I set up offworld.fedisonic.cloud when it was apparent that Twitter was going to start circling the drain pretty quickly. I had an idea of running a Mastodon instance for anyone in my circle who wanted it, but with my usual overambition I started to think that it could be a business of some kind.
I first looked at Mastodon when it was announced back in 2016 or so, when it was becoming apparent when Twitter was getting gamed, and put up an instance on a VM, but the discovery process wasn't there and it was hard to find people and I took it down again. I made a mental note to watch ActivityPub and developments around it. I joined mastodon.social (and chaos.social, which is the opposite) when the toxicity in Twitter was starting to become the norm but didn't find it compelling, but still kept an eye on what was going on.
When That Guy squandered enough money to end world hunger on being That Guy on Twitter every day, enough was enough. I had a couple of underused servers so threw up a instance, invited people to see what the fuss was about and imported my followers as everyone was doing the same.
Now it's just short of a year later and I've closed that server. I'm running one for myself. set up in a better way, and of the people I invited, one has stayed on Mastodon.
Over the last year I've realised a few things:

  • Mastodon is not the Fediverse. It's shorthand for the network because it is the most popular platform, and we like to have an easy handle for these platforms.
  • Mastodon the application is technically simple to set up. I am a sysadmin of several million lifetimes' experience to be sure but it is made of common components and the documentation is well written, and if you can set up WordPress or Drupal it's not too much of a challenge.
  • Mastodon the service is challenging to maintain. The abillty to block instances and indeed users at the server level is powerful, but a year ago it relied on a hashtag which of which it quickly became apparent was open to abuse and indeed straightforward politics.
    Now, common blocklists have emerged and operators can choose what to use, but with any kind of success comes abuse, and it's obvious that public instances have bigger operating overheads than scaling their hardware.
  • Mastodon the software is resource hungry. At scale it is probably very efficient. With two (two!) active users it's overkill and things like scheduled deletes of busy follows could grind my server to a halt if that server was in the same timezone (if that makes sense). As a system that's designed with privacy in mind it's also difficult to troubleshoot as there are no logs by default (they can be switched on of course) so the main source of information is the job queues.
  • Technically, use cloud storage rather than on server storage, or at least don't use the same disk device. Cache as well, also not on the same disk device. It creates a lot of I/O.
  • Legal implications are getting more onerous across the world, and while they're a grey area for small instances, in the UK at least, we're not far from operators having to take a lot more responsibility for their users.

Running a small server with and for other people is a committment. Doing it for money would be something else again. I'm glad that there are businesses setting that up
On the actual social side of social media (remember that?), my experience of the Fediverse has been generally good. My feed seems to be largely cat pictures (especially on , but finding good people has been relatively easy. I'm not a big socialiser at all but I've long liked how the Internet works in that respect, and as ActivityPub is basically marshalling RSS feeds, we're back where were before we were rudely interrupted, just doing it in a way that makes more sense now.
I am going to try a couple of other platforms as I don't think Mastodon is the best option for a single user fediverse instance, or even two or three users. and work out how to aggregate different applications, like WordPress for example, so that's the next year sorted.

Pixelfed is a federated photo sharing service that is an alternative to Instagram and uses ActivityPub to share posts across other services such as Mastodon, Pleroma and indeed WordPress. It is one of the more mature Fediverse apps and has been in continuous development for several years.

As with Mastodon and other apps that can share images and other larger media files, it supports saving attachments to S3-compatible cloud storage. However, this isn't well documented so far, so here's a few notes on getting it to work, specifically with iDrive E2, a low cost E2 storage provider.

Pixelfed is a Laravel application and its user config is stored in a .env file in the application root. The S3 section looks like this:

## S3 Configuration (Post-Installer)

IDrive E2 appears to be based on Minio but the priniciple is broadly similar for all S3 compatible services:

  1. Create a bucket
  2. Create credentials for that bucket
  3. Configure the application with those credentials

I think they're fairly self-explanatory in that the service will usually present them in the same way. The default region can be a bit of odd one but the naming seems to be arbitrary - I'm using iDrive's London region, which is labelled LDN, so go with what the service gives you.
AWS_URL is as it says, a standard URL, so it's https:// AWS_ENDPOINT / AWS_BUCKET. AWS_ENDPOINT is an important thing though - IDrive has the option of public and private endpoints with different hostnames. I'm not entirely clear on how a private endpoint works in this context - I would think it's a location that needs to be accessed with a shared key - but as you're publishing images online that's not going to be possible, and in testing I couldn't get Pixelfed to write to a private endpoint. In addition they're going to need to be public on an open server, so following the principle of least privilege, public and read-only works.
I had to comment AWS_USE_PATH_STYLE_ENDPOINT out as setting it to false didn't work for some reason. There's probably something in the code that assumes it's going to be an AWS URL or similar.

The Horizon dashboard was very useful for debugging. Again, this is a Laravel tool and part of the admin suite. I'm not that familiar with Laravel and but it basically appears to be the application manager. It writes to a log but that doesn't say much, and all the useful information is in the dashboard.

If you want to share images in the Fediverse, Pixelfed is the application you need. Its author, Daniel Supernault has been steadily improving it for years, and he's also currently working on a secure and federated messaging system intended as a drop-in replacement for direct messages. Cloud storage reduces your hosting costs as it's usually cheaper in bulk than VPS, and it's portable, so now you can replace Instagram with something under your control.

The Apple TV series Mythic Quest had an episode in which the game found it had an extreme right wing problem. Their solution was to corral the right wingers in a server where they could shout at each other and fight as much as they wanted without bothering other players.

The Fediverse, running, as it does, largely on free software, came about in part due to Twitter and other platforms' unwillingness or inability to deal with an extreme right wing problem. However, as it's free and open source software, the bad actors were also free to create their own instances and interact. The response was filtering, blocking and defederation.

If you run a Mastodon, or other Fediverse social media instance, even if it's for yourself, it's one of the most powerful tools you have. You can filter hashtags, users and whole instances both personally and globally.

Lists have developed over the years along with the tools to apply them, but they have often been personal efforts. The hashtag can also be used, but it's something of a blunt instrument and is too easily hijacked for personal opinions and even feuds.

The current attempt to deal with this in an effective way is the Oliphant.social blocklist files, created through a consensus of ten of the most active fediverse instances This produces a collection of blocklists that can be applied as an administrator sees fit. Follow the instructions there to download, maintain and apply them. At the moment I apply the Tier 0 blocklist.

In addition, Ro Iskinda's The Bad Space collects the most commonly reported bad actors and new ones that appear, and can be used with an API to check if you encounter a doubtful user or instance.

I got my first Android phone, a Moto Droid, in 2010. It's wasn't my first smartphone as that had been a quest with varying degrees of success for years (I still miss the Nokia E series keyboard phones a bit).

Among the things installed on it was Facebook. Even then I was suitably suspicious so wanted to remove it, except I couldn't without rooting as it was a system app, and this was the awful wrapper-around-the-website version. However, being a system app, it still had full access to your phone. Which was nice.

However, by 2010 it had been being installed for a few years, if not as native app, as phone provider bloatware, and I think this was a major contributor to Facebook's takeup. You took your phone out of its box, went through the welcome screens and there it was. You could sign up and you could speak your brains to your heart's content.

I think this was as important a change in Internet culture as Microsoft putting an icon on the Windows 95 desktop labelled 'The Internet'. No, wait, come back.

Large scale social networks were not a new thing when Facebook went global. Friends Reunited created networks based on school connections in the late 90s. Six Degrees, Livejournal, Friendster, Myspace, Orkut all came and went to varying degrees. Google tried and couldn't get it to work, even when betting the farm on it. In that context, Facebook survived and persisted by learning continually, starting with putting the icon on your desktop/phone screen.

It annoys me that I have to keep a Facebook presence, for a few friends and that the parents of my daughter's school use it for messaging, but it and WhatsApp are the lowest common denominators for messaging, but I've handed that off to a bridge - I'm testing Beeper, but could fall back to Matrix bridges (same thing, self hosted) if it doesn't work out.

Of course, this is little compared to having a whole device under your control, especially when Google has now seemingly decided that it doesn't believe in the open Internet any more.

I'm not going to say 'this is what you should do' on this blog at any time, but I am going to say 'this is what I'm going to do'. I've been online for nearly 30 years, nothing compared to some people, and one of the compelling things about the Internet for me is interoperability. Walled gardens always become overgrown, and when someone decides to effectively turn one inside out, then it's time to do some weeding (yes, I'm prone to that sort of hyperbole, sorry).