Yet another explanation of the fediverse (or mastodon or friendica or pixelfed or peertube or pleroma or akkoma or activity pub or writefreely or honk or any other number of software names)
Published by Beefox
A hopefully understandable informational piece on the fediverse
So, twitter is dying and you've decided you don't want to deal with corporations any more. But what is the fediverse (or the list of the things in the title)?
The fediverse put simply is like email, except it is styled differently. Everyone has their own address, for example mine is @email@example.com, and anyone can talk to anyone else no matter where they are. I can talk to @firstname.lastname@example.org just as easily as i can talk to @email@example.com.
What do you mean?? How's it work??
To put it simply, your instance, the site that your account is on, keeps a list of other sites it knows about. When you create a post, the site sends the post to all the sites it knows about. And then other people can boost that post which tells all of their followers about your post, even if they don't know about the site you are on yet! This is called federation.
What about likes?
Likes, favourites, kudos, whatever you may call them, they work the exact same way. and i mean exactly the same way! Your instance sends the same message, except for the fact the message is labelled "Like" instead of "Post". This however does mean that there is no such thing as accurate numbers in the fediverse, because it takes time for information to pass across the internet. If you follow someone however it is usually only 30 seconds or so at the most.
And this also applies for follows, for DMs (which are just posts, see Hold on, Admins can read my DMs??), for emoji reacts, for anything that can happen on the fediverse.
Hold on, Admins can read my DMs??
Yeah, but so can admins on any site. And just like any site, you trust them to not read your DMs without reason. Now, federation does actually make this a bit more complicated then surface level, as i just said in the previous section, everything you do is sent to everyone, right? Well, not necessarily. A lot of software understands this worry with DMs, and as a result only sends DMs to instances involved. That way, only admins on your instance, and the instance of the person you DM'd, can see the message.
Now, I will say most software makes it really hard to actually read these DMs. While i have not attempted, I have been in the database for my instance a lot and i know finding a specific message without any identifying information of it is very very hard. And a lot of admins agree with that. We are all just volunteers, I don't know of a single instance not run by volunteers, and as such, none of us want more work then we have already.
As a result if an admin is reading your DMs? You've probably done something bad enough to get reported and an admin has had to look into DMs.
Which rolls nicely into our next topic;
So how exactly does moderation work?
Moderation is actually one of the best parts of the fediverse, by promoting healthy moderation methods! Basically, when you join an instance, you have a moderator, or two, or maybe a few for the larger instances out there. These moderators don't watch over the whole fediverse for rule breakers and evil do-ers, just their instance. This way, they are responsible for their own little community on the internet.
"But what about other people on other instances?" I hear you cry! Well, if an admin of your instance feels another instance is not safe for their users, be it harassment or hosting Nazis or that admin themselves literally being a Nazi, there are a few things they can do, but the biggest two tools in their toolbelt are unlisting and defederation.
Unlisting an instance means your two instances still talk to each other, but they don't show up in the federated timeline (Where everything public that your instance knows about ends up). This means you can still talk to friends on that instance, still see boosts of posts from that instance, etc etc.
Defederating from an instance is a more heavy tool, it completely cuts communication between your two instances, preventing anyone from one instance talking to anyone from another. This works really well because the fediverse often brings similar people together, as a result you can pretty much always judge an instance off their rules and their admins behaviour, because if their rules or behaviour is bad, its safe to just block everyone there. Do a few innocent people get caught up in that? Probably. However that is one of the reasons why it is both good and normal to have multiple accounts on the fediverse.
Multiple accounts on the fediverse.
Having multiple accounts, or alt accounts, is exceedingly normal. And there are many reasons to do so! Maybe you have different accounts for different posts, a mastodon.art account for posting your art, a queer.party account for being a exceedingly gay, an account on your self hosted own instance as a home base or an experiment, a brands.town account for being a "real and verified brand account."
And importantly, redundancy. One of the sad truths about the internet in the capitalistic hellscape it has become since its early years is that small sites often go down. So having multiple accounts is very handy. Even I have a backup / semi active account over on aus.social, because i do server maintenance and that's a good place people can contact me during it. So feel free to try out multiple accounts on different instances, even after you have found one that feels like home!
Verification on the fediverse
This is a quick one; there is no real verification. You can verify the connectedness between places on the internet by linking between them. But other then that there is no governing body that can give or take away proof that you are who you say you are. All those checkmarks? That's just people putting custom emoji in their usernames because it is funny.
The culture of the fediverse
Well, there are many cultures of the fediverse, however (apart from the bigots because i have literally never seen really any bigots on the fediverse, goes to show how good the moderation system is) there are a few things common to pretty much the entire fediverse.
Firstly, a lot of the fediverse before the twitter exodus has been made up of queer and neurodivergent people, the "fringes" of society, where normal social media would make us feel unwelcome, we carved out a chunk of the internet for ourselves.
Accessibility is also a big part of the fediverse, image descriptions, CamelCase hashtags, content warnings, these are all things that allow everyone to feel welcome and safe on the fediverse, and often if you don't use these things, people won't interact with you. Because they want the fediverse to be accessible, and boosting someones post who isn't being accessible is just. Not accessible.
Finally, the fediverse isn't about numbers, its about human connections (this is also a big reason brand accounts aren't that big on the fediverse). Personally, I recommend turning off numbers such as boost and like count, follower count, etc etc. Not only are those numbers rarely accurate (Well, follower count and following count is accurate), but doing things for internet points isn't healthy, many studies have shown this. The fediverse is a much more enjoyable experience if you focus on making real friends and having connections and conversations.
And if you like something? Boost it! As I'm sure you have heard many times, a very big "selling point" of the fediverse is that there are no algorithms deciding what to show you. the like button does nothing but send the creator of the post a little notification saying you liked something. As such if you want to share something around, you boost it! (In fact, a lot of software doesn't even sort posts by time posted, just whenever your instance received a post. As a result sometimes you'll see posts months old appear in the timeline, this is usually because your instance has recently found another instance and received some posts from it)