Table of Contents
Since Elon Musk purchased Twitter in 2022, there has been a significant rise in popularity of Fediverse applications and services, with Mastodon being the most prominent of them. In this rambling and disjointed post, I’ll go into my experiences with the Fediverse, the accounts I have, dabbling in selfhosting my own services, and various positives and negatives of them.
As described by Fediverse.info:
“The Fediverse (a portmanteau of “federation” and “universe”) is an ensemble of federated (i.e. interconnected) servers that are used for web publishing (i.e. social networking, microblogging, blogging, or websites) and file hosting, but which, while independently hosted, can communicate with each other.”
Firstly, when I initially began this blog, I looked at the many options available, and stumbled across WriteFreely but ruled it out, instead favouring the Hugo static site option. However, as time has gone on and my interest in the Fediverse has increased, I’ve dabbled with WriteFreely one and off. I like its simplicity alongside its federation, as well as how easy it is to write and publish new posts. However, it goes somewhat against my recent approach to my data, in that I do not have direct access to the files. Mind you, there is the ability to easily export them in plain text to be used elsewhere, but a part of me still feels uneasy about it, which also goes with my uneasiness of having a running database and possibilities of security failures. Sure, WriteFreely is hardly the behemoth of WordPress and I’m sure is much more secure, but bad memories of WordPress do make me think twice about using WriteFreely over my pretty safe and low stress setup of Hugo and static sites.
Lastly, because my website is more than just a blog, I also utilise aspects such as tables, Mermaid diagrams and like using Table of Contents for easy navigation around my posts, but these are aspects that don’t appear or render in pretty poorly, which make moving to WriteFreely unworkable. Recently, the lead developer of WriteFreely wrote about wanting to spent more time working on it, which may lead to more features being added? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on it to see where it goes.
I actually joined Mastodon in Spring 2022 under a different name, but it was quite quiet back then, and I didn’t find people or communities I felt I could talk to. When the great Twitter exodus of November 2022 happened though, Mastodon became significantly more populated with all sorts of different people, which made it more appealing to join and stick around.
I am generally satisfied with my time on Mastodon, I use Yuito on my phone as my primary access to Mastodon, but have struggled to find a good application to use on my desktop, or rather, an identical one. The thing is, I love how my time of Mastodon is set up via Yuito, and I dislike having to interact with it in a different way. So, I just don’t access it on my desktop, which is a shame as there are times I would like to.
Additionally, I dislike the lack of customisation. As much as I like Yuito, I wish I could view it themed with Catppuccin Mocha Green, and Mastodon natively isn’t able to do this either as a user - only the administrator has the ability to add new themes.
Around Spring 2022, I also tried out Instagram alternative Pixelfed. While it was pleasant enough, I didn’t find much use for it until, again, there were more people around to enjoy it with. As such, I tried again after the Fediverse became more popular, but came to realise it still wasn’t for me, with my biggest issues around the lack of an official Android app,
Nothing against Pixelfed, but my three main issues were:
- Lack of an official Android app.
- Feeling uneasy over data ownership. For some reason, the relationship I have with my photographs and images felt more personal than my words, and I felt strange at the notion of having these hosted on someone’s server. This could be remedied with self hosting Pixelfed, something that ought not to be too complicated via something like YunoHost, but I would need a VPS for this sort of thing, and finding one cheap enough with the required resources might be difficult.
- Why Pixelfed as well as Mastodon? There felt something natural about posting images either on their own or alongside text to my followers, and I felt a bit strange at the idea of separating the content apart, even though that is what people do with Twitter and Instagram. However, I’ve never used Instagram, so it’s a new prospect for me having a dedicated place just for photos.
Since abandoning the idea of Pixelfed though, some things have changed. The first being that Pixelfed are making an official Android app, and secondly that my thoughts have shifted more.
Regarding data ownership, I am more interested than ever before in having control over my data rather than it be in the hands of an individual who may be hit by a bus one day, or simply decide to lose interest and close the their server down. Further, maybe having a single place for the photos is a neat idea, and if I do use Pixelfed, I could just retoot them from the main account for my followers to see.
I wanted to try out Calckey, a fork of Misskey and an alternative to Mastodon, due to the added features, such as easily installable custom themes, use of Markdown, and Antennas - a bit like following a hashtag. I opened an account on a large instance, and found it an intriguing, albeit loud and excitable, place. It made me think that if I were to take ownership of my data and self host my own services, maybe I’d skip Mastodon, and go straight to Calckey.
I began ruling out self-hosting on my own hardware: I wouldn’t be able to secure it well enough with my limited knowledge and I worried about falling foul of some sort of obscure rule with my ISP. Instead, I’d need to use a VPS, and run YunoHost on top of it as software to help secure and maintain the services.
However, on a 2GB VPS I found on special offer (monthly fee of £1), Pixelfed installs via YunoHost, but I cannot create a user, and it’s not enough RAM for Calckey to install. I canceled and then found another VPS for £3.50 a month providing 4GM of RAM, and that worked. I was able to install and both services, as well as setup object storage for free to help with traffic and storage.
Unfortunately, I was not able to get Pixelfed 100% working correctly, and after days of troubleshooting, had to give up. However, I initially didn’t find this worrying me as I’d spent nearly two weeks on Calckey at this point, and wondered if I needed a separate space as Calckey had a gallery built in, as well as a small storage drive.
Calckey - Self-Hosted
Although I found it difficult and bumped into many obstacles, I eventually got Calckey up and running. I installed custom Catppuccin themes, setup custom relays, imported all my data, configured my layout, and even loaded in some custom emojis. My thoughts after using it for a couple of weeks are:
- Custom themes (Catppuccin everywhere!)
- Progressive Web Application means my viewing experience is the same on any device
- Antennas are amazing
- The deck layout is easily configurable to show as many “pages” as I want, with access to various lists and Antennas just a swipe away
- Love how you can give different reactions to posts
- Usernames are clearly displayed and outgoing links have a mini preview, which makes for a nicer viewing experience
- Progressive Web Application is very buggy and laggy, often refusing to load content and spinning endlessly
- Muting users doesn’t mute them in lists when people you follow boost or reply to the muted user
- All replies appear in lists as well as the original post, and when someone makes a thread, the main post reappears over and over again as the replies are added, it really clogs up the viewing experience and it gets annoying really quick
- When seeing a reply, the original post cannot be quickly reacted to, and had to be clicked on and loaded before presented with options such as to like or reply to it, which slows down interaction
- No way to quickly bookmark a post, requiring a couple of taps to get there
- No editing posts on the YunoHost version, though you would expect this update to arrive eventually
So, instead of Calckey, I guess I could try self-hosting Mastodon or one of its forks, but I’d want to stay within YunoHost’s catalogue for easy maintenance, and they don’t support the Glitch fork which allows for easier modifications. As such, I’ve decided to join someone else’s Mastodon server. Of course, the issue of this is data ownership again, it’ll be in another’s hands like before. All I can aim to do is backup my data weekly, and pick an active server which looks nice, stable and in for the long run, finding a community to call home in the Fediverse rather than do it alone.