The Fediverse refers to an ecosystem of decentralised social media servers that are largely interoperable with each other (that is, they federate) because they all adhere to a common ActivityPub protocol (some software also/instead follows other protocols, like Diaspora). The most well-known software used to run Fediverse servers is Mastodon.

The Fediverse ecosystem is often seen as a preferable form of social media, as it is totally unlike the mainstream platforms which are riddled with advertising, user tracking, data mining, poor moderation, and algorithms rigged to maximise “engagement” (that is, often, user outrage). Unlike the IndieWeb, a similarly-minded movement with overlapping participants, the Fediverse is not so much about “controlling your own server” (although it can be, if you choose to run your own) but is about (mostly) non-commercial,1 decentralised social media. Fediverse participants are distributed across thousands of servers, each with their own codes of conduct and moderation teams, who can choose which other servers they will or will not federate with based on shared values (meaning that, for example, progressive servers generally refuse to federate with right-wing ones, so users of the former cannot easily be harassed by users of the latter).

Countless different software projects exist that people can install to run their own Fediverse servers. A more complete list than what I have below can be found at Fediverse.party(external link). Many of them want to mimic different kinds of mainstream social media experiences; for example, Mastodon for Twitter-like microblogging, Pixelfed for Instagram-like photo posts, PeerTube for videos like YouTube, and Lemmy as a stand-in for Reddit.

  • Mastodon(external link): By far the most well-known and widely-used Fediverse platform, to the point that some people don’t even know there are non-Mastodon servers federating with everyone else. Offers a Twitter-like experience with a longer character limit (certain instances make the limit longer again).
    • Hometown(external link) is an offshoot of Mastodon with more features designed to cultivate a community on your home server, like local-only posting.
    • Glitch-soc(external link) is another offshoot of Mastodon with some more experimental features (basic formatting allowed in posts, improved media handling, better theming capabilities for instance admins, among others) as well as, like Hometown, local-only posting.
  • Pleroma(external link): Broadly similar to Mastodon, in that it’s a microblogging platform. For people who want to self-host, Pleroma is widely seen as better because it’s lighter on system resources and I believe less arduous to install and maintain. Unfortunately Pleroma has a bad reputation with many Fediverse users because a lot of far-right and TERF communities use it. It has an alternative frontend, “Soapbox”, which is particularly reviled because its creator is a staunch TERF. If you click over to an instance and find it’s using Soapbox, consider that a big flashing red warning light that this may not be a good instance. But a bunch of unsavoury instances use the stock Pleroma frontend, too.
    • Akkoma(external link): A fork of Pleroma, reportedly in response to a) the increasing influence of the “free speech” (far-right/TERF) crew in Pleroma’s development team, b) the fact that it was less and less lightweight to self-host and c) that people want it to be easier to add stuff like custom emoji. There’s a blog post(external link) explaining more about why the fork happened.
  • Misskey(external link): Another microblogging platform; I don’t know too much about it but its userbase seems to be particularly concentrated in Japan. It has features like reacji (rather than only simple “likes”) and a “drive” to browse your past media uploads. I think “polls” were a Misskey feature before they were adopted by Mastodon and Pleroma, too. There is also a “sister project” designed for single-user servers, Dolphin.
  • Pixelfed(external link): An Instagram-like platform oriented around photo posts.
  • GoToSocial(external link): This is an interesting-to-me project for a headless Fediverse server; basically you’d just connect to it with whatever Fediverse app you like (e.g. Pinafore in a web browser, and whatever iOS/Android app you want on your phone). The software is still in alpha, but it’s usable and does federate with many other Fediverse implementations. It has features like local-only posts and toggles to set whether individual posts are boostable, replyable or likeable. You can also decide whether you even want your instance to federate, or whether it should federate on an allowlist-only basis.
  • Bonfire(external link): Another Fediverse project, currently in beta, which is designed to be modular and highly extensible. It has some features where you can define “circles” (groups of other users), make posts visible only to specific circles, and specify permissions for specific circles (so e.g. you could make it so only trusted people were allowed to reply to or boost your posts, or send you DMs).
  • Takahē(external link): A pretty damn new (Nov ‘22) project that nonetheless is iterating rapidly. It’s another microblogging platform, but brings some new features that other servers aren’t doing, like the ability to host users at multiple domains on the same server (!). It’s also supposed to play nicely with “serverless” hosting architecture, and has a nice, lightweight, low-Javascript interface (although I’d change the default font personally). It’s not intended to scale up for large instances, though.
  • Epicyon(external link): Light-weight software designed to be able to be run on a low-powered computer like a Raspberry Pi, for a server of no more than a few users.
  • Shuttlecraft(external link): Very new and currently experimental project, written in NodeJS, designed to allow a user to host their own, single-user server on a platform like Glitch.
  • ktistec(external link): Software for a single-user server, with features designed for “meaningful writing” like draft posts and formatting. Storage is directly on the hard drive, for ease of backing up. Uses an SQLite database.
  • GoBlog(external link): Blogging software that aims to be fully compatible both with the IndieWeb and ActivityPub. Also uses an SQLite database. Written in Go.
  • Microblog.pub(external link): Software that’ll let you run a lightweight, single-user microblogging server that is also fully compatible both with the IndieWeb and ActivityPub. Also uses a SQLite database. Written in Python.
  • WriteFreely(external link): For blogging; it has a flagship instance at write.as(external link). A single WriteFreely instance can have any number of users who in turn can have multiple blogs (limits to be determined by the instance admin). WriteFreely blogs all have a very similar look, which is a pleasant look for sure, but it means this software probably wouldn’t suit people who want to customise their blog’s template.
  • Plume(external link): Also for blogging, like WriteFreely, but development seems to have slowed down a lot (but not halted!) in recent years.
  • Frendica(external link): A bit like Facebook; you can have posts sure, but also events, photo galleries, etc. Apparently you can have multiple profiles for different groups of contacts. Aims to be interoperable not just with ActivityPub but also OStatus and diaspora* protocol software.
  • Hubzilla(external link): Another project that’s a bit multipurpose, with media storage, events and so on. It has this concept of a “nomadic identity”, so your identity is not tied to specific hub (or server) but is moveable. An end user can have multiple “channels” (think of it like multiple blogs) and each channel can have multiple profiles (think like blog categories except if each category has its own “about the author” page), each of which you can make visible to different audiences. Individual posts can have very finely grained privacy settings (like Facebook where you can choose specific individuals to include/exclude). By default Hubzilla doesn’t federate with non-Hubzilla servers, I think because its federation with outside protocols isn’t perfect, but it has separate plugins for the ActivityPub, OStatus and diaspora* protocols that you can turn on depending on who you want to federate with.
  • Bookwyrm(external link): Software for posting about books; an alternative to Goodreads.
  • PeerTube(external link): An alternative to YouTube.
  • Lemmy(external link): An alternative to Reddit. The flagship instance seems to be run by tankies though, just FYI.

In addition to the above, an ordinary Wordpress blog can be made to federate by use of Matthias Pfefferle’s ActivityPub for Wordpress plugin(external link). This won’t work if you have a basic wordpress.com blog that doesn’t allow you to install plugins, but is a good option otherwise.

Federation between different types of software isn’t always perfect. Generally, the “weirder” the software (i.e. the less it’s like a standard microblogging platform), the more difficult federation is. One particularly common failure mode is where following is impossible because it shows up on your end like you have a following request pending, and nothing shows up on the other user’s end at all. Because Mastodon is the absolute giant out of all these projects, and it’s made some decisions to deviate from the ActivityPub spec, that’s put pressure on all the other projects to deviate from the spec and do things Mastodon’s way, as well.

Managed Hosting

If you want “your own” Fediverse server but don’t want the hassle of actually installing or sysadmin-ing it yourself, there are some managed hosting providers out there who can install and maintain a Fediverse server for you, for a monthly fee. Some of these are:

  • Masto.host(external link): Possibly the most well-known, and hosts a lot of well-known servers (although as of time of writing, more than one of those servers is planning to shut down towards the end of 2022 as hosting costs have, sadly, increased dramatically). Its prices start at USD$6/month + tax.
  • Fedi Monster(external link): Formerly MaaSTodon. Offers Mastodon servers (in either mainline, Hometown or Glitch variants) from 9€/month, Pixelfed from 5€/month, or GoToSocial from 5€/month.
  • Spacebear.ee(external link): Offers Mastodon (mainline or Hometown) from 16€/month, Pleroma from 16€/month, Pixelfed from 12€/month, and PeerTube from 20€/month.

Really key point: the “pricing starts from” numbers are for instances that can handle no more than a handful of users. Don’t expect to take out a $6/month plan and then host hundreds of participants in your fandom, for example. It seems to me that the amount of resources a Fediverse server takes to host increases basically exponentially with the number of users, because the number of users that your users follow has a massive impact on how resource-intensive your server is.

  1. I say “mostly” non-commercial because there are small businesses operating in the Fediverse space, either charging for managed server hosting or (like in the case of Micro.blog (which is not primarily a Fediverse server but you can use it as one)) for your account hosting. But there are certainly no huge publicly-listed companies screwing over their userbase in the pursuit of profits for shareholders. ↩︎

Did you know? I’ve posted other content tagged ‘Fediverse’! If you want to see what else I’ve written on this topic, you can do so here.