Categories
open source social

ActivityPub, the secret weapon of the Fediverse

The Fediverse is the name for a number of interconnected (federated) social networks running on free and open software on hundreds or even thousands of servers all over the globe. These servers and networks are owned and maintained by a community of people and, contrary to networks like Facebook or Twitter, are not owned by a single corporation or organisation. Therefore all data and control of that data is distributed over individuals and (mostly) small organisations. That all users of these servers are able to socially interact with each other is because of the protocol behind most of the Fediverse, ActivityPub.

The Fediverse logo
Fediverse logo, 5 nodes in pentagon shape with all diagonals, multicoloured Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Created by Eukombos

Now the boring stuff (which is actually very exciting). ActivityPub is a social networking protocol that enables the user (that’s you) to create, update and delete content over the network. In other words when you type a message, like a video or share a photo, the protocol ensures that these messages are exchanged properly. But that’s not what makes ActivityPub special. Other social networking protocols do the same thing, right? However ActivityPub is both open source software and it’s decentralized. This means that any developer can use the protocol to create an application for social media be it a micro-blog, a photo sharing app or a video sharing platform. Others (in fact anyone) can download the application, install it on a server and join an existing network (federate). Now this server becomes publicly available and you as a user can create an account and automatically join the Fediverse. Popular applications are Mastodon (microblogging), Pleroma (microblogging), PeerTube (video-streaming) and Pixelfed (image sharing)

Silos in Acatlán, Hidalgo, Mexico. (Photo by Diego Delso, License CC BY-SA, Source: Wikimedia Commons)

ActivityPub prevents that a social media platform becomes a silo (see photo) that can’t communicate with other platforms. Not only can a Mastodon user communicate with users on different servers on Mastodon, perhaps more importantly this user can also communicate e.g with a Friendica (macroblogging) user or a Pleroma user. These are totally different networks that all support ActivityPub. But this is even taken a step further where that same Mastodon user can follow his favourite PeerTube channel or someone that shares great photos on Pixelfed. This is like you were able to follow someone with your Twitter account on YouTube or Instagram. This also means that this Mastodon user can comment or like the PeerTube video from his/her Mastodon user interface. This is the true power of ActivityPub!

I already mentioned a few but there are dozens of applications that support ActivityPub. All have their different purposes and one has more ActivityPub integration than the other. One that I would like to highlight is Funkwhale. Funkwhale is a music streaming application. Like all applications mentioned above anyone can create a Funkwhale server and federate with other Funkwhale servers. The user is able to stream music from a different server, but also create favourites, make a playlist etc. Currently Funkwhale isn’t integrated with the rest of the Fediverse. Now recently the Funkwhale head developer, Eliot Berriot, started integration and made it possible to share music on Mastodon (perhaps also in Pleroma and Friendica but I haven’t tried that). This all works seamlessly thanks to ActivityPub.

The Funkwhale example demonstrates the power of ActivityPub. Applications with different purposes can work hand in hand. It avoids that Mastodon, which is by far the largest party in the Fediverse, becomes de-facto a silo. The Fediverse is supposed to be diverse and Funkwhale and other apps are enforcing that. In January 2018, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published the ActivityPub standard as a Recommendation. This is an important step for the acceptance of ActivityPub by developers and leads to more applications supporting ActivityPub therefore creating even greater diversity in the Fediverse.

With the support of W3C the future of ActivityPub and the Fediverse looks bright. Chances are that more networks will start supporting ActivityPub and will join the Fediverse. And that both developers and (wannabe) admins adopt ActivityPub either for their app or their own server. I’m convinced that this is the only viable way out of the mess created of Big Tech companies like Facebook or Google.

Further listening about the Federation and ActivityPub:

Categories
social

Welcome to the new decade

During last decade Big Tech with companies like FaceBook and Google increased their stranglehold on the internet. They turned internet-users to mouse-clicking or index-finger pointing consumers that are robbed of their data in order to create detailed profiles that can be sold to the highest bidder.

In this decade we take the internet back and the Fediverse enables us to do that. The Fediverse offers us a place where Big Tech is powerless and the user can take control again. Where we can create, communicate, upload videos and listen to music without the interference of FaceBook and Google. It’s important to understand that the Fediverse is more than the Mastodon micro-blog. Don’t get me wrong, Mastodon is awesome but the Fediverse is so much more than micro-blogging.

The website Fediverse.party shows that their are lots of other Fediverse apps. These apps excel in e.g streaming video (PeerTube) to replace Google’s YouTube, image sharing (PixelFed) to replace FaceBook’s Instagram, streaming music (Funkwhale) to replace Spotify or Google Play Music or a full blown blog (WriteFreely) to replace Blogger or Medium.

To escape from Big Tech and take matters in our own hands all these apps are every bit as important as Mastodon. So let’s use them and with that turn our back to FaceBook and Google.

Categories
social

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

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.