The Best Fediverse Servers to Create Your Own Online Community

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Online social networks are part of life in the 21st century. In addition to following celebrities and politicians, it’s a place where you can keep up to date with the life events of friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and the latest photos from your favorite cat accounts.


Traditionally, social media has been dominated by a few large corporations, which profit from your social connections, hobbies, relationship status, and other data. But there are other options, and you can even set up your own server.


Welcome to the Fedivers

You may have heard of the open-source social network Mastodon – every few years it’s touted as the next big thing in social media, accompanied by bold claims that it’s about to topple Twitter as the best microblogging social network. But Mastodon isn’t a social network, and it’s not about knocking Twitter out of anything.

Mastodon is one of many distinct server types, all of which can interact with each other to create a large distributed social network without centralized control. Individual server administrators can create their own rules and codes of conduct, choose which instances to federate (or block) with, and customize them to their liking.

Instances are usually run by volunteers, who try to create an online community around a common theme or interest. These can be anything: hobbies, locations, political views, or various varieties of NSFW.

Sci-fi and fantasy fans might gravitate to The Wandering Shop, for example, while open-source advocates tend to pile on Fosstodon. Free speech extremists pour into the somewhat predictable Free Speech Extremist server, and you can usually find black flag anarchists in Kolektiva, as well as other revolutionary types.

Although these instances are separate, all users can communicate and follow each other regardless of which instance they belong to, thanks to the underlying ActivityPub network protocol. An individual instance can have as few as one user, or hundreds of thousands.

How does the federation work?

Most types of Fediverse servers come with multiple timelines.

  • The residence the timeline displays posts from users you follow, regardless of which instance they are on.
  • The local the timeline shows posts from everyone on your local instance.
  • The federated the timeline shows everyone’s posts followed by everyone on your local instance, and can be extremely chaotic.

To see this another way, any message you post will be visible to everyone on your local instance in their “local” timeline. If a user from another server follows you, your posts will be visible in that user’s “home” timeline and in the “federated” timeline of everyone on the same instance as that user, but will not be in their “home” timeline. .

Social networks are above all a community. In the days of message boards and forums, communities formed around common interests. Users would post and discuss the latest developments in their fandom or location, and the discussion would happen spontaneously. The rise of large social media companies has buried these small interest-based communities in a deluge of incendiary groups and interactions.

By running your own Fediverse server, you can resurrect the enjoyable feeling of interacting with people who love what you love, but not limited to certain topics. The Fediverse gives you the best of old forum communities, along with polished user interfaces and the ability to follow individuals in radically different fields.

As owner/administrator, you can choose how members behave and how your instance interacts with other instances.

Truth social and Gab are both built on Fediverse technologies; however, their operators chose not to allow federation, keeping them isolated from the rest of the Fediverse.

It really depends on your ambition, the number of users you want to have on your local instance, and the level of sophistication you need for the software.

You can run a fairly basic server like Hubzilla on a $10 Raspberry Pi Zero 2, for example, and a Raspberry Pi 4B will take the much more sophisticated Pleroma software, plus a dozen local users, without breaking a sweat. A large instance running Mastodon and with tens of thousands of local users is probably best administered using dedicated hosting services in a data center, rather than on a single board computer in your bedroom.

What types of Fediverse servers are there?

There are dozens of different server types with which you can access Fediverse and build your own online community. Most of them have different characteristics and purposes. What they have in common is that they let you interact with friends on your local timeline, as well as follow and interact with people on other instances. Here are some of the best:

Mastodon

Mastodon is easily the most recognizable Fediverse server type and best suited for instances with many users. Its flagship instance, mastodon.social is home to more than 800,000 users, of which around 35,000 are active.

Messages are generally limited to 500 characters, more than double that of Twitter, although this can be changed by modifying the code. Mastodon offers a large, friendly space that is easy to navigate and scales well. If you have good hardware and expect your community to grow to thousands of users (or even more), Mastodon is the one you are looking for.

Pleroma

Pleroma will run comfortably on a Raspberry Pi 4B with as little as 2GB of RAM, meaning it’s perfect for creating a home community. Pleroma comes with excellent and intuitive admin panels and settings menus, where you can change background, brand, admin users and set character limit, without having to dive into code.

Although rare, it is not entirely unheard of for Pleroma-based Fediverse servers to have character limits set at nearly one million. Messages created from these instances can be read in full by subscribers on instances with other software. If you want to manage your community from home and have access to simple controls, Pleroma is perfect.

Hubzilla

Hubzilla has exceptionally low system requirements and can be designed to run on even a super cheap Raspberry Pi Zero, although if you choose to do so we suggest limiting your instance to just one or two local users. Although the default interface is quite simple to look at, there are plenty of add-ons available to tailor it to your community’s needs.

The city of São Paulo, Brazil uses Hubzilla as a tool to integrate and deliver healthcare to a neighborhood of 600,000 people, but probably not on a Pi Zero.

Pixelfed

Although all types of Fediverse servers support images and video, Pixelfed is particularly suitable for it and is positioned in the same space as image sharing platforms such as Instagram. Pixelfed has its own mobile apps for viewing and downloading images, and the server software is easy to install.

The largest Pixelfed instance is pixelfed.social, which has around 70,000 users. If you love art or photography and want your community to be visually-focused, Pixelfed is the perfect candidate.

Lemmy

A little different from the other entries on this list, Lemmy is a link aggregator and discussion platform similar to Reddit, but federated, meaning you can follow discussions from other forums, as well as upvote, upvote against and join communities. Due to some specific Lemmy quirks, while you can engage with any Lemmy instance from any other Lemmy instance, you cannot engage from the wider Fediverse.

Soapbox

Soapbox is a relatively new addition to Fediverse and is built by one of Pleroma’s developers; because of this common heritage, they have many characteristics in common. Soapbox requires similar resources to Pleroma and offers a completely different interface, as well as the ability to edit posts after they’ve been sent, although the editing history is visible on any timeline. Fun fact: Truth Social is running a fork of Soapbox.

Access Fediverse on your phone

While some types of Fediverse servers, such as Pixelfed, Lemmy, and Mastodon, have their own dedicated mobile apps, others don’t. This is relatively unimportant because all Fediverse servers use the same ActivityPub protocol, which means that what works for one type of server should work for all. The Mastodon app, for example, will allow you to access your account on a Pleroma instance.

There are also third-party apps available for Android and iOS – the best of these, in our opinion, are Husky and its fork, Tusky. The main difference between the two is that Husky blacklists some inappropriate Fediverse instances, while Tusky does not. Unlike the Mastodon client, Husky and Tusky offer multi-account support and the ability to view the local timeline.

The Fediverse is a big place with thousands of servers already in existence, and there’s a place for your community too. Running your own community social media platform means you’re not beholden to the whims of tech giants and can set your own rules for your own online spaces. There are no barriers to entry and even with old or exceptionally low end hardware there is a solution that will work for you. What are you waiting for?

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