Create animated GIFs from MP4 with FFmpeg

Learn how to create an animated GIF that’s small enough to upload but with a decent quality.

Animated GIFs are after all these years still pretty popular. FFmpeg is a good FLOSS tool to create these animated GIFs. FFmpeg is available for Windows, Linux and OSX. A word of warning FFmpeg is a command line tool that’s very versatile but it’s not for everybody. In fact suppose this post is more for users that like to tinker a lot with their animated GIFs. Below I will explain not only how to create a animated GIF from an mpeg4 movie but I also provide instructions to improve the quality.

The basic command to create an animated GIF from a mpeg4 is:

ffmpeg -i input.mp4 output.gif

where the name of the input file is input.mp4 and output.gif is the name of the output file. Unfortunately gif images are large due to their lossless data compression. So you’ll end up with a file that’s much bigger than the original mpeg4 and probably something that exceeds the upload limit of Diaspora*, Friendica or Mastodon.

In order to reduce the size of the file we can reduce the size of the images or we can reduce the number of frames per second. To achieve this we need the following command:

ffmpeg -i input.mp4 -r 12 -s 320x180 output.gif

This command reduces the framerate to 12 per second and resizes to 320×180 pixels. For the size of the GIF make sure that the aspect ratio remains the same or the resulting GIF will be distorted.

When we look closely at the resulting GIF we clearly notice some shortcomings in the animation. This is due to the default GIF encoding in FFmpeg. Because GIFs only uses 256 colors the number of colors from the mpeg4 needs to be reduced. FFmpeg by default uses a generic palette of 256 colors that covers the widest range of content. This is in general not optimal for the specific video that you want to convert. Luckily FFmpeg allows us to create a custom palette for our specific video. To create this palette type:

ffmpeg -i input.mp4 -filter_complex "[0:v] palettegen" palette.png

When we look in the folder of our mpeg file well noice that a file ‘palette.png’ has been added. This is our newly created 256 color palette for our specific video which is generated by the palettegen filter. To use the new palette with our mpeg video type:

ffmpeg -i input.mp4 -i palette.png -r 12 -s 320x180 -filter_complex "[0:v][1:v] paletteuse" prettyOutput.gif

FFmpeg needs two input files (streams) in this case test.mp4 and our newly created palette.png. The paletteuse filter takes the two streams as input specified by [0:v] and [1:v] where v stands for video and the preceding number for the number of the stream. The output file is renamed to prettyOutput.gif to differentiate it from the earlier output.gif. The resulting video should be much … prettier. If your resulting video is still too large either reduce the frame rate or resize even further (or just reduce the length of the video of course).

Further reading:
http://blog.pkh.me/p/21-high-quality-gif-with-ffmpeg.html
https://engineering.giphy.com/how-to-make-gifs-with-ffmpeg/

EU Copyright Directive daydream

While Big Tech and Big IP holders are fighting the EU citizens are caught in the middle and are in danger of becoming the victim of this fight.

Article 13 and upload filters

In March or April the EU Parliament will vote for a new EU Copyright Directive. Recently France and Germany agreed on a proposal text for the Directive that according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF ) is the worst one yet. Earlier I wrote about the EU Copyright Directive and the threat it poses for average users like you and me. The reason is that Article 13 of the Directive will inevitably result in upload filters.

thanks for all this DRM

The EU Copyright Directive is actually a clash between Big Tech and Big IP holders and the EU citizens are caught in the middle. Worse they are manipulated by both sides for there own purposes. It reminds me of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) discussion where IP holders were trying to limit the access of software and multimedia content with technical means. Leaving the user with bad products and restricting their rights such a making a back-up. Instead of prohibiting DRM the legislators, influenced by the IP holders, tried to criminalize the circumvention of DRM, communication about such circumvention, and the creation and distribution of tools used for such circumvention.

history repeats

Now with Article 13 history repeats itself. On one hand there are wealthy technology companies such as Google and Facebook. They take the lion share of all the profits made on the internet. The winner takes all principle on the internet has denied other companies to enter the arena and gain a significant market share. Mean while Big Tech has gained access to user data and profited from this on an unprecedented scale.

On the other hand are the Big IP holders that exercise, in their eyes, unlimited and perpetual rights to all intelectual property and as we have seen with DRM enforce it with all means possible. In the middle is the internet user which in general is not a criminal and is not purposely trying to infringe copyright. Nevertheless this user has to pay in the same way as they did with DRM with access to the internet being subjected to upload filters that can reject any content that the user is trying to share.

let’s fight back

The solution to the DRM problem came from the community providing users with tools such as Handbrake enabling them to make that back-up copy. This time around the solution is likely to come from the community again and the tool is probably already available. For that we have to go back to 2010 and the origins of Diaspora. The initial inspiration for Diaspora came from a speech by Eben Moglen, Freedom in the Cloud, where he proposed a distributed system of pods, called Freedombox. The idea of Eben Moglen was for every user to have a server with his/her data in his/her home. This idea never came to fruition and currently Diaspora is a system of pods serving dozens or hundreds of users per pod. What if we were to go back to this original idea. It’s possibe. Freedombox is still here and the’re similar solution like Freedombone and perhaps others that I’m not familiair with.

Freedombox has a planned feature to create a Diaspora pod running on top of Freedombox and Freedombone allows the user to install a Friendica instance on it. Surely these homepods and instances will be free of all the restrictions mentioned in Article 13 as long as they are not-for profit. Your pod in your home therefore doesn’t need an upload filter and you can share all the information that you like as long as you’re respecting copyrighted material. It will create an iron clad distributed network where you detemine what you want to share without passing any third party upload filter. It is also a message to both Big Tech and Big IP holders that no matter what they think of the community will always come back with a solution to be able to share data in a way they want to.

Movim, FLOSS Alternative for Hangouts

News is spreading that Google will replace classic Hangouts with Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet. Since Google had already decided to close G+ forcing me to look for an alternative this was a good moment replace Hangouts with a FLOSS alternative. I’m pretty happy with the Fediverse social networks as a replacement for G+ but I haven’t been able to find a chat service in the Fediverse. Luckily the’re other FLOSS options. Two of those are Matrix and Movim. I briefly checked the Riot client of Matrix as a guest so I can’t tell much about it. Maybe later more on that. I’ve spend a considerable amount of time with Movim which is actually more than just a webbased chat service. Movim is a distributed social network built on top of XMPP.

Movim logo
Logo of Movim

XMPP

XMPP is a communication protocol. It is, unlike for instance ActivityPub, a real-time protocol and therefore suitable for message oriented services like chat or IM. It’s an open protocol so any developer willing can use it in his/her application. There’s a sizeable list of application that support XMPP ranging from apps for the mobile phone to web oriented services.

Movim

Being build on top of XMPP, Movim has a good chat capability. You can create a public chatroom that anyone can join or have a private chat with another person. It also enables the user to create a community (or more) and a news stream. An advantage of Movim using the XMPP protocol is that with an Movim account you’re able to communicate with anyone with an XMPP account not just with Movim. To give an example I’ve been exchanging messages with someone that uses a Friendica server with a XMPP addon.

Movim is completely federated due to the underlying XMPP protocol which means that even when a server goes down the network keeps functioning and you’re still able to chat with your friends, as long as they were not logged into that specific server of course. The federated structure also provides privacy for the user. Your information is kept only on your XMPP server and information is being shared with other servers only if you decided to share it.

In the current version of Movim (0.14) end-to-end encryption is not implemented but it is planned for the next version. This means that currently Movim is not suitable if you need secure communication.

If you want more in-depth explanation about Movim and the technical choices that were being made check out this blog post from the developer of Movim: https://fr.movim.eu/?blog/edhelas@movim.eu/how-s-made-movim-part-i-the-architecture-CCA7If

You can check it out here: https://movim.eu/?lang=fr&hl=fr

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, Friendicaand Hubzilla. 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.

ease of use

The different social networks in the Fediverse have a widely different user experience. Now it’s up for debate which is easy to use and which is not but I’ll give my opinion on this. The most easy to use social networks are in my opinion Mastodon and Diaspora* and I recommend them for beginners in the Fediverse. Both have a relatively simple interface with easy access to the functions and concentrate on social interaction. On the other end of the spectrum are Hubzilla and Friendica. Both these social networks are packed with functionality and Hubzilla is even more than a social network (e.g it allows the user to create a website). The interface for both can be difficult to master with lots of options, menus and submenus. It took me a considerable time to find all the functionality in Friendica and after half a year I still find new options.

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 lacks 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 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/

EDIT 25 February 2019: I removed the Osada social network because the developers decided to abandon it. Instead they are concentrating their efforts on the Zap social network which is similar to Osada with one huge difference that Zap doesn’t support the ActivityPub protocol.

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.

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 forum

Friendica (self-hosting possible)

Both are macroblogging social media networks that offer the possibility to create a forum. The UI of Friendica doesn’t look very modern but the functionality needed to use and maintain a forum is all there. Click this link to see an example of what a Friendica forum looks like. If you want to create a forum on a existing server please note that the administrator of this server can place limits to the forum e.g the number of participant or the number of forums that can be created by one account. Be aware that you’re a guest on someone else’s server.

A practical example. In the German town of Zwenkau the citizens are provided with a community platform, the Zwenkauer Flaschenpost, for online communication and discussion between citizens. This is all done with a standard Friendica install on a server. If you want to read more here is a link.

Movim (self-hosting possible)

Movim is social platform that let you share and chat. Movim is build on top of the XMPP communication protocol. A strength of Movim is that is federates and that everyone with a XMPP account (e.g Jabber) can connect. Once you’ve created an account it’s very easy to create a community. The UI looks modern but some community admin features are missing (or I couldn’t find them). As an example as an owner I couldn’t ban someone from the community. This is a link to a Movim community. Also a word of warning if you create a forum on an existing server be aware that you’re a guest of that server and that restriction may be applicable.

I recently wrote a more lengthy post about the chat capabilities of Movim.

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. Here is a link to mastodon.art an instance where artists can show their artwork.

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. If you want to see what the interface looks like here is a link.

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. Here is a link to the source of NodeBB. You can check the interface yourself on this website. Here is a link to a guide how to install Flarum.

Discourse (self-hosting possible)

Discourse is an open source and mailing list management software application also with a modern UI. It can either be self-hosted or Discourse can host for you. The latter which is clearly the business model of Discourse comes at price tag. If you want to see what Discourse looks like take a look at the discussion forum of Diaspora*or Tom’s 3D community. Here is a link to the source code and another to the install guide.

EDIT: I removed the Osada social network because the developers decided to abandon it. Instead they are concentrating their efforts on the Zap social network which is similar to Osada with one huge difference that Zap doesn’t support the ActivityPub protocol.

Last updated: 26 Februari 2019

Filtering options in the Friendica social network

Friendica is a good alternative to the Diaspora* social network. One of the features that makes Friendica shine are various filtering options. This article describes them.

Diaspora* vs Friendica

About two months ago I created a Friendica account to make a comparison with Diaspora*.  I wanted to know if Friendica is a good alternative to Diaspora*. A problem that I have with Diaspora*, at least on my pod, is the lack of control of the stream. The stream contains all the posts from the hashtags and people that I follow. Although this is an excellent way to create a stream it also results in much unwanted posts. An example, if I follow someone on Diaspora* I get every post. If for instance I find another person interesting for his/her ideas about the Fediverse I also get all the kitty pictures. In this case I often end up ignoring the person entirely which is a pity.

Filtering in Friendica

Friendica provides much better control over the posts in /network (this is the equivalent of the Diaspora* stream). This is achieved with several filter options. Under /settings/addon these filtering options can be found. Here is a summary:

  • Collapse (=partially hide) posts from specified users with Blockem
  • Allow only specified languages. Other languages are collapsed (Language Filter)
  • Collapse posts with specified hashtags e.g nsfw (Content Filter)
  • Block specified users (Superblock)
  • Advanced Content Filter, a very versatile filter that allows to collapse posts on about every property found in a post, such as body text, title, author boolean combinations of properties. This is done in so called rules. The Advanced Content Filter uses Symfony’s Expression Language. The following link provides some examples https://github.com/friendica/friendica/wiki/Advanced-Content-Filter-addon. Advanced Content Filter enables the user for instance to collapse every post that has an image (and saves me a lot of scrolling) or has certain text in the body. A simple example, the rule body matches "/politics/" collapses every post that contains the word ‘politics’.

Furthermore Friendica displays at the top of a post when a filter is used. This way it’s easy to determine if the filtering works as intended.

All in all the filtering options of Friendica are a good way to control the posts in the stream improving the experience of the social network. The image filter and the language filter alone strongly reduce the amount of mouse scrolling for me.

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 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.

Diaspora*, an alternative social network for GooglePlus

Three weeks ago I wrote an article about the demise of G+ and I defined four criteria for an alternative social network. This blog post describes my experience with Diaspora.

Why an alternative social network

Three weeks ago I wrote an article about the demise of G+ and I defined four criteria for an alternative social network. Based on these criteria I choose three social networks, Mastodon, MeWe and Diaspora* and signed up on them and promised to write about my experience with these three.

I will not write any further about MeWe since I already deleted the account after one week and wrote a post about it. So that leaves Mastodon and Diaspora*. This blog post is about my experience with Diaspora*.

Screenshot of the Diaspora* interface. Not flashy but very functional and fast.

What is Diaspora*

The shortest way to describe Diaspora* is it being a Facebook clone however this doesn’t do justice to Diaspora*. Although the user interface of Diaspora* has similarities with Facebook the network couldn’t be more different, kind of an anti-Facebook. First of all Diaspora* is free and open source software while Facebook is proprietary and Diaspora* is distributed while Facebook is centralized. The latter means that while Facebook is owned by a single entity that controls the entire network and it’s users Diaspora* has no owner and thus can never be controlled by a single organisation or person. Instead Diaspora* consists of many servers (or pods) that have their own administrator. These servers are are all interconnected (or federated). Without going into details about how this works exactly being distributed has other notable advantages from a user point of view.

  • First of all Diaspora* doesn’t have ads  (it worth to note that some centralized social networks like G+ and MeWe also don’t have ads).
  • Diaspora* can’t be closed or sold.
  • There is no ‘built-in’ data-mining. While it can’t be excluded that some rogue administrator will use your data there is no ‘Diaspora* business model’ that would encourage this. Meaning that your privacy is better protected.

Conversations on Diaspora* are good and in-depth although it takes time to identify good contacts.

Working with Diaspora*

Being a user of G+ for several years I admit it took a little time to get used to the Diaspora* interface. Central is the ‘Stream’, a single column of posts of your contacts (followers in G+) and the hashtags (e.g #Linux) that you follow. Next is ‘My Activity’ which lists all posts that you liked, shared or commented on but also the posts that you wrote yourself. Lastly there is ‘Public activity’ that shows all public posts from the Diaspora* community. This also shows nudity or even porn but, as I noticed so far, this was always tagged with #nsfw which stands for ‘not suitable for work’. These #nsfw posts are not shown until the users clicks to open it. I think this is good solution to protect the user without censorship.

Conversations on Diaspora* are good and in-depth although it takes time to identify good contacts. After two weeks I have 29 contacts (on Januari 9 it was 50) of which half turns out to be what I consider good. Diaspora* provides the user with a good tool to ignore a contacts for instance if he or she turns out to be spammer. Diaspora* also allows for a private chat with an established contact which can be very handy.

Diaspora* doesn’t have the G+ equivalent of communities, a group of users sharing posts about a certain topic, and collections, a single users sharing posts about a single topic. These communities and collections can’t be mimicked by combined tags and aspects.

Conclusion

Diaspora* is, after Mastodon, the second biggest distributed social networks with the about 660.000 user accounts. Still a dwarf compared to FaceBook but I’m not interested in the total number of users. I’m interested in the quality of the conversation and this is good, in fact it’s very good. People are mostly knowlegdeable and helpful which guarentees meaningful chats. Just what I’m looking for.

I still prefer the G+ interface with multiple columns over the one column stream in Diaspora* because it saves a lot of scrolling however this seems like nitpicking. Overall the user interface of Diaspora* is straight forward and easy to work with.

The user has good control of the streams of information although I would have preferred the user to be able to combine tags and aspects. The reason for this is I want to be able to follow someone on certain topics instead of all his or her posts.

Yes, my family and friends are not on Diaspora* but I don’t care about that in fact it’s a plus.

Diaspora* works surprisingly good on low-end machines. This is probably due to the minimal user interface. I consider this a big plus since I have a very old Thinkpad laptop that I use regularly.

Yes, my family and friends are not on Diaspora* but I don’t care about that in fact is a plus. I’d rather see them face to face anyway.

In conclusion Diaspora* starts to grow on me. I had a slow start with it but I’m gradually beginning to experience the strength of this well established and stable social network. I found Diaspora* very easy to use a plus that is not to be underestimated. The content that’s being shared is valuable and the conversations are excellent. For me that’s what counts when it comes to social networks.

EDIT: Diaspora* users can choose between a couple of Android apps. I choose Dandelior (which is the same app from the same developer as Dandelion) and I like it. Dandelior and Dandelion for Android can be downloaded from F-Droid.

EDIT: Diaspora* uses Markdown to format text making it an excellent choice for macroblogging. Markdown appears to be more powerful than the editing features of G+. This and the single column stream are making Diaspora* an excellent choice for macroblogging.

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. 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.

For-profit company

What’s more MeWe is a for-profit company backed by investors that want a handsome return on investment. If the current business model doesn’t deliver they will demand changes in the network and these changes will not be in the interest of the users. I already read that MeWe is tracking. More recently I read that MeWe sends emails to people from the users contact list in their smartphone. These two examples demonstrate that, contrary to their advertising, MeWe doesn’t respect your privacy.

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 6 March 2019 this wasn’t the case). Also more recently MeWe appears not to take the privacy of their users very seriously. These are the reasons and I therefore 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: 6 March 2019.

EDIT 24 januari 2019. I hate to say told you so but an article appeared in The Times that’s not favourable for MeWe. A citation:

The social network that Sir Tim Berners-Lee hoped would be free from abuse has been found to contain gun sales, drugs and antisemitism.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sir-tim-berners-lee-s-app-mewe-is-used-by-neo-nazis-and-perverts-svflhn32

Apparently Apple already pulled the MeWe app from the Apple App Store: https://plus.google.com/+KeithWilson/posts/bh7SWgyiTp5