After Elon Musk’s Twitter deal, many users decided to “fly away” from the “traditional” commercial Social Networks. Some for good, some just decided to increase their presence in other, alternative Social Network. That’s what I’m doing.
The Fediverse is composed by thousands of “instances”, some are bigger (like mastodon.social), some are personal (aka: single user instances), many are normal communities with their members. Many of them communicate using the same open protocol, ActivityPub.
Because of this, there’s no “one size fits all” so I’ve started to explore the different solutions. I’ve been mainly focusing on running them on FreeBSD, but I’ve had to fire up Linux for some tests. Here’s what I’ve found out.
Backends / Complete Solutions
I won’t spend too much time on Mastodon as you may find almost everything, everywhere, about it. Tons of articles have been written about Mastodon, so this one would be just another one, surely not the best one. Many consider it to be “the Fediverse” (they just say “Mastodon” to refer to the whole “Fediverse”, and they’re wrong), it’s by far the most installed solution. It’s so popular that there are plenty of clients (both for Android and iOS) that perfectly work with it. Mastodon has its own APIs - and many other Fediverse solutions are using them, just to be able to be compatibile with the Mastodon apps. It also supports backend based “Hide replies” (only show new posts, not all the replies to other posts) in timeline. It’s good as you can filter the replies from any frontend or mobile app as the backend won’t provide them at all, while the client doesn’t need to be aware that you’re filtering them.
Why I am suggesting it: It’s stable and well done, there’s a lot of documentation and if you install and manage it correctly, you shouldn’t notice anything strange or unexpected. Remember, no software solution can be considered “set and forget” and Mastodon is not an exception. Please, don’t forget that running an instance is not just installing the software. Moderation is a serious issue. More about it later.
Please, consider that: Mastodon is also quite heavy, not easy to scale (even if there’s documentation around) and, by default, is caching everything it sees and knows about. This means that both a single user instance or a thousands of users’ one, will (rapidly) grow because any media will be locally cached.
My single user installation grew, in a week, well over 100 GB of occupied storage because of all this caching. It can’t be avoided (you can just tell Mastodon to delete the cache after x days). While it may make sense for a big instance, it’s absolutely overkill for a single user one. This is a known problem, but mainly considered as a feature: all the media will be locally processed, all the contents will be locally stored. So an evil content hidden in a media file will be reprocessed by local ffmpeg or ImageMagick and will be cleared.
Why I’m suggesting another solution: Monopoly is bad and Mastodon is becoming too widespread. More, it requires much space and it’s resource-hungry. It’s easy to install Mastodon and experience a huge resource drain in just a few days, especially if you’re not a skilled system administrator.
To sum up: Installing Mastodon on FreeBSD was easy. Even if I had read about problems, I’ve documented how to do it and it’s stable and reliable. Mastodon is, IMHO, a good piece of software but keep in mind that it could not be the best solution for you and a small, single user instance can become huge in a few weeks. Also, keep in mind that it’s the most deployed Fediverse software, so any mobile app, any web app, any hint will work perfectly with Mastodon. Your Fediverse experience will be smooth.
I’ve read about Akkoma in a reddit thread about how difficult was to install Mastodon on FreeBSD. It was described as a Pleroma fork, but actively developed and maintained, faster and with more advanced features. That’s why I decided to try it and - at least for now - stick with it (and not Pleroma, but many of the things I’ll point out here apply to Pleroma, too).
Akkoma (as all the Pleroma forks) is much, much lighter than Mastodon. It’s perfectly able to run a single user instance on a Raspberry PI. Moreover, Christine Lemmer-Webber, coauthor of the ActivityPub protocol, said that Akkoma is a good solution - and I think that her opinion is a qualified one.
Why I am suggesting it: First of all, for its documentation. As for Pleroma, there are installation instructions for a lot of operating systems (yes, also FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD). It’s light and fast. It doesn’t cache remote media by default, so that’s perfect for a single user instance. You can enable it (both pre-fetching media as soon as the server gets the status, like Mastodon, or just downloading them and caching when the first user meets them), you can also proxy your local media. S3 storage and remote CDNs are supported and everything is customisable. Message size limit is set to 5000 characters by default, but can be adjusted. Everything is configurable and you can choose your favourite frontend. It has quote posts (while Mastodon doesn’t allow them, even if they’re perfectly visible if created by Akkoma).
Please, consider that: Akkoma is not Mastodon. They “talk” using the same language but are different pieces of software. There’s less activity around it (the documentation is good, the support forum is good, but the number of Akkoma installations can’t be compared to Mastodon’s ones). Many Mastodon mobile apps seem to have problems with Akkoma and at the moment there’s a bug that, if you’re posting an hashtag, a link will be shown on Mastodon. More, if you want to hide boosts or replies from your timeline, remember that Akkoma won’t perform that at backend’s level, but it should be done by the frontend. Not all frontends and mobile apps support it.
Why I’m suggesting another solution: Well**,** not exactly. Actually, I’m suggesting to try Akkoma. It’s a good piece of software, developed by friendly people, well accepted by the Fediverse instances’ administrators and has a lot of happy users and instance administrators. I’ve used Akkoma as my main instance software for more or less one month. The bug I’ve described and some problems here and there made me move back to Mastodon. I’m keeping my Akkoma instance up, but I’ll wait until those bugs will be solved.
To sum up: Akkoma installation is easy and well documented, you have a lot of settings to customise your instance and can fine-tune your installation for your hardware capabilities.
Misskey (and its forks)
Misskey is a very nice piece of software. I had some troubles to run it on FreeBSD (but I didn’t try that much) so I decided to fire up a Linux machine and use Docker.
The interface is nice - it’s Japanese design, so it’s fancy and rich of emojis and effects. I’ve tried it just for a few hours and I appreciated it but decided it wasn’t ok for my needs (at least, for now).
Why I am suggesting it: if you’re building a community, Misskey (or one of its forks) is a very good choice. It’s eye candy, complete and usable. It’s a part of the Fediverse, so no problems to talk to Mastodon, Akkoma, etc. It also has a “drive” feature, useful for many users that want to exchange files.
Why I’m suggesting another solution: the main reason why I had to look at another solution is that it doesn’t support Mastodon APIs so no Mastodon Android or iOS app is working with a Misskey instance. While it may be ok for many users, this could be a problem for others.
To sum up: Misskey is nice, worth trying and a very good solution if it fits your community’s needs. For me, it doesn’t give any advantage over other lighter solutions.
Friendica is a project that aims to be similar to Facebook. It’s federated and actively maintained, the interface is nice and familiar to Facebook users. I’ve been able to install it on a FreeBSD jail (as it’s in PHP) and everything worked as expected. I didn’t spend too much time on Friendica but I’m planning to do a deeper test as I’m working on a community of former Facebook users and this could be the right choice.
Why I am suggesting it: If you’re creating a community for (former) Facebook users, they’ll have a familiar feeling in Friendica. The interface is clean and usable, it supports a lot of protocols (ActivityPub, OStatus, diaspora), it supports plugins, can import websites via rss (so automatic post is easy).
Please, consider that: Moderation tools are different from the ones you have on Mastodon or Akkoma (Pleroma, etc.) and you can’t easily report users, especially remote ones as support for Mastodon API is limited. With the current growth of users, it’s easy to find a bad person trying to disturb. Not having effective ways to deal with it may be frustrating.
Why I’m suggesting another solution: I didn’t try Friendica long enough to find some big problems with it.
To sum up: Generally speaking, it is considered a solid and stable solution, actively maintained and, being in php, portable. If you want to create a Facebook-like community, that’s the way to go.
Rebased is another Pleroma fork, created by a former Pleroma dev. Rebased is the favourite backend for Soapbox frontend, a nice looking and feature rich frontend using the Mastodon API (so compatible with Pleroma, Akkoma, etc. but also Mastodon itself).
Why I am suggesting it: Rebased (Sopabox) is clean and polished. It has some different features than standard Pleroma or Akkoma, and seems to be less buggy than Akkoma, at the moment.
Please, consider that: It’s another Pleroma fork, so the base is Pleroma itself, like Akkoma, etc.
Why I’m suggesting another solution: Many Fediverse administrators don’t like Rebased’s main author. His political and human views are, by many, considered hostile, so many Fediverse administrators will ban all the Rebased (but also Pleroma - for similar reasons) instances, no matter what you’re doing with that instance. They consider that using a software developed by an hostile person is an hostile act against them. Consider this before deploying a Rebased instance.
To sum up: Rebased/Soapbox is a good piece of software, actively maintained and with nice features.
GoToSocial is a new microblogging platform. Its target it to be a light, customisable, easy to manage and integrated software. It is still at its early alpha stage, it should evolve into a beta at some point in 2023. It’s developed in Go and installation in easy and fast, it supports Postgres, Mysql and Sqlite. Basic functionalities have already been integrated and it can federate with (almost) all the other ActivityPub implementations, even if with some small problems. FreeBSD installation was easy and fast, as they provide a amd64 FreeBSD binary. Being written in go, it shouldn’t be difficult to self-compile it for other architectures.
Why I am suggesting it: While it doesn’t have an integrated frontend (but Mastodon mobile apps or other frontends can be used, as Pinafore (now discontinued), Mangane, Soapbox, etc.), it already supports many of the features you’d expect from an ActivityPub implementation. It’s fast, suitable for installation on a low end hardware, can be deployed without a reverse proxy as has integrated support for Letsencrypt certificates. But…
Please, consider that: It’s still at alpha stage. Things can still break, it doesn’t support any kind of account migration from Mastodon (while it’s supported by Pleroma and its forks), it doesn’t support pinned posts, etc.
Why I’m suggesting another solution: While I think it will be a game changer, I think it’s bit early to deploy it unless you’re a very skilled and experienced administrator. You should understand its “quirks and features”, mainly tied to its alpha status. While I’ve installed and will keep installed a GoToSocial instance, at the moment I’ll just keep it in a test stage server in order to follow its development status. I think it’s one of the most interesting and promising projects out there.
To sum up: GoToSocial could potentially become one of the most interesting ActivityPub microblogging platforms, at least for small and medium sized communities. It’s a bit early to consider it ready for a production deployment, but it’s already worth testing.
I’ve tried Takahe, another microblogging platform. It’s under active and hard development, so, like GoToSocial, should be kept on the radar as it’s quite promising. I’ve just fired up a Linux docker installation to try it, so I haven’t tried on FreeBSD.
I’ve also tried (as user, not locally installed) Pixelfed, Peertube, FunkWhale, etc. - they’re all part of the Fediverse, but are tied to specific needs. So nice pieces of software, but I haven’t used them long enough to share my opinion. I will eventually try all of them, as soon as I’ll have the time to do it.
All the Fediverse backend implementations have their own specific features but the users will just interact via a frontend. While Mastodon - but also Pixelfed, Peertube, etc. - are presented as a specific stack (backend + frontend), there are many frontends that can interact via the Mastodon API.
Of course, being the “Mastodon” API, not all the backends are perfectly compatibile/supported by all the frontends. Mobile apps use the Mastodon API, that’s why their compatibility with other implementations like Pleroma, Akkoma, etc. may not be perfect at all the times.
I won’t describe them all. I’ll just enumerate the ones I’m using, with some notes:
With the 2022.12 release of Akkoma, Pleroma-FE has been evolved into a proper, nice looking PWA. After an initial configuration of its many options, I found it quite nice and effective. The only problem (common with many PWAs on iOS) is that when you suspend the app, it doesn’t detect it, so if you open it again after two hours, you’ll just see the recent posts, not all the posts of the last two hours. This is because of the way iOS deals with app suspend/resume and many PWAs don’t seem to understand they’ve been suspended.
**** Mangane is a Soapbox fork that aims to improve compatibility with Akkoma. It is nice and clean and the developers are improving it to support Akkoma’s features, so it’s great. At the moment I’ve noticed some visual problems, on iOS, with the icons - but Guérin contacted me to ask for information (after reading this article) and opened an issue on to fix it. Guérin has been nice and helpful, making Mangane even more appealing. I’m using it for planned posts on Akkoma, as Pleroma-FE doesn’t support them, yet. I’m also using Mangane as a daily driver, from time to time, as I like it.
A light, fast, complete and usable web frontend. I’ve been using it when I needed a simple, clear frontend. It supports “hide replies”, which is great to improve timeline quality. Unfortunately, its main author decided to stop implementing it, so it will be a dead project (at least until someone will fork it)
Elk is a new frontend for Mastodon API. It’s nice, clear, eye candy, intelligent. The developers are nice people, open to suggestions. It’s quickly becoming one of the best (if not the best, even if it’s still in alpha state) frontends available. The 0.5.0 release fixed the Akkoma compatibility, so Elk is now working with it.
Elk is definitely a very good piece of software, and I recommend to try it.
Moderation and final considerations
One of the things you should be considering is that deploying a piece of the Fediverse isn’t just installing a software and interacting with others. Actually, that’s just the easiest part of the experience, at least if you’re not creating a single user instance.
Many of the people that joined the Fediverse in its early days decided to do it as they felt attacked on other social networks. In the last years, the commercial socials have proven to be the perfect place for negative people, attacking others without being blocked/stopped in an efficient way. Hate causes addiction and the owners of those commercial socials make a lot of money if people interact, showing them ads every time they open the app/website. They make money (also) through people hating each other.
The Fediverse gives the possibility to mute and block users, but also to mute and block entire instances. One of the main tasks of an instance’s administrator is to make sure that everything is ok. While you can define your own instance’s rules, other instances’ admins may block you if they find you’re federating by sending messages agains their rules.
As an administrator, you’re also responsible of keeping your users’ data safe, to avoid sharing/providing illegal contents or offensive stuff. So you’re free to set your rules, but others are free to “defederate” you, if they don’t like the contents your instance is providing. While it’s not an issue for a single user instance, you must be quite careful when opening the registrations as you may find out you’ve been defederated because of (your) lack of moderation.
There’s some strong criticism against the Fediverse because of this, as many see it as more “censored” than the traditional, commercial social networks. I don’t think it’s true, as you’re free to fire up your instance, decide your rules and act as you want. But you can’t impose others and their instances to follow you, even if you think you’re right. In a free world, everybody should be free to decide if they want to listen to you. But everybody should also be free to create a new space and start sharing their ideas. There’s not a central authority of contents, so only the single admins and users can choose what they want to see or avoid. There’s not a commercially driven algorithm that may decide that you should see contents that will cause you anger and hate just because it generates traffic (and money) to the social’s owner.
The Fediverse can be a beautiful place to stay.