A Quick Introduction To Federated Social Networking

Update 2018-06-10: Please see also the follow-up article I wrote.

About two years ago, I quit Facebook. I simply got tired of it, and the more time passes, the more I’m glad I did it. Still, I missed parts of the social networking experience, so I kept looking around for alternatives. I never really got very far with Google+, and Reddit was definitely not my thing. I was also more and more trying to get away from Google & Co because of the accumulation of personal data on the internet, and I really wanted more control. (I’m aware that I’ll never be completely Google-free, but I can at least reduce the amount of data I give them.)

Then I discovered the Diaspora* project, which is a federated social network. It’s not a company with central servers that you have to trust with your information and your pictures and everything. Instead, it is an interconnected network of so-called “pods” that all communicate with each other. In order to join Diaspora*, you can either join a public pod that’s open for registration, or, if you have the technical skill and resources, you can even host your own.

Diaspora is Free Software, which means anybody can look at an modify it’s source code, and it is distributed freely.

Those two things, the federated approach and the fact that it’s open source software, totally take big corporations which make gazillions with your data out of the equation. It a brilliant way to take control of our data back but still enjoy the benefits of a social network.

I was totally excited about the idea. Firstly because of the total control over my data, but also because I enjoy the technical challenge. A few weeks ago I finally got around to to get started with my own pod. I bought a Raspberry Pi, model 3 B, put Ubuntu Server (16.04) on there and got started. (Admittedly, I moved to a VPS since then for stability reasons.)

Now that I have everything set up and working, I think it’s time to write a little introduction for my friends in the hopes that I can draw some of them away from Facebook or maybe even get some of those interested, who never had a Facebook account.

Diaspora* is one of several federated networks that can communicate with each other. (Sean Tilley, who worked on the project, is much better at explaining the technical details.)

You don’t need to run your own instance; if you just want to use it, you can join any public pod / node that’s open for registration. There’s a list of open Diaspora* pods here, and here’s one for Friendica servers. I can’t say too much about any of the others, like Mastodon or GNUsocial because I’ve never used any of them, but I’ve been a fairly active Diaspora user for about a month, and there are a few things I would tell new users, especially Read more…