With the Facebook monopoly crashing and Twitter being bought by a narcissistic billionaire who intends to run it as his emerald-encrusted soapbox, what are social media alternatives? Adoption of alternatives may seem insurmountable given the switching costs keeping Facebook and Twitter users locked in, but two generations of young people did manage to quit Facebook for TikTok and other services. I’m starting this series to explore the alternatives out there. You may find one that really you really like for work, family connections, hobbies and interests, or even fan communities.
I will start this series by trying out three services, or, perhaps they are networks or protocols. Social media alternatives these days are structured as decentralized networks and protocols. The goal is usually to put control of the social media profile into the hands of the users. You own your data and identity.
At the end of these updates, I will share the latest articles and guides that I’ve run across.
Mastodon – The growing exodus in recent weeks from Twitter has mostly gone to Mastodon, which isn’t surprising given that it has an existing user base and feels ready to go. Signing up to an account feels similar to joining any other app, website or social media platform. The timelines look similar, but there are some important difference in how the network functions.
Servers: While you can sign into your account(s) at the Mastodon website, you need to get an account on an instance. There are lots of popular instances that are open to new users, often centered around a specific interest, profession, language, country or region. I’ve set up accounts on instances like Mastodon.art (currently closed to new members) and mastodon.gamedev.place. I’ve joined one for RPG players and developers, as well as a private one run by a friend (which I will use for my main IRL Mastodon presence).
While one of the main goals of the decentralized Fediverse is for users to have total control of their identities (you own and control your own data), portability of credentials across instances and platforms doesn’t appear to be seamless yet. You have to set up an account on each instance. This means you have to track passwords and log-in meta, but this can be useful if you want to present different identities to various communities.
Following people: How do you follow people on other instances? It’s a network, so you just need to know their name and instance. Like this: @prairiepirate Use this format to search for people. You can still follow people as they show up in your timelines and when your friends and peers share posts.
Moderation and instance culture: Every instance in the Fediverse network can set their own moderation policies. Kind of like how the Internet has always functioned. There is no central moderation authority. Many instances have very organized moderation guidelines. Make sure you read them before you join.
Instances also have their own culture which may be tightly enforced or may be more informal. The arts instance I joined vigorously encourages people to add image meta to all graphics and photos (this is something that people should do everywhere). Mastodon makes it really easy to add accessibility meta. Instances also may ask you to hide all news related posts to other users can choose to opt in to see what you are sharing.
Important tweak to improve your timeline layout: Mastodon and similar apps look good on mobile, but how do you optimize the layout for desktop? When you are logged into your account, click on Profile and under Preferences >> Appearance tick the box next to “Enable advanced web interface.” You’ll get a layout like the second image.
Self-hosting: Can’t find an instance that meets your needs or interests? You can set up your own instance, if you are willing to pay monthly costs for managed hosting, or for “free” if you know how to set up software on your own hosting. Masto.host was offering Mastodon instance hosting with a variety of plans, but currently has suspended new sign-ups. Yes, the Twitter exodus is a flood.
Planetary – Another peer-to-peer social network that I’ve been excited about (for years) is Planetary. This will probably become the other popular alternative social network like Mastodon. Planetary runs of the Secure Scuttlebutt Network, which is similar to the Fediverse, if not art of the broader fediverse. Planetary runs best via an iOS app, but you can also use it via a Firefox extension.
Planetary runs over the Secure Scuttlebutt network. SSB is an open platform, and there are already apps for Android, Firefox and most operative systems.
Planetary is spearheaded by Evan Henshaw-Plath who was Twitter employee #1 and who has been involved in open source projects for more than 20 years.
Cohost – An up-and-coming social network that feels like logging into a blog or a website. Open source and very up front about the status of the project. 25,000 people are on the wait list. They are trying to add 1,000 news users daily. Bug tracker prominently listed on the front page. I have an account for gaming networking.
- We Joined Mastodon. Here’s What We Learned About Privacy and Security
- CBC Should Start Their Own Mastodon Server
- Mastodon’s Moment
- ‘Could this be Twitter without the toxic slurry?’ My week on Mastodon
- Chaos on Twitter Leads a Group of Journalists to Start an Alternative
- I told my team to pause our $750K/month Twitter ads budget last week
- BookWyrm – Social Reading and Reviewing, Decentralized