A.D.

est. MCMXCIX

Sharks, open-source, and social media

Introduction

In this first blogpost on my new website I will be conducting a brief survey of the state of social media platfroms in 2024 and why I switched to an entirely open platform. I also explain the difference between the platform I switched to and traditional social media platforms and why you might want to consider doing the same.

The state of social media platforms in 2024

In 2024 humanity is spoiled with a large number of platforms to communicate on. We have simple messaging services, such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Discord or full-blown social media platforms with a specific focus, such as Facebook, X, Threads, and many others. While these platforms used to be places for people to communicate about something and was often restricted to one’s own circle of peers, this is no longer the case. These days, most platforms, such as Facebook, X, Instagram, and all other corporate-run platforms have become filled with ads, influencers trying to sell one something or someone selling you a course on a get-rich-quick scheme. For some, this social-media landscape could not be any better: they make money, get famous, or both. Moving away from the content these platforms hold, there is another key aspect to corporate-owned platforms: Corporations own them and control who can say what on these platforms. Users of the platform cannot contribute functionality to it or establish their own version of this platform on their own servers. However, fediverse platforms do allow and encourage exactly that.

What is the fediverse?

In simple terms, the fediverse is a certain social networking software being run by one individual or multiple individuals on servers they own to give people at large a place to post pictures, discuss things or run a small blog. In the case of platforms like Facebook or X, the same holds true, except for the software, that is the platform of Facebook, is run on Meta’s own servers and nobody can just have a look at the source code of Facebook, take it, and put it on their own server to run "Facebook 2". In the Fediverse this is different. The software run on servers is free and open-source software (FOSS). Anyone can take this software, modify it, install it on their own server to run it, and offer people a social media platform. The fediverse is called "fediverse" because different servers running different software are networked with each other and can communicate with each other. This ability for servers to network among each other is called "federation". One of the most prominent fediverse platforms is Mastodon. Mastodon is meant to be an open alternative to platforms like X and Threads. There are, however, other Fediverse platforms such as Sharkey, my personal favourite.

Sharkey

Sharkey is another fediverse software like Mastodon. It started as a modified version of Misskey, a similar software. Sharkey is not too widely known. I chose it because I wanted to try something new and was getting a bit exasperated with the endless stream of content I encountered when using X. Some of this content included people posting "hot takes", some form of vitriol against some group on some issue, or on the extreme end, sometimes even midly suggestive material to promote something. I would get the wildest suggestions and never encountered content I found interesting. When I changed platforms from X to Sharkey, I faced a question many other now-fediverse users also encounter: Which instance of my chosen software do I sign up on? While Sharkey is open-source software, meaning anyone can take it, reuse the code, modify the code, etc., people who take Sharkey and install it on their servers for public consumption are called "server admins" or "instance admins". The act of installing a fediverse software on your own server(s) is called "creating an instance". To see which Sharkey instances were available, I did a quick search and stumbled across the site fedidb.org. This website features information on all known fediverse platforms, instances running the software, and useful information including monthly active users and the thematic focus of each instance. Because I found the mascot cute and the instance seemed like a very peaceful place full of kind, like-minded people, I signed up on blahaj.zone. The signup process was effortless and setting up my profile was also easy. After having been a member of this instance for some time, I quickly noticed the difference to the corporate-owned social media sites I had been a member of previously: The content was much more innocent, the pace of content was much more human-friendly, there were no spammy posts, no bots, and people genuinely interested in having genuine conversations about all sorts of matters. I liked what I saw and read. However, while I found the content on Blahaj engaging, I also noticed two minor problems with Sharkey as a platform.

Minor problems with Sharkey

Lack of a client

One of the many ways corporate-owned platforms pamper their users, is that they all provide users with excellent clients for one’s mobile device. Fediverse platforms struggle with this. Because the standards constituting a fediverse platform are open, the creation of a client and the implementation of such a client is left to individuals. Most people just want to use the platform with no thought given to making a high-quality client. Some may try making a client, while others accept the fact that there is no good client and come up with alternatives by, for example, using the platform’s website as an app on their device. Aside from the lack of decent client, there is another small problem that may be relevant to people who want to use social media as a career-building and networking tool.

Audience reach

If you are a simple social media user like me and many others, you might just want to use whatever fediverse platform you are on casually with no specific goals or no specific purpose. If this is the case, how many people your posts reach is not of too much importance. If, however, you are someone who would like to build a large following on your platform, you may find this difficult because the general pace of posts on fediverse platforms is much slower than on traditional social media sites. The content on a fediverse platform is made by real people about real things. Such content will, in comparison to Instagram, for example, garner less attention than a post featuring fancy cars or other very attention-grabbing content. If you prefer posting authentic content and grabbing everyone’s attention is of secondary importance or you simply prefer a slower pace in your social media experience, then, perhaps, the fediverse and its platforms are of interest to you. This leads me to my final thoughts and the conclusion to this post.

Conclusion

Wrapping one’s head around a new platform can be difficult and have some very real ramifications, based on the people one interacts with on a social media platform. But if you are tired of traditional social-media platforms or adventurous like me and want to try something new, I can only recommend signing up on an instance you feel is for you, in that it runs the software that best serves your needs and is hassle-free for you to use. I was willing to accept the lack of a client because I generally do not spend that much time on the internet and like to take a break of all the platforms I am active on from time to time. Finally, I hope you learned a little bit about the fediverse and enjoyed reading this post. Below are some links that could be helpful. I will attempt to post on this blog every week on Saturday about either practical aspects of creating art or posts about technology that tie in with my own software-development activities. If you want to stay up-to-date with content I post on various platforms, I encourage you to sign up on blahaj.zone and follow my profile linked below.

Angel Dollface