A Beginners Guide to the Fediverse
My last post on The Fediverse came across as a little negative I think, so I'm going to use this on to argue why you – yes you – should join the Fediverse, as well as a some practical advice of what to expect and how to get started. I will be concentrating on the Mastodon platform, because it's what I've been using, and it's the biggest one, but expect a lot of this will apply many of the fediverse platforms. This is a beginners guide because I am a beginner, and maybe I can help you begin too.
Why would you bother with any of this?
Well, in case you've been living under a rock these last few years, you may have noticed quite a few problems in the large social networks. There's been a lot of shouting. A lot of shouting. But no matter which side of the shouting you are on, it boils down to asking Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg to do something that will probably cost them a lot of money. Is this how we see the future, forever shouting at two mega-wealthy dudes no one likes very much to do something they don't want to do? Really?
Fediverse software just skips all this. No one is in control of all of the Fediverse, but you can be totally in control of your part. Don't like a moderation policy on Twitter? Shout about it. Good luck! Don't like a moderation policy on the Fediverse? Join a server where you do, or make your own (more on that in a bit.)
Personally, I don't hate Twitter, my experience is generally pretty good. Lot of people I like are there, and I mostly avoid drama. But I've started to become more and more worried about my complete reliance on Twitter as an outlet. I left Facebook because they were just too scummy (this story broke the camel's back for me). Tumblr was bought by a corporation that decided to delete some of my artwork for nudity, which was just so ridiculous to me I left in a huff (along with most other people, so I understand). Given that Instagram is just a skin on Facebook's data-sucking machine, my entire social media presence had been whittled down to Twitter alone. I think that's a risky situation, for me, and maybe for you too if you're reading this.
So, I see it like this, we can keep shouting and whinging and hoping for the largesse of Mark Zuckerburg or Jack Dorsey, or we can do something.
Mastodon is Technically Ready
Signing up to Mastodon can be as easy as signing up to Twitter, email -> password -> go (at say, mastodon.online or mastodon.art), but that is, perhaps not really getting into the spirit of the thing. You can find a different or smaller community or even more excitingly, start your own. Yes you can run your own little Twitter, with just you, like I do here, or a community like I do at Sauropods.win. You can do this with very little technical skill, MastoHost has very reasonable prices and will take care of all the technical stuff for you, but leave you in control of all moderation and signup policies.
What to Expect
If you are coming from Twitter (or any corporate social network, really), you may find Mastodon a lonely place to start. Corporate social networks spend billions researching and implementing what they call "onboarding". They will ask you for all your contacts, which means they can hook you up with anyone you already know on the network (totally co-incidentally giving them a map of every relationship in the entire world; the ability to link emails, phone numbers, and the real addresses of people that haven't even signed up... and not doing anything bad with that I'm sure). They might also suggest you follow some celebrities/interests etc, and then keep suggesting new ones to you as they get to know your preferences, because they keep all that in their massive panopticon databases.
Mastodon cannot and will not do any of that. Each instance is its own little world until its users start follow, like, and reply to things on other instances. You must manually go out and find people to follow, Mastodon can't do this for you. Finding people on the fediverse can be hard. Many Mastodon instances have a directory and a what's happening link on their main pages, so that can help. There is also a voluntary manual directory at Trunk for The Fediverse. Which I would encourage you to list yourself on.
You follow people by either clicking "Follow" on their page (and following some instructions), or searching for their full fediverse handle (which looks like an email address) in the search box of your home instance. This can be clunkier than Twitter, but it is what it is because of the technology.
People might not follow you back if you haven't said anything, so you have to post a bit to give them something to make that judgment on. No one like posting into the void, receiving no likes or replies on their posts, but it kind has to be done.
If you're reading this you probably already know me from Twitter, so you have at least a start. Consider joining Sauropods.win, where I will follow you, so you can talk to me instead of the void. One nice thing about Mastodon is that you can move instances. You set up a new account, transfer the data over to the new one, and set up a flag to redirect on your old account. Maybe you're a complete fool and come to think that, actually, Theropods.win – well, you could set up a Mastodon instance and go there if you want, taking your horrid theropod-loving posts and followers with you. So you're not stuck where you first sign up.
My personal experience is that 10 days in, I'm starting to feel that my Mastodon feed is getting as interesting as my Twitter feed. And some of the conversations are better. Yes, Mastodon is more work than Twitter, but the potential is there, and you should give it a go by actually trying to make connections. A proper go. Not "I came, I tooted, I left." I feel like we have to to get out of the mess we're in.