Follow up on Federated Social Networking

After I wrote my introduction to federated social networking I posted it to Diaspora for feedback, and I got enough of it to write a follow-up post, which I’ve been threatening to do for weeks, so here it comes.

First off, a big thanks to everyone who took the time to read my initial post and comment. Thanks, D*.

Corrections to my original article

A slightly misleading title

The first “nitpicker” was correct in saying that the title was a little misleading. I was originally going to write a general introduction to the concept of federated social networking, but I ended up being focused on Diaspora because that was the only thing I was using, so I couldn’t say very much about the others. Also, I put the link to the Medium article there to explain the concept in depth, since I figured, there was no way I could write anything better.
My apologies for the misleading title. I’m not going to change it (I stand by my mistakes 😉 ), but I will put a link to this follow-up at the top.

On data control

The next thing I need to correct myself on is the “total data control” claim. I got a little carried away there, mostly because that is the Diaspora slogan, “The online social world where you are in control”.
Not entirely correct, even if you do run your own pod. You’re still sharing data with other pods. Also, somebody pointed out that the server admin still has access to everything you write, including “private” messages. So you still need to trust the people running the servers. But: You also have to remember, the same is true for all the commercial social networks. Always remind yourself that messages you send to your friends on Facebook or Google or any of them can be accessed by those who are in control of the server. If you really want private communication, use an encrypted messenger like Signal or, better, something decentral like XMPP or Matrix. Apart from that, you have to ask yourself who you would rather trust with your data: A company that’s making money with it or a private person who believes in the idea of privacy and data control.
Lastly in connection with the data control issue, there is one thing that the federated social networks offer that the big ones don’t: You can be whoever you want to be. Yes, you can use your real name and picture if you want, but no terms of service force you into it. (Even if one server did, just pick another running on the same protocol.) I think that makes a huge difference.

On adding contacts

I also need to address what I wrote about adding contacts. I wrote that “there’s no need to be shy about adding contact.” A Diaspora* user pointed out the following:

Yes it is, on default if you share with someone you also expose your profile-data (bio, birthday, gender and location) to that account. You could also set your profile “public” but usually adding contacts has a small impact users should be aware about: If you want to share with everyone… your profile-data should not contain too private information.
I do so and in my bio there are some other social-media-accounts, my PGP-Key, the country I am livin’ (so no city or something), sex is “m” (whatever that might mean) and birthday is the day I registered on diaspora* (so it’s my diaspora*-birthday).
So except for the social-media accounts it has very few personal/private data.

So, yeah, I didn’t really think about that when I wrote my original post. My reasoning for that particular claim is that a) people on Diaspora* are a lot more open to new contacts, and b) if they don’t like what you write or are not interested in sharing with you, you will only see their public posts, and they would have to actively call up your profile to see your posts, so it wouldn’t be bothering anybody in any way.

Additional thoughts

Differences to the commercial networks…

… for people who only have experience with those.

  • On finding people

    One of the strong appeals of Facebook is how easy it is to find people you actually know (as in, “in person”.) While Friendica has a public directory, being listed is not a requirement when you sign up on a server. Also, it’s not required to use your real name, so even if your friends are listed, you still might not find them if they use a pseudonym. Diaspora* has no such thing. So you may have to make contact with them through an outside channel to get their ID before you can add them.

    Personally, I think that’s a bonus.

  • On algorithms

    One thing I have been discussing with a friend of mine is Facebook’s use of algorithms. We were talking about a common acquaintance who he is connected with on Facebook. He said, you know, I haven’t seen any posts from her in a long time. I told him to go look at her profile directly as it is very possible that some computer program decided unilaterally that you don’t need to see any posts from that person. Today my friend showed me a Facebook post from one of his friends complaining about the same thing.

    On the two federated social networks I’ve been using so far, the stream (what would be the news feed on Facebook, the home page if you’re logged in) is organized in chronological order. Posts show up in the order they were published, period. Yet it is quite easy to organize contacts in different categories and thereby organizing your stream / feed a little if you find that it’s too crowded otherwise. It’s up to you, though, how you want to organize it, not some computer algorithm trying to think for you.

Friendica

When I wrote my original post, I only had experience with Diaspora*. Out of curiosity, I installed a Friendica node as well. I’m still trying to find my way around it, but what I can say so far is, if you come from Facebook, you might find it easier to adjust, so check it out. Here’s the list of public servers. (I can’t make mine public because I just don’t have the resources to run a multi-user instance. Sorry ’bout that 🙁 )

Conclusion

I’m sure I’ll think of more things to say later, especially after I post this to Diaspora* and Friendica. Feel free to comment if you have questions or if you find problems with this article.

Also, please remember that everything I’m writing is based on personal experience. I’m not connected to any of these projects, and I don’t know all the technical details about how exactly this works.

If you signed up for an account on a federated social network and you want to make contact, feel free!
You can reach me on Diaspora* tanja@pod.lazyteddy.eu and on Friendica as tanja@friends.lazyteddy.eu.

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