::UPDATE:: After less than an hour out of Facebook jail, I find myself BACK IN. A friend posted a link about the algorithm stupidity as a comment on my status. I replied “Men created Facebook. They are also scum. See I learned!”

So yeah, I’m more committed than ever to break up with Facebook. Follow me on Twitter or any of the sites addressed below to stay in touch with me for the next week.

Are you sick of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Twitter basically controlling everything you do online anymore? Me too. 

We’ve all heard the saying that if you’re not paying for the product, you’re not the customer, you ARE the product. Our profiles and all our activity online is the product that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google are selling. This is not news to you or anyone else. But what if it didn’t have to be this way?

What if we could own our own online identities? Control our own content online? What if we weren’t the product anymore, because there was no product? 

Today is my second day in Facebook Jail, and boy do I have a LOT more time on my hands than normal. This kind of makes me want to be in Facebook Jail a lot more often! Being barred from interacting on Facebook completely removes my incentive to even go to the website. If I can’t even have the OPTION to contribute to the conversation, why the hell do I care about the conversation at all? 

I have been spending a lot of time learning about other content platforms, especially those in the Fediverse. Fediverse is a portmanteau of “Federated” and “Universe,” and it’s a collection of projects seeking to build federated, non-centrally-controlled social sharing and interaction networks. 

I was placed in Facebook Jail for commenting on a friend’s post with “Men Are Trash.” Facebook considers this hate speech. I do hate a lot of men, but I don’t hate the concept of men. After all, I am a man. I wish there were a hell of a lot more men LIKE me. Then I wouldn’t have to say that so many are trash.

But even though I’ve seen some benefits to getting barred from this PARTICULAR social network (Facebook is also trash), that does not mean I still don’t see incredible value in being part of an online social network. A social network is a central forum to participate in debates and discussions, keep in touch and remember the past, and plan for the future. What good is posting my thoughts to my website if I can’t then SHARE my thoughts, get feedback on my thoughts and generate debate?

For better or worse — not counting Mastodon which does have strict community guidelines — this “jail time” is a lot less likely to happen on the Fediverse because there is no central control or ownership over the content. In fact, the Fediverse gives you the option to take back total ownership of your own online identity and activity. 

How is that done? Well the networks of the Fediverse are built a lot differently than social networks HAVE been built traditionally. But these Federated models are not new to our digital life. They’re just being applied for the first time in the social media space. But we’ve seen these models before with email and multimedia messaging on our phones. 

Within the Fediverse, there are two major standards developing. The Diaspora* Standard and the ActivityPub standard. Each standard is a protocol that standardizes the basic parameters of social networks on the programming side. 

The difference between Diaspora* and ActivityPub is like the difference between communicating over Email vs communicating over Multimedia Messaging Service, or MMS (you know, messaging on your phone’s native messaging client). You can do both on a phone. Both can handle text content as well as some multimedia content, but they handle them in different ways, and they aren’t really designed to talk to one another (though you can send from an email to a phone messenger in some instances, and vice versa, but that’s not what we’re talking about here). 

Within these two standards, various networks are developing. The way that there are various phone and email providers, not just one monolithic phone company and one monolithic email company. The major players in ActivityPub are Mastodon, Hubzilla and Friendica. 

Think of each of these as your favorite desktop email client. Some people prefer Microsoft Outlook, while others prefer Apple Mail. Others may want to use Mozilla Thunderbird. Others may use a web browser-based interface. They’re all clients that allow you to read and send emails, but each one has its use-case pros and cons. 

To send or receive an email, first, you need an email address. And an email address consists of two parts: your username BEFORE the @ and your email domain AFTER the @. The email domain is the server that handles all the email comings and goings for you and, say, your work colleagues or your fellow students, or strangers on a webmail site. The username says who on that domain should get the mail. You can stare all you want at Outlook, until you set it up with your email server information, you’re not going to be able to send and receive anything. 

And this is where things become confusing for new users in the Fediverse (more on this later). Until now, our social media identities have been wholly owned and controlled by one central corporate entity or another. MySpace owned our MySpace profile and content (at least, until they accidentally deleted all that old stuff last month). Facebook wholly owns our Facebook profile and content. Twitter wholly owns our Twitter profile and tweets/replies/likes. Etc. 

Because of this, when I want to sign up for the Facebook network, I have one place to go. I go to Facebook.com and sign up. Everyone with a Facebook presence has to get their slice of the pie from Facebook directly. There’s one place to sign up and go. 

But that’s not how email works. While if you want, specifically, a Gmail Address, you HAVE to go to Google and Gmail; if you want to email people who have Gmail addresses, you don’t necessarily have to also have a Gmail address. You can participate in conversations with people on the Gmail domain all you want with a Yahoo Address, or an AOL address, or a Comcast address. You can email back and forth with a Gmail user using your work domain email, or you can set up a private email server in your house and email to your heart’s content with any Gmail user that doesn’t mark you as spam. 

And THIS is more what joining up with the Fediverse is like. There isn’t one doorway into the community, there are thousands. And, unlike joining the Facebook network, no one single entity owns them all. But which doorway you choose depends on what you want, and deciding what would fit you best is opaque AF right now. 

This is confusing for all of us, because up to this point, when we’ve wanted to join a social network, we knew exactly where to go. We haven’t thought about joining a social network in these terms. But in the Fediverse, for most networks, there is no central control of the network. The network is distributed. It is FEDERATED. There are thousands of instances of the network and each instance is owned by whoever owns the server it is running on. Just like with email domains. 

What is the difference between each instance? Who knows. It’s going to depend on the network. Many will be private and closed to you. Open ones may have certain content rules or other ways they differentiate themselves from other instances. Like picking an email client, experiences will vary. I’m sorry I have no advice or wisdom here.

All of the different Fediverse networks have various lists of instances/nodes/pods/hubs/servers to seek when signing up, but most are unofficial and unscientific. The best way to get in is to do so the way you did email. When you didn’t have your own email, and your friend got their own hotmail address for free, you went and got one too (well, at least if you’re over 32 that’s how you did it, anyhow). If you got a friend anywhere on the fediverse, you can start by finding out which network they like, and which node/pod/hub/instance/server they connect from, and just try that one first. If it’s full, then go look for a list. Once you’re in the network, you can still connect with your friend, and anyone else on that network, whether or not your pod/hub/node/instance/server is the same. 

Again, each hub/instance/server/pod/node can talk to any other on the same network — and even on other networks in using the same protocol (ActivityPub OR Diaspora* — remember email vs MMS). But the first barrier to entry is deciding which instance to join from on any network. 

If you had a friend, like that old hotmail buddy, it’d be easier to decide, right?

That’s why I have ordered a computer to set up as a server so I can host my own instance, and give my friends a chance to sign up for and try out the Fediverse. I’ll be both the friend with the cool new hotmail address AND the hotmail.

But that is the second barrier Fediverse networks face: barely anyone is there, yet. And even if someone you know is there, how would you even go about finding them? And this I have no clever ideas about solving. However, all I know is that, when Snapchat blew up, the more people you knew and saw using Snapchat, the more curious about/interested in Snapchat you were. We need to figure out how to get the same sort of buzz/in the wild open usage of Fediverse networks. Not sure how to do this yet.

Mobile usage would help visibility, but because these networks are federated and not centrally controlled — in fact such a thing would be antithetical to the very idea of the fediverse — that also means there will never be one single app for any of these networks. As mentioned above, though, Mastodon’s community seems to be a lot more interested in staying on the same page, and perhaps the killer app will come from that network.

And once that day comes, Facebook will fling open all the doors in the Facebook Bastille, only to find all the cells already empty. Because the only thing keeping most of us tied and dependant on that beast isn’t the stellar history of security, or Zuckerberg’s impeccable leadership. It sure as shit isn’t the ads.

What’s keeping anyone on Facebook is the critical mass of all those people that we WANT to network with. If more and more of them adopt a platform more focused on independence, privacy and autonomy, what will keep ANYONE on Facebook?

Have you signed up for any networks in the Fediverse yet? Would you? 

If you are on any of these, find me on Friendica, Mastodon or Diaspora!