web. Let me give you an example: in Google search try: site:plus.google.com “ubuntu 18.10” . You’ll see lots of results. Same for FaceBook or Fosstodon (a Mastodon instance). Now try this at MeWe: site:mewe.com “ubuntu 18.10”. Nothing! Imagine the whole community invisible for Google.

Privacy and free speech

Now you might say that’s a good thing it provides the users privacy by not sharing anything with the web. But if you want privacy you also want control over what you share with the world and what you don’t want to share. Well MeWe doesn’t offer that. In a way this takes the user back to the old Compuserve days, an isolated gated community without any connection with the web.

But the’re are more problems with MeWe. Due to their free speech policy it attracts a lot of nasty people that got kicked out off Facebook. So don’t be surprised to meet a lot of trolls and extremists on MeWe, the kind of people not interested in a nice conversation.

Coordinated G+ strategy

Also I’m convinced that they have a coordinated campaign spamming G+ communities with posts to motivate people to move to MeWe. In the open source software community of G+ people that never posted a single thing suddenly started heavily promoting MeWe. I also noticed this behaviour on other G+ communities. I looked into one of the promoters and followed him to MeWe where he was discussing a strategy to attract as many Gplussers as possible. For me a clear indication for a coordinated campaign. This is not forbidden of course and some might even call it good marketing but it somehow disgusted me.

Centralized network

One more problem with MeWe is that it is a centralized network owned by a private company. If the owners of MeWe close the network tomorrow you’ll be looking for a new network all over again just like G+.  I guess I finally learned my lesson after G+ and I don’t want to be part of a private owned central network again.

Conclusion

As you can tell I’m far from positive about MeWe. Yes it doesn’t have ads (yet?) but it’s just another Facebook wannabee with trolls and extremists in a gated community. Also with FaceBook at least the information is searchable from outside the social network while MeWe doesn’t offer that. (it’s rumoured for months that this will change but up until 9 januari 2019 this wasn’t the case). These are the two reasons I conclude that MeWe could turn out to be a worse experience than FaceBook.

So what’s the alternative. I’ll be writing about that in a next blog post.

EDIT: last updated: 9 januari 2019.

Bye bye Google

I was pretty pissed that Google decided to close G+. As an alternative I came up with a short list of three social media services: Mastodon, Diaspora and MeWe. In the coming weeks I will choose between these three services.

Google+ closing, now what?

Like many others I was pretty much pissed off that Google decided to close G+ next August. I had a lot of social going on at G+ in fact it was the only social media service that I really used (I have a Reddit account that I hardly use). I believe Winston Churchill said to never waste a good crisis so I took the opportunity to look around at other options. I defined some criteria that could help me choose a new social network.

  • preferably open source. G+ wasn’t open source but since I’m an open source advocate it seems appropiate to sign up for a service that itself is open source.
  • quality instead of quantity. I’m looking for meaningful conversations and not mindless sharing of kitty pictures.
  • will protect my privacy. I understand that no service can fully guarantee my privacy but I’m sick and tired of all the data mining.
  • no annoying ads. I’m not against advertisements here and there but I hate these in your face ads on Fartbook.

With these criteria in mind I came up with a short list of three social media services: Mastodon, Diaspora and MeWe. It could have been more but I had to draw the line somewhere. So I signed-up for all three. Preferably I will end up with one or, at the most, two of these. I’m already spending more time on social media than I’m comfortable with. So in the coming weeks I will choose between these three services.

EDIT: I already deleted my MeWe account. It’s a proprietary and centralized service and apparently due to their free speech policy it attracts a lot of nasty people that got kicked out off Facebook. Also I believe that they have a coordinated campaign spamming G+ communities with posts to convince people to move to MeWe.

What about Blogger, Drive and GMail

By closing G+  Google has become unreliable for me. The question is what will they close next and will this affect me? I therefore took a look at other Google services to see if I was exposed to further risks down the line. Most notably I have Blogger, Drive and GMail so I decided to be one step ahead of Google and say goodbye to these services too. This will not happen overnight but I will do it and post the results here. And the beauty of it all I feel rather good about it.