It is easy to forget that the internet is nothing more than an interconnected web of computers.
Many people think of “the cloud” as some sort of space age tech that they could never comprehend. In reality, it is just computers connected together with some massive hard drives.
The first website I ever built was done using Microsoft Word.
There was an option to create a web page, which was essentially just a page without borders. Once you were done adding text and images you could publish it to HTML, and it would create your webpage and images in a separate folder.
Then it was just a case of getting an FTP client and uploading your files to the server. Most ISPs at the time gave you a small amount of webspace to host your own website. It was just part of the standard package along with email.
It is a shame that ISPs don’t offer webspace any more. How different would the internet be today if everyone had their own space instead of contributing to social media channels that they don’t really control?
The internet is built on protocols like HTTP and Email. Everyone can have their own email address hosted with any email provider they want. As with websites they can even host their own.
Protocols made the internet great, and it wasn’t just limited to email and websites. We had IRC for chat and Usenet for discussions.
Anyone could host their own IRC server and join other servers anonymously.
You could pick your own client to use and pick which software to run on your server. As long as the software obeyed the rules of the protocol, everyone could interact.
Back then, the internet was truly decentralised, there wasn’t a single company or server that everyone had to interact with.
The great thing about protocols and decentralisation is that they tend to stand the test of time.
This is why email is still going strong 40 years on from its inception.
In fact, you can still use IRC and Usenet as well today. Although admittedly, Usenet is mostly used for sharing pirated content and the lack of history in IRC channels make them less useful than alternatives.
Of course this all changed in the early 2000s, with social networks such as MySpace and later Facebook.
The internet was no longer about communities getting together to talk about like-minded topics.
Instead, it became a popularity contest.
Everyone flocked to which ever platform had the most users, so they could promote themselves in an effort to get the most likes and shares.
The one thing that these platforms had going for them was the ability to share content without needing to be computer-literate. If you wanted to share your own thoughts and photos you didn’t need to build a website and work out how to host it. You just needed to type and click send.
These platforms have let millions of people share content but only within the confines of their own platform.
There are no common protocols that let Facebook users interact with Twitter users or Twitter users like Instagram posts. If you want people on other platforms to see your content then you have to post there as well.
These are centralised platforms that not only control how your content is used but also what content you see.
If you have scrolled through your Instagram feed recently you may have noticed that at least half the posts that you see are not from people you follow. Instead, the algorithm decides for you, based on your viewing habits, what content you see.
Luckily, thanks to Elon Musk making a mess of the Twitter takeover, people are looking for alternatives.
The best alternative to Twitter at the moment is Mastodon.
If you’re wondering what sets Mastodon apart from Twitter, Facebook and all the other social media platforms, the answer is protocols.
Mastodon is based on the ActivityPub protocol. This is what Wikipedia says:
ActivityPub is an open, decentralized social networking protocol based on Pump.io’s ActivityPump protocol. It provides a client/server API for creating, updating, and deleting content, as well as a federated server-to-server API for delivering notifications and content.
Mastodon is the software that is implementing the ActivityPub protocol.
ActivityPub has been around since 2018, but it is only in the last year that things have really started to take off.
As with email you are completely free to pick your own client and server or even host your own. You don’t even have to use Mastodon as it works with all other platforms that use ActivityPub.
Whether you mostly write or share photos and videos there are options available. As they all use the ActivityPub protocol it doesn’t matter which one you pick as everyone can see, like and follow people on other servers.
Some options however are more geared to certain types of content, in which case you may want to have separate accounts for each media type. There is nothing stopping you though from sharing your content on the other platforms.
These are the main options at the moment:
As all of these platforms are using ActivityPub they all work together. You can sign up for a Mastodon account and then follow someone on PeerTube or PixelFed and even like and comment. You can even follow your favourite Lemmy communities from Mastodon.
It doesn’t matter what server they are on or what software they are using, everyone can communicate as one big worldwide community.
If you are building software that is going to be used by the public then it is worth thinking about how you can make it more decentralised or at least accessible using standard protocols.
My main account is on my self-hosted Mastodon server. The easiest way to follow me is to log in on which ever instance you are using and search for “@firstname.lastname@example.org“.
I also recently joined PixelFed, so I can share my photos. At the moment I am on PixelFed.Social but I will likely move to a self-hosted instance in the near future.
My plan is to have all of my social channels on self-hosted instances. That way everyone can tell it is me as they will all be hosted on alexhyett.com and there is no risk of them disappearing in the future.
❤️ My supporters also get the following benefits:
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