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.
Okay, 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 there are 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.
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 there 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 boycott 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.
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 guaranteed and allow yourself some time to get. 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.