An Exploration Of Fediverse Server Software

(Or: How Do I Own My Social Media Feed?)

Originally my personal website was created to escape from centralized social media. I mean, that's literally what my homepage continues to say. And I definitely still think that a personal website is a great way to really own your online presence! So, in case it needs repeating... make a Neocities for free!

When I initially created my site though, I still planned on sticking to my centralized social media, but hopefully decreasing my time spent on there substantially by exploring Neocities and other indie web sites instead. However, given the news of Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter for the purpose of protecting free speech, I feel like I finally have the motivation to completely start distancing myself from Twitter.

One thing I love about having my own personal website is that it belongs to me. There are no algorithms on this website trying to stir up engagement or advertise to you. There are no restrictions on how I want my web pages to look. It's just... a space for my assorted internet things, and if one day I want to take it all down I can at any moment!

Still, I think the format of microblogging is still really fun and has its own uses (as well as normal "macro" blogging) so while I would love to migrate away from Twitter, I still want to have something like Twitter... just decentralized and preferably something I could own an instance of. ...Which brings me to....

Twtxt - Text Based Tweets for Hackers

Currently on my website's Journal section, I run a microblog that is powered by a utility called twtxt. I put powered in quotes there because the actual microblog is just a simple text file and the command line utility just appends a date and status to a new line of the text file every time I want to tweet. I then use JavaScript to parse this text file and render it out onto the journal page. Seriously, that's it.

Twtxt is a dead simple way to create a self-hosted social media feed. I just FTP up the file every time I want to tweet something out and my feed updates automatically. And because I'm using the Twtxt format, if you use Twtxt, you can load up my feed in your Twtxt client and see my statuses right on your timeline! How neat is that? Also, more importantly, I can actually edit my tweets, since I just have to edit the text file!

Well... while it's fun to have a feed that's totally under my control, it definitely comes with its drawbacks. Because Twtxt is so simple, it's ultimately a very limited and lonely experience without fancier clients and extensions to the format. Because you're only subscribing to other people's feeds, there's no way for you to be notified if someone follows you. And there are no concepts of retweets or likes/favorites in twtxt at all. Multimedia posting is basically non-existent, outside of manually uploading your media elsewhere and then linking to it. Multiline tweets aren't supported without weird extensions to the format. And as far as I can tell, outside of this single instance, basically no one uses Twtxt at all. I don't follow anyone on my twtxt client, and it is lonely.

I was initially skeptical of tech like Mastodon when Twtxt was a lot simpler... but after facing these limitations for a while (and after the drop of the previously mentioned Twitter news), I decided that maybe, just maybe, I should actually see what the fuss was about so I could do basic things like... interact with people and post from my phone.

Mastadon and The Great Twitter Refugee Crisis

「それ…アイカツか?」

On April 25th, I decided I wanted to try joining a Mastodon instance. I already had the instance I wanted to join picked out, too: Kirakiratter. It's an instance themed around my favorite anime series, Aikatsu, and I'd been wanting to join it for a while, just for the fun of being able to say I have an account on Kirakiratter (the in-universe Twitter equivalent). I mean... this blog is vaguely Aikatsu-themed so I'm down to make my microblog Aikatsu-themed as well! Time to finally sign up!

Temporarily closing registrations to prevent people from signing up on here just because Elon Musk acquired Twitter. Please check back later!!
Oh... oh...

Well, since KiraKiratter wasn't open for signups... I guess it was time to find another Mastodon instance to jump onto. I browsed through instances for a while, and even found some interesting ones, but I was kind of initimidated by the idea of joining any Mastodon instance.

All of the instances I linked to, and honestly most fediverse instances in general, are small themed instances. While it usually seems pretty chill, I wasn't completely sure if going off-topic in a themed instance was frowned upon or not. Plus I didn't want to join one of the bigger general instances because I specifically wanted to be on a smaller instance and see the powers of ~federation~ happen right before my eyes.

But I wanted to own my social media feed anyways, so instead of joining some random Mastodon instance, what if I just made my own? Then I'd never be off topic even if I wanted to tweet about Aikatsu, game dev, OR accordions!

Hosting a Mastodon Instance: More Like MastoDON'T

I seriously looked into hosting my own Mastodon instance, right down to being a click away from setting up a Digital Ocean droplet with the Mastodon auto-config thing on it.

The one thing that bothered me was that everyone was saying that Mastodon was quite heavy. It's a Rails app with a lot of extra things you need to set up alongside it. Since I haven't even tried out the Fediverse yet, I didn't exactly want to shell out a bunch of money on a powerful droplet if the $5 a month droplet would work just fine. But it was looking more like it'd cost extra money to keep the server running, even for just myself and maybe a couple of friends.

While there are those who claimed they could run Mastodon on the most basic droplet, I didn't want to take that risk, especially once I discovered that there was other software you could set up that wasn't Mastodon but still could interact with the larger Fediverse.

Pleroma

Pleroma is an alternative to Mastodon and it seemed perfect for me! It's much lighter weight (so much that it can run on a Raspberry Pi), but is still fully compatible with Mastodon to the point where you can even use some mobile apps built for Mastodon with a Pleroma instance! And it doesn't use Rails! Wowee!

Pleroma also seemed to be used for a lot more personal instances consisting of just the server host and maybe a few friends, since it was also easier to set up, so seeing these instances also gave me the confidence that setting up my own instance was possible and also like... a normal thing people did.

But there is one serious issue with Pleroma, and it's not technical: It's the people.

Now while there are plenty of cool people using Pleroma, there's a reputation out there that Pleroma is the fediverse software used by nazis. While my initial exploration of Mastodon broke my stereotypical assumption that the Fediverse was occupied by a disproportionate amount of bad people who were only there because they were banned from Twitter, exploring the Pleroma-verse made me realize that... well, that assumption is true to some degree if you look in the right places.

There is a more specific accusation that the dev(s?) of Pleroma are bad people. I don't actually know who the dev team is, and I don't know if those accusations are true. But regardless, certain Mastodon instances will refuse to federate any Pleroma instances immediately because of it.

... I'd really prefer if my fediverse instance was not associated with nazis or caught on a blocklist for no real reason. So... I don't think Pleroma is it for me. Maybe if a fork comes along it will be the great fediverse software... but until then, I don't know man.

Misskey

Misskey is another alternative to Mastodon, and also an alternative to Pleroma too I guess. It's not quite as lightweight as Pleroma is, but it still beats out Mastodon. One of the immediate downsides of Misskey is that it isn't compatible with most Mastodon apps, and even the apps that are compatible lack the Misskey-exclusive features.

But there are quite a few notable unique features to Misskey. I won't nyame all of them, but I'm quite fond of the emoji reactions, the cat mode nya nya, and the drive.

I was unsure if Misskey also had any weird nazi associations. And while there are probably nazis who use Misskey, I don't really immediately get results if I search the web for Misskey nazis whereas I get plenty of results when I search for Pleroma nazis.

There is one thing I'll say about Misskey that might be offputting to people looking to simply abandon Twitter. When it comes to the tech and features, Mastodon and Pleroma are inherently very neutral platforms. The nazi thing for Pleroma is only associated with the people and communities that use Pleroma; there is no inherently "nazi-ish" functionality to Pleroma.

However, there exists functionality that is fundamentally built into Misskey that really shows who its target audience is. And that target audience seems to be gay weeaboo catpeople.

There is an inherent weebiness to Misskey and that might scare away some people. It's not really a con for me, but I still can't believe that the cat ears are built into the platform itself and not just a plugin that one instance has.

So Which Server Software Do I Choose?

Here's a table of my findings researching these three different fediverse servers:

Software Owned by Elon? Footprint Good Mobile App? Nazis? Gay?
Twitter Yes Centralized Yes if you like ads Yes It's owned by Elon Musk. Come on.
Twtxt No Literally Just A Plain Text File None There are no users There are no users
Mastodon No Heavy Multiple Fully Functional Apps Generally good moderation Kind of
Pleroma No Lightest Multiple Fully Functional Apps Yes The least gay one here tbh
Misskey No Light-ish One app still in development, good mobile interface though. No Indisputably gay

Hopefully if you're wondering which one to choose this table helps out!

...Alright, it is mainly a joke. But I think you can tell which software I'm leaning towards here.

So... Where is Mew151's Instance?

While I'm leaning towards Misskey for now, I don't want to bite the bullet just yet and set up a personal instance. I'm pretty sure I'm going to use Misskey at this point since there are a few other advantages; it's written in node so as a JS developer it should be easy to customize a personal instance if necessary. Plus, I think it'd be cool to have a fun custom domain name, though I do admit that definitely comes from past me's desire for a cool IRC vhost.

Right now I'm on the small-ish instance of Misskey somewhere. I'm not sure what compelled me to join it, but it seems cozy and cool. Maybe eventually I'll move somewhere else or start my own personal Misskey instance.

Stay tuned for a potential part two to this post, where I'll discuss my thoughts on the fediverse as I explore it more and, if it happens, discuss how I set up my personal instance!