an introduction to fediverse microblogging

... right, what's this then?
with the helpful advice of a few fediverse friends, I created this guide to getting into fediverse microblogging. there's lots of "intro to the fediverse"-type articles out there already, but this one is different (I promise)!. I won't bore you with technicalities about how federation works, or have a sanctimonious approach to things. instead, this post will help you understand the non-technical part of the fediverse, which is important if you want to make the most of it.

what's a fediverse, anyway?
the fediverse is a network of websites that can all communicate with each other. basically, it's like a big social network with no centralized control. the advantage of this is that there's no censorship, no advertising, and the websites are powered by open-source code.

each website is called an instance, and anyone can run an instance as long as they have the money and technical know-how. each instance runs certain software that handles all the federation features; for convenience, I'm going to refer to the software as a platform.

also, microblogging is a sort of old-fashioned (old as in 2009ish) word for posting short messages onto a timeline -- basically, it refers to the type of thing that twitter's based on. the fediverse is used for things besides microblogging, but this post will focus on the microblogging side only.

don't join the fediverse (yet)
before you join the fediverse, you need to figure out which instance to join. you could just jump right in and choose any instance you want -- if you don't like an instance, you can always move -- but it's better to do things right the first time. the next sections will help you find a good instance.

more about platforms: an ancient rivalry
as I mentioned before, there are different platforms for running fedi instances. the platforms include gnu social (falling out of fashion), misskey (mostly used in japan afaik), mastodon, and pleroma, with the latter two constituting the majority of fediverse instances. I would suggest looking for a mastodon or pleroma instance, because you'll have an easier time finding one.

the reason I even brought up platforms is that each has its own culture, broadly speaking. a lot of mastodon people will assume things about you if you use pleroma, and a lot of pleroma people will assume things about you if you use mastodon. each platform has its own issues regarding development, moderation, etc. it's hard to explain, but keep in mind that there's often a tricky relationship between mastodon users and pleroma users, although that's not the case all the time. just remember, you can find good friends on pleroma and on mastodon.

finding an instance
in order to find a good instance, you should use the nifty tools in the next section to learn about some of the instances. it's best to choose a small but active instance, because those tend to be well-moderated and have a tight-knit community; your voice also gets heard better if you want to propose changes to the instance admin. take a look at an instance's local timeline to get a "feel" for what it's like. don't be too daunted by this step -- it's basically like choosing an email provider, but with a few more quirks.

also, my personal advice is to stay away from instances centered around politics. political instances tend to be stressful and often get involved in instance drama (discussed later).

some nifty tools
here are a few sites that help you discover fediverse instances:

networking, socially
after you choose an instance, you need to find friends. based on the platform your instance uses, you'll have a number of different timelines on your dashboard -- usually something like "local" (posts from your instance), "federated" (posts from everywhere your instance is connected to), and "home" (posts from people you follow). try looking on the local timeline for people to follow, and also see who they're talking to if you want to spider around to find more people. if you must, the federated timeline has plenty of people, but it's also a hot mess. just ... don't browse it in public~

after you get a comfortable amount of followers, I'd recommend switching your profile to private (so you have to approve follow requests if someone wants to follow you) and limiting the visibility of your statuses; that way, the experience is more akin to talking with a group of friends. but this step comes much later, usually after a few months. above all, try to experiment to see what you like best.

here are some good guidelines to follow when posting stuff: different people have different ideas of what constitutes "good etiquette," and you'll find your own idea of it as well. content warnings, for example, are a very versatile tool, and have a role beyond "warnings." since you can choose to hide cw'ed (content warninged) posts by default, putting a cw on something basically says "not all of my followers would want to see this." as an example, if I post something about politics in my local area (say, delaware -- which I'm not from, by the way), that would be something to cw. you'll figure it out.

it also helps to give yourself a profile picture, and to write a post about yourself tagged #introduction.

instance drama
sometimes, there are weird debates, controversies, etc that happen between or inside instances. such debates can become dramatic, or even toxic, and they sometimes fragment communities and drive people off the network. this is called "instance drama." if you see instance drama start on your timeline, stay away from it. mute people if you want to stop seeing the arguments. but whatever you do, don't get involved.

beyond microblogging
the fediverse isn't limited to microblogging. in time, you'll meet lots of people and realize that mastodon, pleroma, etc is only the tip of the iceberg -- there are open-source projects, physical-world friendships, and public-access unix systems (the tildeverse, sdf) for you to enjoy. there's something for everyone, if you're willing to take the plunge.

why any of this is important
you're on some weird hipster webpage with 1990's css design right now, so I'm sure you don't need to be convinced that centralized social media is bad, and that the internet is shrinking into ~five monopolistic websites. the fediverse has its own problems, but it's a lot better than the alternatives. while this community bears similarities to others on the internet, be they modern or archaic, there's also a dash of something entirely new to the fediverse. at the cost of sounding melodramatic, we're in uncharted territory.

other links
if reading this article is part of your spiraling foray into the internet privacy cult, you might enjoy these other sites (provided to me by ~m455):