The Fediverse beyond Mastodon

Most new users join the Fediverse via Mastodon, but that’s just one part of a much wider Fediverse with many different kinds of servers. This section explores the non-Mastodon kinds of servers out there.

Because Fedi servers use a common technical standard to talk to each other, people on different kinds of servers can usually interact with each other, and many of the accounts you follow on Mastodon aren’t actually on Mastodon servers!

Mastodon API: Using Mastodon apps with non-Mastodon accounts

Mastodon uses an open API for its servers, which means that anyone can write a Mastodon app and it can make full use of all of Mastodon’s features. This openness means third party Mastodon apps get just as much access to Mastodon’s features as official apps do, and many third party Masto apps are actually better than the official one.

However, a side-effect of this openness is that non-Mastodon Fediverse platforms can also make themselves compatible with the Mastodon API. This means that Mastodon apps will work with those non-Mastodon Fedi platforms too. For example, you can sign in on a Mastodon app using your PixelFed account.

Not every Fedi platform supports this, but many do. The easiest way to find out whether it works is to download a free Mastodon app and try signing in.

(It should be noted that Mastodon’s developers don’t officially support this, and if it stops working you need to check with the maintainers of your Fediverse platform. They probably need to update their software so that it remains compatible with the Masto API.)

BookWyrm: A social network for people who enjoy reading

BookWyrm is the Fediverse’s alternative to Amazon’s GoodReads. You can find out more about it on the official website at ⧉ and there’s a project account on the Fediverse at ⧉ (also on RSS here ⧉).

BookWyrm servers let users keep track of which titles they’ve read, discover new books to read based on human recommendations (instead of algorithms), and publish their own reviews.

BookWyrm users can import their data from GoodReads, LibraryThing, StoryGraph, OpenLibrary and Calibre, and there’s also a book catalogue built-in (based on information from Wikidata ⧉ and another Fediverse service Inventaire ⧉) if people want to add titles by hand. There’s also support for barcode scanning.

Because it’s part of the Fediverse, people on Mastodon etc. can also follow BookWyrm users’ accounts and see BookWyrm reviews appear in their timeline.

Under the terms of the BookWyrm project software, anyone (except corporations) can start their own BookWyrm server, and there’s a list of existing servers to join at ⧉. If you are a top tier patron, you can also get a managed hosting service ⧉ where BookWyrm’s lead developer personally maintains your BookWyrm server so that you don’t have to do any technical stuff.

Importing your data into BookWyrm from GoodReads, LibraryThing, StoryGraph, OpenLibrary or Calibre

You can bring your account data from many other book services into BookWyrm. Here’s how:

  1. Log into the service you want to move from, and export your book data as a CSV file (here’s how to do this on GoodReads ⧉, other services may have their own methods)
  2. Log into BookWyrm, click on your account icon to bring up the main menu, then select Settings
  3. Select Data > Import
  4. From Data source, choose the service you’re importing data from (GoodReads, LibraryThing etc.)
  5. Click Browse and select the CSV file you exported in step 1
  6. Choose your preferred option from Privacy setting for imported reviews
  7. Click Import

Friendica: A flexible Fediverse server type with long posts

Friendica is a sort of Swiss Army knife of the Fediverse: it lets you do a lot of things that other Fediverse server types can’t do. It can be more complicated to use, but if you can get the hang of it it offers features that other server types don’t have.

The website version of Friendica has an interface a bit like Facebook from a few years ago, lets you make long posts with no character limits, and follow accounts from all across the Fediverse including Mastodon etc. As well as posts, Friendica lets you create and share calendars, photo galleries and groups (though the groups work very differently to those on Facebook).

You can follow RSS feeds, and each RSS post will appear in your home timeline as if it was from a normal account on the Fediverse, so it can be replied to or shared with others (the original RSS feed creator will not know about it though). You can also turn RSS feeds into specific Fediverse accounts that people on other Fedi server types can follow.

Additionally there’s an optional add-on which lets you follow Twitter accounts from within Friendica.

If you’re on the old Diaspora social network, you can use Friendica as a stepping stone to the Fediverse as it has compatibility with both. From Friendica you can follow Fedi accounts on Mastodon etc. and also Diaspora accounts, with everything displayed in one feed.

There is no dedicated Friendica app, but if you have an Android device you can use the Fedilab app ⧉ with Friendica accounts. Most Mastodon apps should also work with Friendica accounts.

More info is available from the official Friendica website ⧉, and there are lists of servers to join on the Friendica directory ⧉.

GoToSocial: Safe and lightweight

GoToSocial is a new kind of Fediverse server which emphasises user safety, and is currently under development in alpha testing. If you’re a techy person, you can find out more from the official GoToSocial technical documentation site ⧉. It is still in its very very early stages though, not ready for prime time yet, and they would appreciate support in order to get to a release version more quickly ⧉.

The aim of GTS is protect users from trolls and other nasty people through either traditional blocklists or allowlists instead. Allowlists mean that all other servers are blocked automatically, and only servers specifically named in the allowlist are allowed access. Allowlists are the safest possible option for a federated server, though they do make it harder to discover new servers. It’s up to a server’s owner to decide where the balance between safety and discovery lies, and GTS aims to give them more options when deciding on a good balance.

GTS is also unusual because it doesn’t include a website interface, it can only be used through third party apps. Fortunately, it supports the Mastodon API which means it can be used through any Mastodon app, and there are lots of those for all platforms ⧉.

OwnCast: Live streaming and chat on the Fediverse

OwnCast is sort of the Fediverse’s alternative to Twitch, and lets people set up their own independent live streaming servers which form part of the Fediverse. People can follow OwnCast accounts from Mastodon etc. and they’ll see a post in their timeline when the stream goes live.

You can find out more about it on the official OwnCast website ⧉. If you just want to see what it looks like in action, there’s a demo server that streams 24/7 ⧉.

To discover streamers, there’s an official directory of streamers ⧉, there’s a bot you can follow ⧉ which posts about new streamers, and you can follow FediVideos ⧉ which boosts interesting streams (as well as other kinds of videos on the Fediverse).

If you want to try following a stream from Mastodon etc, click on the stream’s Follow button (the one with the rainbow Fediverse logo on it). This button is usually just below the video window in the desktop view. Alternatively, you may see people mentioning a stream in posts, and clicking on the mention will bring up its profile including a follow button.

OwnCast runs on free open source software, so anyone is allowed to set up their own server. You will need a bit of technical knowledge to do this, but there are various options to make it easier explained at the quickstart guide ⧉.

PeerTube: Video hosting on the Fediverse

PeerTube is a video server for the Fediverse, and allows anyone to start their own independent video site. Because it’s part of the Fedi, PeerTube accounts can be followed by any of the millions of people on Mastodon etc, so even a small site can reach a large number of people. When someone follows a PeerTube account from Mastodon etc, the videos will appear in their timeline and their replies to videos will appear as comments underneath the videos in PeerTube.

PeerTube videos are distributed through a clever peer-to-peer system which means the more people watch a video the more bandwidth it will receive. This allows even smaller servers to host viral videos without needing any data centres or other expensive costs.

You can find out more from the official PeerTube website ⧉. If you just want to see an example of a PeerTube server, ⧉ is a pretty good one.

You can use PeerTube servers through web browsers on any platform, and there are also Android apps such as FediLab and TubeLab ⧉.

If you want to start your own PeerTube server, the easiest option by far is to use a managed hosting service ⧉ as that requires no technical knowledge. If you are techy though, a trickier but cheaper option is to use YunoHost on a VPS ⧉. The most difficult but most flexible option is to install it manually using the official documentation ⧉.

PixelFed: Photo sharing on the Fediverse

PixelFed is a photo and image sharing network on the Fediverse with a photo-oriented interface that includes albums, filters, moments etc. You can follow PixelFed accounts from Mastodon, and Mastodon accounts from PixelFed.

You can find out more about PixelFed including a list of servers to join on its official site at ⧉.

There is an official iPhone app in public beta testing on Apple TestFlight ⧉ and a third party Android app called PixelDroid ⧉. You can also use Mastodon apps with PixelFed accounts, as PixelFed is compatible with them.

If you are not technical you can host your own PixelFed server through managed hosting ⧉, or if you are slightly techy you can use tools like YunoHost ⧉. If you are very techy and just want to install and maintain a server without any help, see the official documentation here ⧉.

Finding people to follow on PixelFed

To find people to follow on PIxelFed, you can use most of the same techniques and directories that Mastodon etc. users use.

PixelFed is not just about PixelFed accounts! You can also follow non-PixelFed accounts from elsewhere on the Fediverse like Mastodon etc. To follow a non-PixelFed account, paste its Fediverse address into the search box within PixelFed. The account’s profile will then appear in the search results and you can click Follow to follow it.

After you follow them, non-PixelFed posts will start appearing in your timeline but they will look just like PixelFed posts, and you can interact with them in exactly the same way. The process is so seamless you probably won’t notice they’re from another type of server.

By default, PixelFed only shows posts that include an attached image. If you want to see text-only posts as well, log into your PixelFed account and go to Settings > Timelines > Show text-only posts, tick the box and click Submit.

WordPress: Turning your blog into a Fediverse server

If you have an independently hosted blog powered by WordPress, you can add a special plug-in that turns it into a Fediverse server. When the plug-in is installed, people will be able to follow and interact with your blog posts from Mastodon and other types of Fediverse server.

The plug-in is called ActivityPub for WordPress ⧉, and is named after the technical protocol that Fediverse servers use to communicate. Here’s how to install it:

  1. Log into your WordPress blog’s dashboard
  2. Go to Plugins > Add new and search for “ActivityPub” (the correct plug-in is the one by Mattias Pfefferle)
  3. Install the plug-in “ActivityPub” by Mattias Pfefferle
  4. You may also need to also install the “WebFinger” plug-in by Pfefferle ⧉ to help the ActivityPub plug-in work properly.
  5. After everything has finished installing, go to your blog’s Plugins section and activate the ActivityPub plug-in.

If all has gone well, your blog should now be its own Fediverse server. It won’t look any different, but behind the scenes your blog will now have its own Fediverse address. People can paste this address into the search box on Mastodon and other Fedi server types, and your blog will appear as a profile that they can follow and interact with.

You can find out your blog’s address by going to the WordPress dashboard’s Users section and click on the user that writes the blog. Scroll down to the bottom of their profile options page and the Fedi address will be listed there. Give this address to anyone who wants to follow that user’s blog on Mastodon or the rest of the Fediverse.

When the plug-in is installed, you’ll also see an ActivityPub option appear in your WordPress dashboard’s Settings menu. This will let you adjust how the plug-in functions. You can set it to show the entire post, or part, or just a link. If you set it to show the entire post, people following on Mastodon will see it as an extremely long Mastodon post so be careful if you choose this otpion.

NOTE: This does not work on free blogs, because they do not allow installation of plug-ins. You will need an independently hosted WordPress-powered blog that allows plug-ins. The vast majority of independent web hosting companies offer these.

Write Freely: Long-form writing platform for the Fediverse

Write Freely is intended for people who want to publish long articles on the Fediverse where the focus is on the text, with as few distractions as possible.

You can find out more from the official Write Freely website ⧉, which includes a list of servers you can sign up on ⧉.

Alternatively, if you want to start your own blogging community, you can start your own Write Freely server either by installing it yourself ⧉, or if you’re non-technical you can use a managed hosting service ⧉.

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