The Lazy Teddy
The Lazy Teddy
lazyteddy@hubzilla.lazyteddy.eu
The Lazy Teddy
An introduction to decentralized social media

  
Note: In part this post overlaps with my article on Hubzilla, but it applies to the rest of decentralized social media as well.

What is decentralized social media?

Facebook, Twitter, the recently closed Google+, and similar services have one thing in common: They are all run by a single entity. One company has control over it, and, in extension, your data. They don’t connect with each other, and if one of those companies goes broke or simply decides to shut down a particular service, as in the case of Google+, the users are out of luck. Also, if they are offering the service “free of charge”, they have to find other ways to generate income, and that is usually by monetizing your data. At best, you need to trust that the corporation behind the service doesn’t abuse its access to all that personal information. At worst they might become the target of sophisticated hacking resulting in a data breach. The larger the user base, the higher the attraction to criminals.

The decentralized approach mitigates some of those issues. There are several different projects already, and they are all Free and Open Source Software, meaning they are being developed by dedictated, passionate people who have very different priorities from the large corporations. Privacy and control over your own data is at the top of their list instead of dangling somewhere at the bottom (if it's there at all.) Also, a lot of those different services can already communicate with each other, but more on that later.

Being decentralized means that everybody (with the technical skills and resources) can set up their own instance, and it will talk to all the others. It's not that different from how e-mail works: You can have your e-mail address @yahoo.com, and you can send e-mails to somebody who is using @gmail.com. That's because the e-mail system uses open standards, and, again, all the software that's neccessary to run an e-mail server, is Free and Open Source.
This makes it a lot more resiliant, and it also means that if you don't like the policies on one server, or a server gets shut down, you can just go somewhere else, and you will still be able to communicate with the same people.

What are the options?

The following is a list of services other than Hubzilla. There will be much more detailed articles on Hubzilla on this site, since that is what I'm using. I just want to give you an overview of the alternatives.
I can't give you details on all of them, since I have no experience with all of them, and even those that I have used, other than Hubzilla, I haven't used in a while.

diaspora*

diaspora* was the first one that I heard about, a long time ago, and it was the one I started with after I quit Facebook and was looking for alternatives. It's fairly easy to use and doesn't require much in the way of explanation after you sign up. When you first sign up, after you create your profile, you're asked to create a first post tagged with #newhere. If you take the time to write something individual, you will find that you start getting replies almost immediately, and you will soon get connection requests in the form of "<username> started sharing with you."

In my experience, the diaspora* crowd is very newcomer-friendly, and it's usually easy to find help.

However, it does have some drawbacks that make it a no-go for me. The foremost of those, and the one that eventually made me dump it altogether, is that on diaspora*, public means public. What this means in practical terms is that anybody, unless manually blocked by you, can comment on your public posts. This can lead to some serious trolling, especially on controverse topics.

Also, photos shared "privately" are nowhere near as private as they are on Hubzilla. On Hubzilla, you can specify down to a single person who can see a photo (or any other item), and they need to be logged in to see it. On diaspora*, photos that are only shared with certain "aspects" (the diaspora* equivalent to privacy groups) are merely hidden from your photo stream. Every picture you upload gets a unique identifier, and anybody who has the link can view the picture. You might say that, well, even on Hubzilla, people can download a picture and re-share it, so I need to trust them anyway. This is, certainly true, but your trusted contacts aren't the only ones who can access those photos - somebody could create a malicious bot to find pictures. Privacy through obscurity doesn't work.

Lastly, anybody can send you private messages, again, unless individually blocked by you.

diaspora* only uses its own protocol, so it can only connect to services that support the d* protocol. As of now, that means Hubzilla and Friendica. Friendica natively supports connections to diaspora*, on Hubzilla you need to manually install the app.

Friendica

Friendica is somewhat more sophisticated than diaspora*. I haven't used that in a while either, but some privacy controls are in place, including for pictures. It can connect natively to diaspora* and ActivityPub services. In order to connect to Hubzilla, the HZ account in question needs to have either the ActivityPub or the diaspora* app installed.

Mastodon

Disclaimer: I have no experience with Mastodon whatsoever. I'm only mentioning it because it's a major part of the fediverse.

In functionality, it's most like Twitter. It's a microblogging services (although the character limit is 500, giving you a little more room and requiring fewer weird abbreviations.) I was never into microblogging, so I never really looked into Mastodon (or Twitter, for that matter.)

At the core of it is the ActivityPub protocol, which has been standardized last year. It has very similar drawbacks to diaspora*.

Mike Macgirvin, the developer who originally created Friendica and then moved on to create RedMatrix, then Hubzilla, and currently Zap, has an excellent post on those drawbacks, which you can read here. I strongly recommend you do so if you have any plans to look into any of the Hubzilla / Zap alternatives listed above.
  
I'm moving my blog from WordPress to this dedicated Hubzilla channel. I write so little there that it seems overkill to maintain a dedicated blog site.

Also, one thing I do like to write, is how to articles, and those are much easier to organize on a Hubzilla channel. I already started a wiki, and I'm in the process of converting that nice long article that I wrote about the Free Network into slightly more digestable chunks.

Since I'm already maintaining this hub, this seems the most sensible choice.