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Federated but Independent

Broad Category - Social Media - "The Fediverse"

Updates:
2021-06-19 (bookwyrm) - 2021-06-26 (multiple accounts and bots) - 2021-06-28 (#hashtags and getting help)

As group discussions continue about the use of Mastodon, I'll be adding information to this article. I may remember to note them with internal links, but might not. If the topic interests you, an occasional re-read might be worthwhile.

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The Basics

Mastodon is similar to Twitter, but it is not corporate. It is not a silo. It is a federation of communities which cluster on many independent servers.

Mastodon is software, both for the server and multi-column web client which runs entirely in your browser. No desktop client is required, though there are FLOSS programmers developing them. Users of cell phones can also access a federated server with an Android client such as Tusky.

Other server software can and does use the same protocol. Pixelfed for still images, PeerTube for video, Hubzilla and more.(1) All of the different servers can share their posts/links. All users, no matter which server they choose, can connect with everyone else! You can follow and interact with any user on any federated server, no matter what software is involved.(2)

Mastodon itself is one of several kinds of server software which can share connections through a common web protocol known as ActivityPub. ActivityPub is a W3C standard developed by Boston-based programmer Chris Lemmer Webber, among others. Mastodon was the first popular software to use the ActivityPub protocol, and "Mastodon" has (for better or worse) become the key word for talking about the broader federated social network.

Join and read more here: https://joinmastodon.org

join Mastodon

I do not think that NatickFOSS needs to go to the expense of setting up a server of its own. We "could" establish a presence through a hosting company, instead. https://masto.host is one such specifically focused on providing Mastodon services.

Some NatickFOSS participants have created accounts on federated servers. That is the path I recommend at this time for NatickFOSS. You can easily migrate later to a new server if the first one does not ultimately meet your needs. See the list below.

The server you select typically will reflect your community interest(s). I chose a large general-purpose server initially, though I did not join the flagship server. I decided to migrate (a really easy task) a year or so later to my new "home" at https://mastodon.art. Chief Mastodon developer (Eugen Rochko - https://mastodon.social/@gargron) does NOT wish to host everyone on the flagship server. Federation is very much a goal, spreading the load and the users among easily linked servers around the world.

Hashtags:
Any word or phrase when you start it with the hash symbol # becomes a traceable term. Full text search has been specifically declined as a feature in order to avoid stalking behavior. It is considered good practice to internally capitalize words of a phrase like #WordOfTheDay because it makes it easier for screen readers to interpret instead of all lower case.

You get to choose who you want to follow, establishing the "Home" timeline. You may follow only those with whom you have strong connections. If they are active, your home timeline will be busy. You may choose to track others having your interests by using #hashtags and encouraging others to use them. Then you can watch that hashtag by pinning a column for it. Then you don't have to follow those people directly, letting the hashtag column for their occasional topical posts. Unfortunately, not everybody uses hashtags routinely. It's a user preference to do so.

pinned tab

The hashtag #NatickFOSS is in play since the July meeting. A few of us posted using it as we wrapped up the meeting. Please note that there are going to be several versions of it which are all equivalent. #natickfoss is the format in which it shows at the top of a pinned column when using the web browser client. The federated servers share the hashtags, but there is no enforcement of capitalization. #NatickFOSS is the equivalent of #natickfoss and #natickFOSS. Spelling matters for hashtags but, officially, capitalization does not. There have been requests to help visually impaired users by honoring CamelCase spellings. CamelCase is easier for a screen reader to interpret as two words. It remains to be seen if the mainline developers will work on it.

You get to choose who you want to follow. You control who follows you. You get to block individuals from following you. You can even set up your account to only allow someone to follow you by asking you. Your experience is yours to choose. In addition, community/server administrators select people they trust to assist in moderating the posts allowed on the server, counseling, educating and, if needed, chastising and ultimately banning some users in order to keep conversations civil, supportive and inclusive. Racist, sexist, and intentionally harmful posts can be reported by any individual user. Those who refuse to the community/server code of conduct will not be allowed to post.

If you wish, you may even decide to further segregate your conversations, joining two or more servers and using those accounts to talk only about topics of interest to that server/community. I have NOT quite done that, but know some who swear by the multiple-account approach. I have set up an account at the Pixelfed server https://pixelfed.social/algot which is designed a a photo gallery site. You follow that account to see new images as posts in your home timeline. Of course, you are depending on me to post new photos. I'm not so good at that. Fortunately, you can connect directly with the account, of course, to see what has been posted in the past.

Bots - Automated Posting

That raises the issue of "spam" style accounts which DO exist in the fediverse. They are typically some sort of automated setup and creating a bot account is beyond the scope of this article. Laura M. recommends you check out the kitten bot at https://mastodon.bida.im/@fluffykittenspambot and follow if you decide you would like to see a new kitten image every five hours. It is worth noting that many servers administrators resist the creation of a bot account on their instance. You would want to discuss the setup with a server admin with whom you have created a working relationship.

image of kitten bot account

Commerce?

While commercial concerns may have federated Mastodon accounts, it is not common to see direct advertising and such posts may be discouraged by the admins of a given server. However, there are FLOSS GNU/Linux distribution accounts that seem to be acceptable, like this set reported by @admalsasa

Cost?

You do not need to pay to join a server or to post. Individuals do have the opportunity through services like Patreon or Liberapay to offer voluntary support for their server, helping to offset the costs of running the service. You make that decision on your own.

To avoid the Twitter term "tweet", posts are wryly called "toots". To send a post, that's the button you click. I can still call them posts, of course. Hovering over each icon will show you what controls are available. You can see that my example post still has room for over 400 more letters.

editor panel

Current NatickFOSS Mastodon Users:
(If you wish to add your name going forward, let me know.)

Recommending servers is tricky. I'll work on it, but would welcome feedback.

If you have not done so yet, go to the public page of any Mastodon server which you think will interest you.

Example: https://scholar.social/public

What you should see is recent posts from members of the server's community.

One exception to this technique is mastodon.social (the 'home site' run by the developer of Mastodon) because it displays the full federated timeline instead of just the local server posts. You will get a very different opinion of the Mastodon experience from the full federated timeline and may include some NSFW posts which would give you a negative impression about the whole thing.

Photography has come up at almost every NatickFOSS meeting.
photog.social is a server/community with that focus. I'll use it as an example. There are a couple of useful web pages which each server can display which can help you judge the community.

(Expanding) list of potential landing places for NatickFOSS users

Fostodon.org
a possibility for NatickFOSS people, dedicated to the same topic. The Code of Conduct is here: COC. Please note the "Free Speech" reference, and understand that almost all Mastodon/Fediverse communities do NOT want users and their posts to be rude or hateful...too commonly couched as free speech.
mastodon.technology
another to check out. The link is to the rules page.
https://floss.social/explore
The link is to a page allowing you to explore the server for accounts found there.

Jill Miller specifically asked about gardening and plant friendly servers. I put the question out to the fediverse itself using the hashtag #AskFediverse. Quickly, some other Fediverse folks "boosted" my request. And some answers, so far:

request answer1 answer2

Another reply included another pathway, called the "Trunk" a community-contributed server which includes opt-in lists of users by category.
answer4
These are the links from the screenshot: Gardening and Plants.

joinmastodon.org is the "official" way to get started, if you don't already have a community chosen. I believe it is run by the Mastodon software team as a way to guide people away from the main Mastodon.social, so as to spread people out into a broader network of connected (federated) servers/communities.
instances.social is another way, created by a programmer interested in the federated community ideals.
FediFollows - A list of recommended people to follow (from any other server) by topic.

bookwyrm logo

UPDATE June 2021 As I mentioned before, servers which are part of the fediverse keep connected by way of the ActivityPub protocol, sharing posts and replies, no matter what the "purpose" of the server and its software. I've just connected with an account and a person who is exploring a new federated online book reader's service called Bookwyrm (think Goodreads but done as federated open source software). At this time, Bookwyrm is in early, beta stage development and is only accepting a limited number of accounts. If reading books is at the core of your activities, consider applying for an account and be part of the userbase which guides the development of this idea.

Personal Server

While it isn't necessary for NatickFOSS to have its own server, it was mentioned during the meeting that it is possible to set up one's own "instance" or server. One easy way is to host it using a dedicated hosting service.

FediFollows @FediFollows@mastodon.online wrote: Masto.host makes hosting your own Mastodon instance really easy: they do the installation, maintenance and upgrades, you do the non-technical stuff. You can follow them at: ➡️ @mastohost More info on their website at https://masto.host

Details, Please! (Guides and Help)

I hope you've become intrigued...and if you want many more details, feel free to ask. There are also several guides to using Mastodon. One I have recommended often is JoyeuseNoelle's Mastodon Guide.

Another source of help is the account @feditips@mstdn.social.

emoji and blind users

FediTips @feditips@mstdn.social

A lot of blind and partially-sighted people use the Fediverse through screen readers, apps that read on-screen text aloud.

Long strings of emoji can cause problems for screen readers, because they take a long time to say out loud. 
They can't be skipped because it is impossible for apps to know when emoji contain useful information.

If you want to make life easier for screen reader users, use just one emoji at a time.

For example, 😄 is fine but 🙂 😋 😚 😆 😄 😞 👍  causes difficulties.


Footnotes:

  1. Wikipedia Article containing list of software using ActivityPub
  2. As I understand it, some banned users with Nazi tendencies forked the Pleroma server to create GAB. Those servers have often/(always?) been de-federated by other, gentler communities.