More Thoughts On The Fediverse (Fediverse Part 2)

In my previous blog post, I looked at various Fediverse server software from the perspective of self-hosting one's own social media feed. But it's been a few months and I've now spent actual time on the fediverse instead of just browsing through application documentation. So... what have I learned since then?

Well, first and foremost: The Fediverse is great. I strongly urge you to join it! But if you want to join, I have a word of advice for you!

If You Want To Join... Join a Small Instance

In my previous post I mentioned that I was afraid to join smaller, more specific instances in fear of going off-topic. That was an irrational fear. There are many themed instances out there, dedicated to stuff like art, video games, coffee, vore, and miscellaneous interests. But the themes are really only there with the intention of finding likeminded people. You're not supposed to only post about coffee on the coffee-themed instance. It's an instance for people who like coffee to post about... well whatever!

A concern I have for anyone joining the Fediverse is that they join a huge instance that doesn't have a local or federated timeline, and get frustrated when they can't find anyone to follow and quit.

One of the best things about the fediverse is that there are multiple kinds of timelines. In addition to your home timeline, which shows posts from your followed accounts (much like how Twitter works but without the ads and other algorithmic garbage), there are usually at least two other timelines you can view: the Local Timeline and the Federated Timeline.

The Local Timeline shows posts from other users that are also on your instance. This is a great place to meet new people, especially if you're on one of those small themed instances where you all have something in common with each other. I like to think of other users on your instance as your neighbors all living in a big apartment building. You all share the same building and can run into each other or even have little community events, but you also have your own private apartments as well. The idea of Twitter, but with neighbors is kind of a weird concept at first, but it's so much fun if you're on the right instance.

The Federated Timeline shows posts from the instances known network. It's kind of like everyone's timelines all pooled together into one super-chaotic firehouse of posts (it's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the basic idea). It's fun to see all kinds of different posts and discover new people to follow from there. On big enough instances, the chaos from all of this basically gives you constant access to new random posts and accounts.

I think both of these timelines are important for discoverability, which is more necessary without an evil algorithm trying to suggest content to you. If you're interested in the Fediverse, I beg you to join a smaller instance if possible; you need local and federated timelines to really have fun. In a way it reminds me of the Neocities UI, which ends up feeding you the notifications for anyone you're following... but this random noise is the best way to discover new sites. Speaking of Neocities...

Personal Websites vs The Fediverse

I started my personal website to escape from centralized social media. While I'm hosting my website (including the blog here) through another host, I found the community on Neocities truly wonderful and have stumbled upon all kinds of cool websites thanks to it.

The pace of content on Neocities was refreshingly slow compared to the hectic firehouse of algorithmically suggested content on mainstream centralized media. But... I have to admit... there was something about the concept of microblogging that I missed. I tried self-hosting a little microblog on my site via twtxt, but it was a lonely, inconvenient experience.

I found the Fediverse to be a more fun, social, and convenient experience, and I love it! Honestly, to the point where I kind of started neglecting my website because the Fediverse ended up consuming my life instead. However, I've recently started working more on my website and exploring my Neocities feed again and... I have some thoughts.

The Fediverse will never be a replacement for personal websites. In my opinion they're the ultimate way to express yourself online. While The Fediverse is a great replacement for social media, I don't ever want my Fediverse profile to be the sole thing representing my online presence. Exploring personal sites on somewhere like Neocities is just so much more fun and immersive; instead of browsing a one dimensional feed of toots and boosts, you're browsing an entire space. A space that you can explore and get lost in.

I mentioned that Fediverse instances can feel like shared buildings with neighbors. This is true, and I truly value those social connections. But personal websites really feel like you're visiting someone's actual living space. There's something cozy there that the Fediverse cannot replace. And likewise, personal websites cannot reliably replace everything that something like the Fediverse provides. Sometimes, you just want to share memes with friends and you don't want to dive through a whole website to do it. Personal websites are spaces that you can explore... but sometimes the one-dimensionality of toots and boosts is all that you want or need.

Basically, my takeaway is... why not both? I urge everyone to move away from centralized social media, and I think either a personal website or an account on a Fediverse instance are good ways to do it. But if you're extremely online enough to have either a Neocities or a Fediverse presence but not both, I think having both isn't a bad thing! They're both good fun!

The Administrative Experience

This blog post is getting pretty long and meandering, but I want to touch on one more thing real quick: While I compared the feature sets of various Fediverse server software in the previous blog post, one thing that I didn't really explore was how easy it was to set up and manage a server with each software. So now that I run my own instance... let me discuss my findings.

I never tried setting up a Mastodon instance, but I ended up setting up both Pleroma (or rather, Akkoma) and Misskey instances. Initially I wanted Misskey since that was my takeaway from my previous post... but I ended up not getting it up initially. I even tried running it in Docker and it still didn't work??? One issue with Misskey is that a lot of the documentation is still only in Japanese, so some troubleshooting as an English speaker can be a bit more difficult. Something that really helps is searching the Github issues page for Misskey if you run into any trouble, since the official documentation, especially in English, can be behind sometimes.

Pleroma (but again to be clear, actually Akkoma) on the other hand, was much easier to set up. It was kind of shocking how easy it was, especially on Debian with the OTP release. I got Pleroma (still Akkoma though) running painlessly and I set up my instance! So Pleroma/Akkoma definitely gets points in the ease of installation category, which I didn't account for before.

However... Pleroma/Akkoma come with their own problems. While Akkoma has made and will continue to make improvements in this area, I have to say that the default frontend for Pleroma is... kind of bad? I mean, it's not horrible, but it's definitely built for people who already used Mastodon and want to move onto something else, and not for complete Fediverse noobs. I wanted my instance to be a place where I could invite any friends who want to try out the Fediverse for themselves, and I didn't really want Pleroma's default front end to be their first experience with it.

That fact alone made me debug all my issues and replace my Akkoma instance with a Misskey instance. Once I found out what was wrong with my configuration, setting up Misskey was pretty easy, but it took a bit to figure out what was wrong. I think that was a good trade off though, because Misskey's user interface is generally much friendlier than Pleroma's. I also recommend Misskey for anyone wanting to host a Fediverse instance for the steal emojis from other servers functionality alone.

In terms of hosting things like instance logos, custom styles, and listing out things like federation rules or terms of service, Pleroma lets you edit all of those things within a static folder on your server. Assets in Misskey, on the other hand, seem to stay abstracted away in Misskey, as things like my instance logo are just uploaded to my admin account's drive (and my Terms of Service are just a Page I made in Misskey). I think both approaches are valid here; Pleroma's approach is easier to understand if you're a programmer/sysadmin type and Misskey lets you manage assets without having to ssh into your server.

In conclusion... idk, I like Misskey more than Pleroma I guess.

So... Where is Mew151's Instance? But For Real This Time?

This blog post was kind of all over the place, but a big takeaway is that I am finally running my own instance! You can follow me at @natalie@prismst.one! If you're a friend and you'd like an account on my instance, feel free to reach out!