At the beginning of August 2022, I made my first steps in the Fediverse after setting up my very own Mastodon instance at social.mei-home.net.
I wrote about my initial impressions after a couple of days here. And because there’s another large movement to the Fediverse after Elon Musks takeover of twitter has finally become official, I thought I would write down my impressions after a couple of months on the Fediverse.
As that article hints, I was pretty frustrated after the first couple of days. And some of those frustrations are definitely still there. But I’m also somehow still there and enjoying it. 😉
Running your own instance
I wrote the following in my original article:
My timeline is currently still pretty empty.
That’s mostly because I decided to run my own Mastodon instance. To a not inconsiderable amount, I’m in this just because this is a self-hosted social network. 😉
The problem with running your own instance is the way the federated universe is working. Instead of everybody running on a central machine with all accounts, the Fediverse consists of many, many instances. And you only have two ways for seeing messages (called toots in the Fediverse):
- Somebody from your instance follows the author or interacts with the toot
- You go looking at the author’s instance’s public feed
So when you join one of the large instances, you get toots from all people you follow (called your home timeline), toots from all people on your local instance (the local timeline) and then toots with which anybody from your instance interacted or where anybody from your instance follows the author (the federated timeline).
But when you run your own instance, you only get two kinds of toots: Those from people you follow, and those with which somebody you follow interacts with.
With a single user instance, the Fediverse can look very small, compared to e.g. Fosstodon with 5k active users. It isn’t really, but you lack the federated timeline spigot which will introduce you to other interests/topics than those from people you are following directly.
The secret trick here: Follow a couple of people with wide-ranging interests and use them as your guides to the Fediverse.
I also wrote about remote follows. Where clicking on the “Follow” button on a profile page outside the Mastodon web app/page was not working at all:
So in my initial attempts of filling out my timeline, I was singularly unsuccessful. But it worked flawlessly when searching for the profile via the Mastodon web app and then clicking “follow” there. I still don’t know what went wrong there on my side. I was also pretty wrong about those accounts I tried having “follow-by-request” enabled. It was just something with the setup not working.
I’m sorry to say this, but discovering interesting content is still way more work on the Fediverse than on traditional social networks. Take as an example my main interest and hobby: Selfhosting. I still have not found that community anywhere, which is a bit surprising considering that Mastodon is a dream for selfhosters.
Here again is the divide by instances. On any given instance, you can search public posts by hashtag. Here is the result for my own instance and the Homelab tag. It’s mostly me, with a sprinkling of posts from others I have interacted with.
In contrast, other instance’s searches for homelab will be a lot longer.
And this is probably the right time to cop to something: I miss The Algorithm. I genuinely do. Twitter was incredibly good at putting more and more people related to homelabbing and selfhosting in front of me, from just the average homelabber like myself to some very interesting content creators working on that topic. Mastodon does not do that. Cannot do that. Either somebody I already follow interacts with a person, or I will never learn of their existence. Then there’s also the occasional randomness of The Algorithm, just putting random people and their tweets in front of me. Also not something Mastodon does.
So discovery is about as frustrating as I described in my initial article, but it doesn’t bother me as much anymore.
The general feel/vibe
This is a rather positive aspect: I’ve had some nice interaction with some friendly people. That’s already worth it. I’ve also not seen a single thing which enraged me in my feed. Not a single thing. This is the advantage of not having The Algorithm trying to produce as much engagement as possible. Putting things in front of you which are guaranteed to get an engagement out of you - even if it is a negative engagement.
There is also something nice about the different timelines: There is no (reason for) FOMO. When you scroll through your feed, and you reach a certain post you are sure you read already - then you’ve seen every single post there is to see from all the people you follow. Which is a great feeling.
Also a two-sided sword: The Fediverse is still very small. Even on the larger instances, it’s pretty likely that you are able to actually reach the end of the federated feed while doomscrolling. 😉
Tips for newcomers
I’m not savvy enough in the Fediverse to say much here, but I would still like to leave any newcomers with a couple of pieces of advise:
- Don’t run a single user instance unless you understand the discoverability problems I described above
- Try to find some individuals on the larger instances with a wide range of interests and follow them - you can use them as guides to the Fediverse
- Follow FediTips for some really useful tips on using the Fediverse (and not just Mastodon)
- The page fedi.tips has a really good FAQ and general info on the Fediverse and how to make your first steps there
- Put a couple of tags into your bio and add your account on fediverse.info.
- Make sure to write a post tagged with
#introductionand pin it
And finally: Don’t give up too quickly. As my initial post showed, I got pretty frustrated after a couple of days on the Fediverse. But it got better, nicer and more interesting somewhere in the second week. It can feel like screaming at the void a bit at the beginning, but at some point there’s going to be an answer to one of your posts, or just a boost or a fav. And then it’s going to start to become nice. 😄
As should be pretty clear from my writing above, I’m here to stay. No idea where Twitter is really going to end up, but I don’t really care anymore. Leaving Twitter is going to make my universe a bit smaller, but that’s about it.
On the question of discoverability, there is a new feature for following hashtags coming in the upcoming Mastodon v4.0 release. As far as I understand, that feature is currently only for following hashtags from your instance, so no improvement for single-user instances yet. But with the feature being there, I’ve got some hopes for the future.
An interesting project for me is also ForgeFed. It will probably not end up as a separate piece of software, but is instead a protocol defined using ActivityPub. So you are going to be able to have federated source code forges, so that you might be able to make a comment on Codeberg from your account on your own Gitea instance.