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GNU Social, a FLOSS alternative to Twitter (gnu.io)
373 points by striking 593 days ago | hide | past | web | 252 comments | favorite

Reading the comments here it seems that people are missing the point by just joining one of those instances.

It is not about just using some alternative to Twitter, the real advantage begins when you host it yourself so that you can own your own content and post whatever you want (not what some company wants you to) and (perhaps) syndicate to other services like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc.

I just gave a small talk about all this last week: https://jeena.net/media/2016/IndieWeb-Jeena.pdf

I don't see hosting myself as an advantage. In the end, all you do all day is to maintain all the tools and apps that you host yourself.

I think the idea isn't that every single person will host themselves. But you could have an account with a local provider, and the network will be a built-up federation of local providers linking together. In this way you individually don't have to manage your own instance, but everyone's data isn't centralized and owned by one corporate entity and you effectively limit your trust.

Given the way Facebook, et al, are evolving however, I think the market will make this question moot faster than we can answer it.

I hope FreedomBox[0] takes off and makes it easy (as in 0 maintenance) to host these services.

[0]: https://wiki.debian.org/FreedomBox

GNU Social is on the road map for FreedomBox and that's why I've recently been making debian packages for it.

Also see Sandstorm, another project working to make self-hosted webapps easy and secure for more users.


Also https://cloudfleet.io [Disclaimer I'm one of the founders]

Also, arkOS: https://arkos.io/

Not really. I've been running a Jabber server and a GNU Social node for about a year now and I can tell you it takes maybe 1 hour a week of my time for patching.

I have automatic security updates enabled on both systems but I tend to login from time to time and do a dist-upgrade on them manually.

Sure, but I'd say 1 hour/week is quite a bit more than the a normal person would like to spend on maintaining apps (probably 0).

Why someone would want to run their own instance of their favorite web app when most are given away for free, no maintenance required.

The average person is not supposed to maintain their own node for these services. That's why they have us who give our free time and our VPS accounts to host such things.

It basically comes down to trusting Big Media or trusting your neighbour with your data.

I personally doubt we'll see a big breakthrough for Big Media alternatives because people go where their friends are.

I am unfortunately expecting fragmentation in that field, sort of like reverting back to the early days of the internet when us nerds who could connect were considered a subculture. Now that everyone can connect we're creating a subculture of people who choose not to use Big Media and instead gravitate towards smaller and less centralized alternatives.

That doesn't matter though, I have always enjoyed being on the fringe and I believe I will continue enjoying my time there. :)

* Federated vs Centralized

* Usenet vs Internet.

* IRC vs AOL Instant Messenger

* Email vs Xanga / Myspace / Facebook

* Torrent vs Dropbox / Cloud Storage

Federated has its advantages. Centralized has its advantages. 40 years from now, people will continue to use the federated platform. The centralized platform only stays around as long as it is profitable.

But while the centralized platform is around, things are a lot more convenient and mainstream.

Damn good observation -- but it begs the question, why can't federated be as frictionless as centralized? Is this a matter of effort, funding and organization, or something more fundamental?

Its a fundamental difference.

Consider HTTPS, SSLv2, SSLv3, and TLS1.0, and TLS1.1. As web security standards evolved, the people who run HTTPS servers flat out refuse to upgrade the security protocols. Federated admins don't necessarily run their servers as a full time job, while centralized organizations are well funded and well paid.

It takes a lot longer for infrastructure in federated networks to upgrade. Facebook can add new features across the entire network immediately.

Imagine if you wanted to add a game protocol to IRC for example. You'd create the protocol, then you'd try to get Freenode to switch over to the new and improved game protocol, and then they won't do it. So you create your own IRC server and no one comes. You give up and open source the project. Years later, some guy finds your open source implementation and maybe the protocol finally becomes popular enough to be used... or maybe they'll use your protocol as a base for their ideas and it will evolve into something else.


When "federated" works, it is mostly due to the big players agreeing that a particular federated protocol is amazing. Take OAuth for instance, which got Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft support early.

Ultimately, it is very difficult to make money from federated services, so there's no money (or investment) going into those projects. OAuth was a pro-bono non-political effort to make the web better. Such efforts are extremely rare.

In fact, most federated protocols exist to give a particular company an advantage (or to levy disadvantages on a particular company's competitors). So there's a healthy amount of distrust to any newly proposed protocols... for good reason. Ex: Theora / MPEG4 / video tag nonsense, or DRM support in web browsers.

The big daddy federated network: Email / SMTP, was basically a research project from the late 1960s, and received public investment in the 1990s as IMAP and POP3 protocols were developed. (Anyone else remember paying for Juno email on their 33.6kbps modems?). Due to years of use, it has found its niche and no "competitor" will ever really displace it.

> when most are given away for free

Free as in beer, not as in liberty, that is my problem and why I want to run my own instances.

You might not value freedom as high as I do.

Hosting your own node is reserved for hobbyists, and privacy, cryptography, tech enthusiasts, not regular users.

Although regular users can support by simply using the services and contributing.

And now that comes back to the problem that was pointed out in the other thread: Which one do you join?

Because there are people out there who got priorities where other just do opportunism.

But that's only two services out of many. What about your mail server? What about your webserver where you host your personal website? What about your own git hosting? What about your own private slack-like service? If you follow the "host everything yourself" zealots consequently, all you do is maintain these services. Or you pay people to do that for you, which quickly gets more expensive than just paying for your SaaS subscriptions.

I'm currently hosting more and more services myself. I have my own chat service (a matrix.org HomeServer), my own website (a simple static website served by nginx) and my own git hosting (gitlab). I'm using a nixos box to host it all.

Up until now, the maintenance overhead has been very, very low. The hardest bit is figuring out the configuration at first. Once the initial configuration is set up, I haven't had anything needing my time, other than the occasional systemwide update (takes about a minute, and can be automated if I'm not too lazy. This is nixos, rolling back is easy if something fails. Which it hasn't until now anyway).

Obviously, hosting everything this way isn't a solution for many. I don't expect your average joe to be able to fiddle with configurations file, using the command line, or setting up a VPS. But I believe the problem is simply in tooling, and by making or improving some graphical, easy to use tools, the "federated dream" where everyone could simply host its own service and join a network isn't so impossible anymore.

It highly depends on the person.

If a person is good with software engineering and system administration, they don't need to pay more than few minute of their time once in a while, so SaaS are more expensive. I run various software that can be either used on subscription or self-hosted (like Sentry, GitLab CE or Drone) and my time investment in it was negligibly tiny (like... I find a deployment recipe, and run it, then check for the updates once in a while), compared to monetary fees of a hosted solution.

If a person can't do the very basic maintenance, then maintenance costs are very high (they either have to learn stuff or pay someone to do every tiny task), so SaaS probably wins there, and probably by a large margin.

I agree and I think it is like with cars. I for one did basically everything from changing the tires to replacing the body of the car after a crash (I don't have a car anymore). For me it was part of the fun, tinkering with stuff, learning, etc.

Other people never touch anything in their cars and even pay for replacing the light bulbs. This obviously costs a lot of money if you let someone else do that for you. But you just have other priorities, that is ok.

The initial config was a bit rough, but the initial config included docker and jenkins. Jenkins is basically a dashbaord for deploying docker containers now. My "maintenance" is clicking a build button when I need an update, and I could probably configure it to watch docker hub or git and run the builds automatically.

I definitely don't "all you do is maintain these services"

One hour a week? That's a lot. But I guess it's not that you have to do this but that you can and want to spend/invest this much time.

I run my own email, XMPP, various storage (git), few simple websites and a bunch of minor services. I tinker with those, like, maybe just an hour or two a year. When I feel like I want to tinker with stuff, or I learn that I need to update.

Oh, well, and I had a bad day once in ten years when the hardware failed. Luckily, that was just a PSU failure, so besides the outage while I had to get a new one it wasn't a big deal - didn't even had to touch the backups. And this only applies when you host it on your own hardware.

Otherwise, things just work.

I run a system called Freedombone, and maintenance of GNU Social is not really an issue. If I'm not actively working on it there is no maintenance involved.

GNU Social is similar in concept to the POSSE (Publish on your Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere) idea, isn't it?

POSSE is along the lines of a higher set of principles to aspire to: in essence where some system under your control is the first place that you publish your content (social posts. blog posts, photos, pretty much any of your content)...And then, your content gets sent out to other distribution points (e.g. facebook, twitter, etc.). It basically increases the value of your web presence to a system that you can control, instead of depending on an outside platform that may not have your interests as its primary goal. While GNU Social is one (out of many) types of tools/platforms that can implement/help achieve some of those POSSE principles. See also: http://indiewebcamp.com/principles

As far as I can see GNU Social only POSSEs to Twitter, but that is a good start anyway.

"Reading the comments here it seems that people are missing the point by just joining one of those instances."

No, they're not. They just want to get started and go. They don't want to deal with hosting or configuring servers. Many of them might not even have the equipment to do it. That's the experience they've gotten from Twitter, and most people like that.

Yes, many people value convinience above freedom. This doesn't make it moral or good.

Oh please, get off your high horse. There is absolutely nothing more moral or better than the approach this is taking.

Another benefit most people don't realize aren't the individuals that self-host a Gnu social instance, but those organizations that should own their own social infrastructure and namespace. Trusting a single entity (Twitter) with that is a bit absurd.

Before the site has given me any reason to join, it makes me choose between 7 virtually indistinguishable options of providers with subtle technical advantages and disadvantages.

Ah, GNU projects. Never change.

Haha I don't even know which one to join. Feels like I'll make the wrong choice. GNU projects always remind me why programmers alone isn't enough, apps also need good design and UX.

> GNU projects always remind me why programmers alone isn't enough, apps also need good design and UX.

Some people need others to think for them. Some people like to make their own decisions. GNU is for the latter ones. GNU has always been freedom of choice.

Design is overrated. Functionality and reliability are more important. Even Apple has to admit that.


Yea.... No.

If you are presented with 6 choices and you cannot reasonably tell the difference between them without spending 15-30 minutes researching all of the options, you have a bad user experience.

Design is important. People like using things that look good.

UX is vital. If a user can't figure out how to navigate through an app in a reasonable amount of time without a great deal of existing knowledge (which they may not even know where to find), your app sucks. People, even technical ones, will abandon it, even if it is more reliable and has more features than the next guy. Making things that are intuitive is really difficult. That is why people get advanced degrees in it and start consultancies that specialize in it. Usability does not just stop at GUIs on your laptop, but also jet fighter cockpits, vending machines, ATMs etc... Think about this, what good is a jet fighter if nobody can actually fly it?

That is not even to begin talking about how people with low vision can operate things. WCAG exists for a reason.

Bottom line... usability is really important.

I didn't say usuability is unimportant. I said it is overrated. What does a good UX experience profit if there is lack of functionality and reliability? A legacy Linux desktop with reliable apps is much more useful to me than a polished Windows/OSX where apps crash all the time.

> If you are presented with 6 choices and you cannot reasonably tell the difference between them without spending 15-30 minutes researching all of the options, you have a bad user experience.

That's the price for freedom of choice. If you are not willing to invest some time to choose than others will force you on their ways to go. This spares you some time but at the end it costs you much more because you have to give up your privacy at FB etc.

> If a user can't figure out how to navigate through an app in a reasonable amount of time without a great deal of existing knowledge

Having watched kids, teens, and 20-somethings, I've concluded that "a reasonable amount of time" to them is something on the order of 5 seconds on the outside. On a PC, they might look around and thoughtfully click on things. On a tablet or phone app, they just mash their fingers for about 3 seconds, then if they haven't seen something, move on.

This even extends to 20-somethings and game controllers. I've seen 20-somethings walk up to an 80's emulated arcade game, waggle the sticks on a controller for 2 seconds, not understand why the screen was shaking, then walk away.

You probably shouldn't choose any of them, but should set up your own server, but some people don't want to do that, and we don't want to play favorites and say "this is the best server to join" so instead we list a few servers run by our community.

"To use our version of Twitter, first set up your own server" is even worse user experience than picking between seven preexisting servers.

Installing the software is a different use case from using an existing instance. It's simple to do (compared to buying Twitter or writing your own industrial-strength social networking system from scratch) if you are the kind of user that kind of thing is simple for. Otherwise, you have a wide choice of existing instances to choose from.

There are many more than seven existing servers. Consumer choice is a good thing. User confusion less so.

"To send email, first set up your own server."

No. What good is all the functionality in the world if it's prohibitively difficult to use? Especially for something like a social network, where the value is directly related to how many people are on there, and who.

The goal of GNU social isn't to provide a social network. It's to provide social networking software.

What's the point of social networking software if 99.9% of the population can't use it for social networking?

We're providing it for others to start social networks, with the relevant user support, branding, etc.

I'm delighted that there is a general network of users, but that's not why I started it.

"can't" or "not willing" ?

If people are not willing to invest five minutes or so what to choose then they should stick with FB and Twitter where they don't think about the consequences of releasing all their private data anyway.

That is nothing more than an elitist argument that really has no place in this discussion. All you are doing with that argument is saying that you're somehow better than other people, and for that, you should be ashamed.

Do you really believe that nonsense?

It's just not a centralized paradigm. Joining an existing server means you'll be subject to whatever moderation policy the admin has. Or you can just run your own server and then federate with the rest, as I do.

There needs to be a much better solution to the use case of having to jettison from an existing federation that might be disappearing soon (or where the admin changes the rules and you no longer want to be there).

Currently, the only fix is to create a brand new account on a different federation and start again.

Again that may just be the wrong paradigm. If you are especially concerned about disappearance of a server then just run your own installation. This is partially why I'm making debian packages for GNU Social, to make that process easy.

There isn't really any "different federation". You just follow whoever you want to follow, regardless of what server they're on.

Yes, but if you use someone else's install and they disappear, you lose all your followers and everyone you follow.

You have to start from scratch.

Yeah...as a tireless social media critic & privacy fanatic, I imagine I'm in their target demographic. But the presentation was so confusing that even I ran out of patience trying to understand what's going on.

"Something which looks like Twitter, great for new users coming over from Twitter"

So "Quitter" is obliquely referencing someone that has "quit twitter"?

I guess there's a certain logic behind it, then -- but as a name that (1) creates a positive emotional feeling and (2) is intuitively obvious, it falls very short.

Quitter is someone else's interface to GNU social. You'd have to ask them about it.

I'm not sure if the founders of email would care for names like Thunderbird and Icedove, but you'd have to ask them.

i love the openness of a protocol approach (like email), but i just don't see how it's going to have a chance if it falls down this badly as a product-as-a-whole.

what lessons can we learn from slack vs irc? from whatsapp vs email? from usenet vs reddit? etc.

I've not really used Slack, sorry.

WhatsApp is SMS, isn't it?

But GNU social isn't a product. If you want to take it, add your own interface, marketing, etc... I think you'd have a product.

That's because the story links to the "try" page, the normal page is at https://gnu.io/social/

The "try" link is the first, most prominent call to action on that page.

That page pretty much just links to the same cluttered page.

Perhaps instead of just complaining, people could help out with the documentation:


Then again, you're right... some things never change.

Except we don't know enough about the project to do so. And it seems like those involved in the project that could do so have no interest in doing so.

This is not a "blame the people who complain for not contributing" thing. This is a "the people who are presenting the project are doing a horrible job of it."

I'm the GNU social founder, so please talk to me about a horrible job.

I think there's a misunderstanding in this submission, and perhaps around the project in general. The goal of the project isn't to provide a social network, or to provide an alternative to Twitter, but rather to provide some software that can be used for a bunch of things, and using it instead of Twitter is a subset of that.

I chose the name because I didn't want people to think of it as a "GNU social network" (GNUbook, GNUspace, etc) but rather just software that could be used to enable communication between people.

Some people have made interfaces for it that mimic Twitter, and a lot of people are using it for that kind of communication, but I don't think the project website has to make it easy for people who want to quit Twitter to use GNU social, but we can certainly point people at servers and interfaces that do that job.

It could be as easy as just recommending one at random every time you load the page. I don't understand why they don't implement this.

It's a static site, but also maintaining a huge list of servers, monitoring them, etc seems like a lot of work when the real goal should be "start your own server"

For most people "start your own server" is not the real goal. People who want to run their own will choice to do so and are able to look in the docs.

People who just want twitter should just get that.

People who just want Twitter will find GNU social a very different experience immediately anyway, and I'd rather leave that offering to a particular server (such as Quitter) rather than the whole project.

Those are servers run by our community. I'd be interested to know if you have any alternative ideas: we don't want to pick one any one instance, but we want to give new users a thing to try.

Do we just flip through a big list and show one per page load?

I think it would be good to make it clearer that it doesn't matter what server you're on, that you can follow people on any other server (I don't really know anything about the project, I'm just basing this assumption on what other people have said in this thread, and so a lot of what I say below may be incorrect, but I'm just trying to make suggestions).

Right now you have "Join the federated social web No matter which server you're on, you're part of the family!" which mentions 'federated social web' - a term most potential users probably aren't familiar with; and 'family' which doesn't have a very specific definition (i.e. is it part of the same family just because you're running the same software or does this imply a greater connection between the different servers - my understanding is that it's the second, but I'm not really sure)

I would suggest adding more info such as "You can join any server and still follow people on separate servers. Once you have an understanding of how the system works you may want to start your own server so that you can choose your own settings and have complete control of your own data!"

Also, the home page is very sparse on info. IMO the 'What is GNU Social' section shouldn't start with info about the StatusNet project, since anyone new to GNU social wouldn't know what that is. It should be something like "GNU Social is a free and open source social network (i.e. a replacement for Facebook/Twitter). It is a protocol that allows anyone to run their own server (or join someone else's!) and connect to people around the world. You can have control of your own data and the communication is as secure as you make it!" and then you can add the other info.

Some other suggestions:

The about page doesn't really say anything about what GNU Social actually is, it's just a history. The FAQ page should be linked, or included in the same page.

The FAQ page is pretty sparse and still doesn't tell much about what it actually is used for. And given the sparsity of the rest of the site, I would suggest including the FAQ page as a top level header, rather than under Resources. And a few more suggestions on questions:

"What does the federated social web mean? - It means you can run your own server and connect to other people with their own servers" or something along those lines

"How do I choose which server to join?" - You can join any server and still connect to people on separate servers, or you can start your own server!

"How do I install it myself??" - link to the install info

Also, I just clicked through to the git page, and the info you have there is a much better intro imo: "It helps people in a community, company or group to exchange short status updates, do polls, announce events, or other social activities (and you can add more!). Users can choose which people to "follow" and receive only their friends' or colleagues' status messages. It provides a similar service to sites like Twitter, Google+ or Facebook, but is much more awesome."

Thanks for this feedback.

We're looking at revamp of our site, and this will be good feedback for that.

Thanks for filing the feature request for the "I don't care" button during user setup! It's little contributions like yours that make GNU strong!

I used StatusNet when it was identi.ca for quite some time, specially because back then Twitter really allowed 3rd party clients and with multi-protocol clients was really easy to use both.

When I was using identi.ca it was pretty much about Linux, Open Source, and basically that was it. I never got the same level of interaction I can enjoy in Twitter; but that's not a technical issue, is just that a social network needs people to interact and identi.ca back then (and I suspect GNU Social today) was not used enough to make it interesting for me.

I tried, because you can argue that is silly to complain about not enough people using a social network if you don't start using it yourself; but at some point identi.ca got flooded with bots and people "abusing" the API instead of using the social network, and I gave up.

I love twitter because I can meet people based on common interests (eg, 8-bit computers), and also broadcast about my current projects (not sure who finds that interesting though).

To be honest, things should get really bad with Twitter for me to leave it, but then I don't think there will be a substitute (and if there's one, having my own infrastructure would be very low priority, in the same way I don't host my own XMPP server).

> I tried, because you can argue that is silly to complain about not enough people using a social network if you don't start using it yourself;

No, not at all. That's the Network Effect [1] in a nutshell.

Practically, what this means is that apart from possibly instagram, microblogging is twitter's market to lose. So long as twitter does not abuse the trust users have placed in them to manage the service, then upstart competitors (whether centralized or decentralized) will find it difficult to overcome the network advantage.

However, if twitter does not honor the informal contract and decides to abuse their power for political or social ends, they will be devaluing their product for a large segment of users. Those betrayed users are more likely to decide en masse to join a network not subject to a centralized autocratic authority. This accusation was in fact recently leveled against them [2], so you may see growing support for politically neutral alternatives.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_effect

[2] http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/02/16/exclusive-twitter-s...

So, can anybody elaborate on the history of and relationship between StatusNet, identi.ca, GNU social and pump.io? It seems like this fragmentation is another obstacle for success, besides the obvious issue of gaining traction.

And then there's tent.io, which appears to be completely unrelated but have similar goals. Is there anyone with insights on usage numbers, development activity etc. of the different projects? In other words: What's the best bet for federated, open source microblogging?

GNU social is, as far as I understand it, just a rebranding of the old StatusNet project after it joined the GNU project.

identi.ca had been the most post popular StatusNet instance until they switched to pump.io, a new project started by at least one of the StatusNet developers.

tent.io is unrelated to the others as far as i know.

Correct on all counts.

Identica was a StatusNet instance it is now a Pump instance.

GNUSocial is a re-branding of StatusNet.

Not exactly.

GNU social was its own project when StatusNet was still a thing.

GNU social, StatusNet and "Free and Social" merged to become GNU social

Like others, I used to use StatusNet back when it powered identi.ca, and abandoned it when they switched to pump.io and everything broke.

I considered running my own StatusNet/GNUSocial/pump.io instance, or even writing an OStatus plugin for the CMS I used to run my site on, but have come to the realisation that such software isn't the right path for federation.

If I were running a popular site with many users, e.g. a forum, then such features might be nice to add. But hosting my own multi-user, dynamic, OAuth-based Web app just for myself is crazy; especially when the only other thing my server hosts is a static HTML site (I had the same realisation that a multi-user, dynamic CMS Web app was also insecure overkill). In fact, I never used to use the identi.ca Web site anyway; I used the XMPP bot until it got turned off, then switched to RSS feeds and a custom posting command ( http://chriswarbo.net/git/warbo-utilities/branches/master/we... )

Unfortunately I've not seen a simple, single-user, no-authentication-required, non-Web-app (preferably commandline) implementation of these protocols (OStatus, Salmon, webmention, etc.) which I could use alongside a standalone, untrusted API endpoint on my server.

I spotted some IndieWeb links on HN a few weeks ago and some of what they say resonates with me, e.g. https://indiewebcamp.com/monoculture Unfortunately, some of their technology seems heavily focused on non-federated, non-FOSS walled gardens which I don't want to be part of (e.g. IndieAuth can use a Google account, a GitHub account, a Twitter account, etc. It claims to support email, but that seems to have died since Mozilla Persona shut down)

The https://quitter.se anti-capitalist message didn't resonate with me, so I joined the https://gnusocial.no federation. Much friendlier :)

I am not familiar with either, but I am curious why does "anti-capitalist message" matter so much? I thought the purpose is to build a messaging network that everybody can use. And even GNU founder can be considered anti-capitalist.

I am asking because to me, to decide to join some (not political) community based on your own political opinion, is a good way to live in your own bubble. The real strength of the Internet is that we are exposed to contrarian positions, even at the expense of our comfort.

Before the horde descends, I thought I might respond to the suggestion that RMS is anti-capitalist. This comes up frequently and is a bit of a red herring. I won't try to speak for him (he can obviously do that well enough himself), however I think it is worth considering the free software movement in today's reality.

Back when they only thing that described free software was the GNU manifesto, we still had the idea that writing software that enabled businesses was a good idea. It may be a consequence of free software that it will become difficult to charge money directly for software (as a product), but that shouldn't stop companies from making money.

Especially now when we see how open source software is almost taken for granted, we can see that companies flourish, not die. It is true that you practically can not charge money for a compiler any more, but are we worse off? No. We have different and arguably better business models for that kind of software -- and we haven't given up capitalism at all. My tools are dramatically better than they were 30 years ago (when I first started in this business). The cost has also dropped to nearly zero. We have become efficient.

It is true that the FSF considers software freedom a moral imperative. While it may be true that some kinds of software will be difficult to produce in this manner, we can see that there are several very large companies that thrive producing virtually every kind of software. Personally, I don't think there are many businesses that will be better off with our old software-as-a-product business models -- games being a probable exception. What we have now is better, more efficient, enabling for the general population -- and much better for businesses. I have a hard time seeing it from an "anti-capitalist" position. And, just from my personal perspective, I don't think RMS ever did either.

I am not talking primarily about Stallman's free software work; have you ever read his political notes? It seems that he is very critical to capitalism (as a description of the existing economic system, contrary to free market, which describes - somewhat different - ideal). In fact he also seems to be critical about free market, in particular in environmental and social issues.

RMS is a classic Green Party guy, explicitly. That is not the same as being anti-capitalist.

And only idiots think that free markets don't have externalities, so RMS noting that there are environmental or social issues free markets fail to address is itself completely unremarkable. Anyone who denies those facts should be completely disregarded. Even the most staunch free market advocates who have any understanding of reality accept that externalities exist.

Usually the staunch free market advocates don't want to do anything about those externalities, though. They accept that they exist, but that doesn't stop them from fighting whenever regulation or taxes come up as a way to fix those externalities.

Sure. There are idiots who deny/ignore externalities, and then there are intelligent dogmatic fundamentalists who prioritize their fundamentalist model regardless of ramifications.

Being critical of, and believing that those systems can better work for most people, rather than those at the top, isn't enough to make someone anti-capitalist.

Have you ever read anything by RMS on what he calls Service as a Software Substitute (SaaSS)? I can't think of many large businesses who aren't "guilty" of that.

This looks like the SaaSS article:


The payoff comes at the very end, "Do your own computing with your own copy of a free program, for your freedom's sake."

Nah, I'll pay someone to do compute (and maintain the API, infrastructure, etc.) for me. I'm a huge free software advocate, but in the SaaS situation, I'm not paying for a program, I'm paying for results.

As such, it's immaterial how I get those results--they could have a roomful of people arranging bits by hand. (What if that's how they were doing it? Would that represent a loss of freedom, if I were paying people to shuffle bits by hand?)

This particular essay seems like the RMS take on that old saw, "if all you have is a hammer..."

The loss of freedom, in your case, is control over the development direction of your tools. If the tools match your business, fine. Let's hope they still do in a few years.

If the match is only partial, your choice is between lobbying for tool change from your vendor, or conforming your business to match the tool.

> I have a hard time seeing it from an "anti-capitalist" position.

The FSF position is anti-capitalist in at least one technical sense -- in the domain of software, it morally opposes capitalist model of property rights (and, in practice, uses a hack around the mechanism by which that model is implemented to subvert it.)

I don't agree with your assessment. Although they encourage people not to use the term "Intellectual Property", I think that's from the perspective that ideas are not property. This is not at odds with (my understanding of) the legal definition of IP (the name notwithstanding). The property in IP, is the monopoly it affords, not the idea. You can't own an idea (i.e. it is not legal to do so). You can own the government granted monopoly for implementing that idea.

The FSF is pro-copyright and pro-trademark. You can literally own software. In fact, one of the things the GPL makes very clear is that once you have given/sold someone the software, you can't suddenly revoke their rights to use it in any way they see fit. In fact the FSF is very outspoken about the dangers of using services which remove that right (for example ebooks where the seller can suddenly revoke your right to read the book).

When you receive software under the GPL, you own that copy. It is literally yours. You can modify it. You can study it. You can give it or sell it (for any amount of money) to someone else. Not only that, but you do not own the copyrights. The copyrights are owned by someone else and are not transferred with the software. So this means that you can not change the license, even with a derived work.

They like it that way. They do not want to change the ability to own software or own copyrights. The GPL does not subvert the notion of software as property -- it enforces the normal rights you would have if it were physical property.

I always saw intellectual property rights as a hack to try and encourage the production of non-rivalrous goods. The scarcity is in some sense enforced and artificial, and there's a strong argument to be made that they aren't they aren't "natural" property rights in the same sense as you get with rivalrous goods.

I think pro-capitalist (mostly libertarian) thought on this matter is divided.

> The scarcity is in some sense enforced and artificial

The problem is, you can mount the very same argument even in the case of normal property rights. At the beginnings of capitalism, the scarcity was in fact enforced by means of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclosure.

IMHO, most libertarians are used to idea normal property and take it for "natural", but not so in the "intellectual" world of ideas. It is partly because they benefit from intellectual world not yet completely owned by rich people. But I think people outside computing (unless they are distinctly leftist) are unfortunately lot more content with the idea of "intellectual property".

In my view, there is always a balance between "property rights" and other needs of society - availability of resources to the needy and the general public, innovation and growth.

You have the draw the line somewhere and using physical boundaries is quite useful. It create a natural distinction.

The problem with IP is that there isn't any limit to it. A driver license is not more or less a property than a patent, but it acts wastingly different. Can I sell a driver license? can I rent it? Can I cut it into two different part and give a friend half of it? What makes the exclusivity of state granted driver license a non-property, in contrast to the state granted exclusivity of an patent?

The distinction doesn't look natural to me..

I don't see why anyone should "own" natural resources, or beaches for instance. I understand that we all need a place to live and we want to own our personal possessions, but it doesn't seem to me at all natural to extend this to mines, factories or huge tracts of lands on the other side of the planet, that you perhaps even never see. Maybe the scarcity of natural resources isn't such a big deal unless you have people who simply own to much of it.

In the same vein, I agree that authors and inventors should be compensated for the efforts, but the copyrights and patents shouldn't create more scarcity.

I don't think I can go along with the idea that a license is property. By the very nature of a license, you can't do any of that stuff with it. I'm the one, who, by nature of being granted the license, was granted the privilege the license confers (driving, practicing a specific trade, etc). It would make absolutely no sense to rent out a driver's license to someone who has not demonstrated the competency needed to get one.

You can and it is done. Land ownership is restricted in many ways in many countries just like IP should be.

"it morally opposes capitalist model of property rights"

Does it? Or does it take a much more hardline stance in favor of property rights, by saying you should control what is running on your property?

Just a RMS quote from the latest FOSDEM: the Free Software movement takes some ideas from capitalism, some from socialism and some from anarchism. (Quoted from memory)

Unfortunately I can't give you a verifiable source, but the whole talk will be available at http://video.fosdem.org/2016/ud2218a/ at some point.

Agreed...you grow by entertaining ideas other than your own, or those of the group you find yourself closely identifying with...

As F Scott Fitzegerald said:

A test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Using the Internet just to confirm your existing beliefs sounds a bit too much like tribalism...isn't there something better to aspire to?

The GPL couldn't work without one of the common features of capitalism: protection of intellectual property. Also, Stallman has never gone record saying capitalism should be abolished. He simply didn't feel computers should be constrained by IP. At worse, he's a Georgist on IP since IP to most modern Georgists is held in common like land.

Not all of us are anti-capitalist. Before I woke up to the reality of the world around us, I was strictly anarcho-capitalist (like, "Fire Departments should negotiate contracts for payment before putting out your fire" level). Turns out, I just hate monopolism, to the point that extreme competition turned out to be the lesser evil.

The only political opinion you should share about Free Software, is whether the software honors the four freedoms[0]. The rest (open source software, FOSS, etc), are corporate add-on sales attempts.


> And even GNU founder can be considered anti-capitalist.

You are mixing up anarchism with anti-capitalism.

Not really, IMHO you're the one mixing them up. Take Noam Chomsky, he self-identifies as anarchist too, but I think you would have a hard time not to call him anti-capitalist.

I understand anti-capitalism as a criticism of the current economic system (or at least aspects of it), so it's independent to anarchism, just like it is, say, independent to Christianity.

Noam Chomsky doesn't speak for all anarchists. Anarchism comes in different forms.

> I understand anti-capitalism as a criticism of the current economic system (or at least aspects of it), so it's independent to anarchism, just like it is, say, independent to Christianity.

That's exactly my point (that it's independent). In case of Stallman, he isn't anti-capitalist per se, but he is definitely an anarchist.

What makes him anarchist?

His core ideas of free software are based on the concept of being free from control over it. The idea is anarchistic since by controlling the software and computing technology one controls society in some way, and the more technology is intertwined with social aspects (which gradually happens the more technology progresses), the higher is that level of control.

You could just as well argue that his ideas are democratic, giving power to larger groups of people than before.

Teaching the people to run their own services sounds pretty similar to what happened during the enlightenment, when people were taught to read at a large scale for the first time.

Anarchism is by nature truly democratic, except that it aims to avoid hierarchical powers.

As someone else said, Stallman does not identify himself as being an anarchist. If you listen to his talks, he does spend some time on what we need to do to protect ourselves politically and the need to protect democracy.

I may be in the minority: I agree with almost everything that Richard says.

> As someone else said, Stallman does not identify himself as being an anarchist.

Self identification is his personal choice. I'm talking about his ideas however.

RMS is on record saying "I am not an anarchist. In fact, I have a pro-state gland"

I assume that's because someone tried to attribute to him certain anarchistic positions that he didn't share. This doesn't make his own ideas less anarchistic however.

Indeed, but promoting some anarchist (or just anarchy-compatible) ideas does not make one an anarchist.

It makes him anarchist in the context of those ideas. Are people defined by a single label? Rarely so.

Anarchism is anti-capitalist… but RMS is neither an anarchist nor strictly anti-capitalist

> Anarchism is anti-capitalist

Some of it. There are various views on this subject as well as different variants of anarchistic approaches.

> RMS is neither an anarchist nor strictly anti-capitalist

Giving a single label is probably pointless. He definitely has anarchistic ideas.

It is a federated messaging network. I don't see that it is any more subject to filter bubbles than Twitter is. Everyone chooses who they follow anyway. If you want to subscribe to feeds from people with politics opposite yours, you can do that.

That was my point. The intro site may have "anti-capitalist" in it, but at the end of the day, it's up to users what they do with that network.

I didn't say that I wouldn't read from Quitter. I follow a few people from there. But, I said that I didn't register there. To me, registering with the service after reading that goal would be a vote in favour of that goal.

Although I dislike capitalism in general I think that message should be changed to something more neutral. Maybe some capitalists might want to have their own GNU Social site where they can boast about swindling, exploitation and their beloved centralization of everything.

In my debian package for the qvitter plugin that message already gets replaced, but I can also submit a patch upstream.

Trending tags: #anarchy, #antifa, #nonazis etc. No thanks, I'll pass.

you'd prefer #yesnazis ? ;)

No, in my opinion and experience, both "nazis" and "antifa" are violent utter morons, so I prefer none.

The more interesting thing to do (for this crowd, at least) would be to run your own instance: https://git.gnu.io/gnu/gnu-social/blob/master/INSTALL

How hard/easy is it to switch servers and retain @accountname references (i.e. your username)?

When faced with a big list of servers to choose between, my hesitation is that I'll pick one now and realize later that another one is better. For example, I may someday want to host GNU social myself, but if I do so will I essentially be starting over (even if I can retain my data, will my connections still retain a relationship to the new server?).

A nice little diagram and/or technical details page would be much appreciated :)

As with any other service it depends whether your username has already been taken or not.

I ask because this is a major hurdle with the Diaspora* model, in my opinion. I just created two accounts with the same username on different servers to test, and the fact that I could do that bummed me out a bit...

It's great that my data can be free, but if my account is tied to a specific host and I must make a separate, unique account with another host later then I'm still substantially locked in. Essentially, switching accounts likely means all my social connections will have out-of-date contact info, urls, etc. when I switch.

If, however, my user ID is global across the distributed network and there is a way to gracefully transfer my account/data/info to another server seamlessly (without my social connections even knowing/caring about it) then I think distributed social networks like GNU Social could be a game changer.

It's possible with hubzilla.io you can also have your account data on two different servers for redundancy.

Diaspora* is also an interesting option.

* https://diasporafoundation.org

* https://the-federation.info

It would be nice if these would interoperate, so that it was not really an either/or choice. Don't they have essentially the same goals?

There were some plans for that it seems:


Diaspora is already interoperable with Red Matrix. For better interoperaibility they need to finalize the API.

* https://wiki.diasporafoundation.org/Diaspora_API_proposal

* https://www.loomio.org/d/cedTCbsI/the-api-bounty-deliverable...

Thank you for this informative answer.

Is there a good way to publish to this at the same time as twitter, so I'm already established and can drop twitter when it dies?

In my humble opinion, that's what ruined indenti.ca back in the day. If you're mirroring Twitter and losing the interactions you have in GNU Social, your account is just a bot and you're not really using the social network.

Does someone have a client that can work with both? Because, lets face it, Twitter is the 800 lb gorilla in the room. Most people, if they want to try this out, would also like to maintain their activity on Twitter. Hopefully there would be some way that you can do both, and be alerted to messages and replies on both, and even have a unified timeline in one app.

(And if you're not interested in maintaining presence on Twitter as well, that's great, I'm happy for you, but please don't reply just to say that. It's not interesting or contributing to the discussion in the least).

My point was that mirroring Twitter on identi.ca made identi.ca worse. Lots of people were automatically posting their Twitter updates on identi.ca, but never replying or caring about the interactions they had there. Same with blogs RSS feeds being fed to identi.ca.

I don't know where we are with multi-protocol clients. Back then I was using https://launchpad.net/gwibber (before it was rewritten to use CouchDB and stopped working for me, I don't know what is its current status).

I didn't post like that, I had two accounts and used both; until I got bored of bots on identi.ca and, in practice, I was only using Twitter.

EDIT: changed Gwibber link to launchpad as the .com doesn't seem to be maintained.

Good point. FWIW I imagined doing it in the opposite direction, using GNU Social with things connected back to twitter in some way.

Which account is the bot?

Yes. In settings you can connect to your twitter account.

Really! I will check it out and see how that works.

After reading about GNU Social on HN last night I created an account on the first of the 6 provides, loadaverage.org

I like the service and I am considering running my own server. My account is https://loadaverage.org/markwatson and I am going to start out by cross posting some of the things I post on Twitter and G+ and see where this goes.

When I quit consulting at Google in 2013 the first thing I did when I got home was to write an article on how to use Twitter, G+, and Facebook while preserving some degree of privacy. If alternatives like GNU Social catch on (a big IF), that will be a good thing!

I guess the mentioned article is http://blog.markwatson.com/2014/07/practical-internet-privac...

Have you modified your approach since then?

I follow about the same procedures now as I did in 2013. One difference: I now do online banking on my iPad. I don't install many apps on my iPad, and I think (hope!) it is a fairly secure device.

Why did you decide on that server, out of all the others?

Pretty much a random decision.

Neat product but the "familiar user interface" for a Quitter is literally a copy of Twitter. That's not a good look.

It implements the 2010 version of twitter, for once being outdated isn't much a regression.

If you run/host your own network/instance - which is actually encouraged - you can design it pretty much however you wish.

I've recently been making some debian packages for GNU Social, if anyone wants to try them out.

https://git.gnu.io/bashrc/gnusocial-debian https://git.gnu.io/bashrc/gnusocial-qvitter-debian

In particular it's the qvitter plugin which makes this system really usable, both on desktop and mobile.

I used to be a big Indent.ca fan, it used to run on status.net foss. Apparently now it is pump.io, a foss micro-blogging service.


There is also the whole tent protocol and camping.io thing. I stopped trying to follow years ago though.

A bit odd to see them all labeled "runs out of Europe". I understand why they do this, but it's not like European hosting is a bullet proof solution for invasive snooping or data requisition.

At least in Germany, we do not have secret courts and gag orders like in the USA.

How do you know for sure? Honest question.

It's impossible to prove. I think the best you can do is a) no legal basis for that kind of thing, and even more importantly b) a citizenry that remembers totalitarianism and knows the importance of privacy rights.

Europeans in Europe can take countries etc to their local courts, or to the European Court of Human Rights, or the Court of Justice of the European Union. Europeans are not able to take any court case against the US government in US courts.

> A bit odd to see them all labeled "runs out of Europe".

For people from a country which touts itself as "land of the free", this has to be a bit of a bitter bullet to bite ;)

If you're interested in running one from another place, do it and let us know...

I was excited to learn that GNU Social is in PHP, but quickly turned off because of the quality of the PHP code.

Heh, sorry, this made me chuckle. I'm sorry you're right, but ya know, it's a GNU project, so there's always room to contribute. :)

found the canadian

Instead of being written in Guile Scheme.

Now, you will find lots of people that claim scheme is the best programming language. I myself am torn between the caml family of languages and scheme.

Most serious stuff I write in Scheme, and when I got parsack (parsec for Racket) I now no longer have any reason to leave.

I was reminded of a quote saying this kind of question (scheme or caml) is discussing brand of waters while lost in a desert dying of thirst. Although PHP post 5.5 matured enormously, I'm still rooting for a scheme.

Who isn't? :D

I rewrote most of my old linux projects (for home use, most of them) in Scheme48 just because I like scsh so much.

I rummaged around and found a lot of the old, deprecated mysql_functions (with error suppression turned off, even,) raw queries and no prepared statements anywhere. They may be there, but this codebase is frustrating to roam around in. I did find a few comments warning of possible SQL injection problems if parameters aren't sanitized - which should not be a thing in modern PHP.

I support the project wholeheartedly but I can't help but despair at the amount of NIH syndrome and archaic patterns I'm seeing. Unsurprising given how old some of the code seems but be, but still... code like this doesn't inspire confidence in the long-term stability of the project.

I can't defend any code quality (and I'm certainly not associated with the project, I merely host my own/private network)...but i suppose php was chosen as the stack for (hopefully) more universal adoption. Most low-cost/budget (old school) web hosting companies support php out of the box...and the intent is for folks to host their own network instead of hopping on others, etc.

I'm beginning to think social media is toxic for society as a whole, do we even really want an source alternative to twitter, should twitter cease to exist?

That's not really a decision we can make on behalf of the rest of society, is it?

I don't get it. I went to gnusocial.no to join, and there's no link to sign up. I eventually found a register link off the help page (not visible on mobile for some reason), and I just get a messsage "Sorry, only invited people can register".

Do they want people to join this or not?

You can't expect all GNU Social instances to be open for public registration, that's not what fedaration means. loadaverage.org seems to be open to everyone though. Also, do you have an OpenID?

I would be amazed if someone doesn't have an account with any of these websites:


Though I do believe Google has gotten rid of their Openid implementation entirely in favor of Openid Connect.

From that list, I only have a google account. I tried the link for the Profile URL, but it's sending a 404. Perhaps that's because they've gotten rid of their Openid implementation as you say.

I'm sure there are ways around it. The point I was trying to make is that I thought that there would be more effort put into a frictionless signup.

To be fair, I haven't checked out the other sites linked from the gnu page, so I don't know if they have a better experience.

Then why don't they just come out and say that? If they want people to use the service, they have to make it as friction free as possible. Otherwise people will give up.

I'm going to need a bunch of "Share it on..." icons to annoyingly slap on all of my web pages :D

Wasn't this the initial goal of app.net? I know it's morphed somewhat now, but, if I remember correctly, it came about as a direct response to some Twitter developer in-niceness.

Sort of. App.net's big experiment was "charge users money instead of monetizing their eyeballs". Twitter outages and developer alienation helped fuel its initial rise.

Chrome complains about https://micro.vinilox.eu

"Attackers might be trying to steal your information from micro.vinilox.eu (for example, passwords, messages, or credit cards). NET::ERR_CERT_AUTHORITY_INVALID"

Many GNU Social servers are hosted by individual users. In this case, it looks like the admin got a certificate from Let's Encrypt for "vinilox.eu", and then tried to use it on "micro.vinilox.eu". It doesn't necessarily mean that the site is not trustworthy.

A PHP project without a composer.json?

Say it ain't so!


It's so. GNU social is designed to be easily hostable on cheap server slices where ssh-ing in and running composer may not be easy.

Sure, but `composer update` is an easier way to pull in dependencies than manually untarring them.

I run a GNU social hub for granite-staters, in case anyone's interested...: https://nhcrossing.com/

What's the value proposition over Twitter?

What do you mean by "value proposition"? It is free software, not a business opportunity. Not everything is about selling and money.

I read about the project just to answer your question, which you could have answered for yourself by reading.

You can run your own instance. The source is open, which means it is publicly auditable, you can contribute to it, you can fork it. It is federated. There is not one single global point of failure, which has other implications regarding things like censorship. You are not beholden to a proprietary, profit-motivated service which can do whatever it wants with your data or with the service. It is an attempt to move away from walled gardens.

If you distrust US-based services, you can use an instance which is based in Europe or wherever.

If you don't get it, you don't get it.

Not all values are monetary.

> There is not one single global point of failure, which has other implications regarding things like censorship.

In other words it doesn't just ignore abuse and harrassment one of the biggest problems - maybe the biggest problem - twitter has a communications platform, it practically encourages it.

I expect there are ways to make something both resistant to harassment and resistant to censorship.

Like, suppose a network was designed with those as its primary 2 goals. I don't think that would be totally unachievable.

DewDrop (I might have gotten the name mixed up with another thing by neyer) and related things seem not inconsistent with decentralized things, and they seem like they could be used for combating harassment. (e.g. by setting a minimum relative reputation for people sending one things in order to see the things, people who were more likely to be targeted could set a higher minimum, while people who no one knew could set a minimum of 0, or even something slightly negative. Someone who wanted to see everything sent to them could set it to the minimum allowed number.) (the relative reputation is constructed based on the individual, and does not rely on an authority thing to work).

whoops, I meant neyer/respect not neyer/dewdrop

I haven't used gnusocial, but I'd imagine they have a ignore/block-user feature.

You don't want to ignore all abuse and harrassment as it may include death threats and so forth. This makes ignore as a feature unusuable to anyone who actually deals with abuse or harrassment.

It's a stupid feature people who don't care about this topic implement to be able to pretend they've done something.

Blocking only works if the cost of creating new accounts is high enough to turn off harrassers. That's almost never the case unless you're running an MMORPG or something.

But as Twitter has shown us, that's pretty worthless, as the cost to creating a new account to get around it is pretty much zero.

Decentralized, no ads, no tracking, free software.

organizations can run this on their own, rather than be a member of a third-party service that may not have their interests in mind.

what leaves me skeptic about these kind of alternative services like GNUSocial and Diaspora is not much when, if ever, or how they will be able to attract the necessary critical mass of users that makes them relevant. Instead, it what would happen after that. The main two questions I would be interested in would be:

(1) do they scale to the size of, say, Twitter (~400M Daily Active Users, Facebook ~1B DAU)? (2) what would be their business model?

The thing is.. hypothetically GNUSocial is very nice. It's free software, it's an open protocol, you are supposedly in perfect control of your personal data. In theory, there's no reason not to prefer it to the current state of things (if only you could make it appealing to your grandma or 14 years-old cousin).

However, when, for instance, the Justin Biebers, the Lady Gagas, the Obamas join it together with their hundreds of millions of followers, or simply when the tweets per minute reach hundreds of thousand or even millions, can the GNUSocial protocol ensure a reliable and responsive (~ real time) service? And if it does, what's the maintenance and hardware cost for the confederations? And how are they supposed to financially cover for it?

Sure, there are services based on open protocols that have been extremely successful at scaling (e.g., email, or bittorrent), still, they have different requirements than a social network. Can we make an open social network of independent confederations scale? Probably yes, but whether GNUSocial is ready for it or not is an open question (as far as I know..).

In any case, take the example of the email. The protocol is open, there's a "confederation" of independent providers taking part to it. It handles a massive amount of data every day. You don't even have necessarily to store your data on a cloud server. That's great.

Still, at the end of the day everyone uses free mail services (GMail, Yahoo, you name it), heavily maintained by hundreds/thousands of dedicated (and skilled, and expensive) engineers, storing gigabytes of your data (backed up and redundantly replicated over different geographical areas), and financing themselves using targeted advertising. Sure, you can pay your own, trusted, mail provider an annual fee and have (apparently?) complete control over your data. But how many people actually use these services outside of the work environment (where your employer actually covers the cost)? And I'm not talking about the community of hackernews readers. I'm talking about your non-techy friends, your relatives, the random guy/gal you meet at the pub, that is, the people that ultimately are necessary for your service to reach a critical mass.

I think the world needs more intelligent folks like yourself who have a healthy amount of skepticism. I myself actually consider myself a proponent of these decentralized social networks, and I'm placing plenty of faith on these open networks...Though i don't go in blindly assuming the entire world will eventually adopt these. For me, if i can get my family and friends at least interacting with me - whether through my network or through a pass-through between the 2 systems - that's enough for me. Much like your email example i agree that most will use some free offering because of ease of use, etc. However, there are folks like myself who do wish to host our own...but the expectation - much like email - is to ensure interaction is as seamless as possible between the proprietary and the open networks. I use Gnu Social for now...my hope is that if this stack (Gnu social) fails, i hope it fails fast, just so that the next evolution - whatever that open platform might be - could iterate and progress faster, again with the goal of ease of use/implementation, more seamless integration (between networks), etc.

"together with their hundreds of millions of followers"

For no particular reason I can determine, we've temporarily merged the cultural / social automation technology for personal friendships with fanboy relationships with social status signalling. Future systems are unlikely to be identical clones of past systems.

This seems usable for personal relationships. Quite possibly automation for fanboy relationships might be a totally different service and technology. Maybe in the future people won't do geolocated at all. Or maybe status signalling will go out of style in the larger culture.

Sometimes coincidences don't matter.

The rest of your argument is the eternal wheel of IT which never stops rotating between centralization and distribution. Much as we had mainframes in the past and have centralized social media today, the wheel will rotate thru yet another decentralized phase soon enough. It never stops rolling.

I think GNU Social should be pretty scalable, and that's because it's not a centralized paradigm with all users in one titanic database. Currently I'm running my own instance (one user on the server) and then federating with the rest, so that kind of setup should be scalable to the size of the web.

I posted requests to my Twitter, FB, and G+ accounts for people following me there to also follow me on my GNU Social account - it seems to be working because I just made a bunch of new GNU Social connections in the last hour.

I am excited about it. We can launch own instance for local community and it will be another good communication tool with full control to achieve the goal.

It could be twitter for XYZ institute or university, or for a MMC internal network ? Or I am missing the point?

Whatever happened to finger?

It inspired https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebFinger which is apparently being used by GNU Social.

What an irony to use twitter bootstrap to make a FLOSS twitter :)

Bootstrap has not been a part of Twitter for quite some time now.

I just realized that decentralization is awesome for privacy and all, but for social networks sucks big time.

I have only been using GNU Social for about 18 hours, but so far the decentralization does not seem to be a problem. When you have an account on one person's (or organization's) server, you can "remote follow" people elsewhere and that seems to work just fine.

How do they handle the issue of keeping usernames unique? If I were to sign up on one server with my handle, what's to stop someone from signing up on another server with that same handle to impersonate me?

Your address ends with "@SERVER" so you can't register with a duplicate prefix name on any given server.

But how prominent is the @SERVER part? Is is something that people will pay attention to? Or will they just see "mark_l_watson", assume it's you, and take whatever is being said as being said by you, even though it's not on the server you use?

What's to stop you from getting mattl@hotmail.com and pretending to be me in email?

Same thing, really.

You get an email that you respond to to finish the registration process.

No, I mean... what is the difference between a user called mattl being on two GNU social servers, and a user called mattl being on two common, gratis email servers?

I could go and make a webmail account called mark_l_watson@whatever.com and people shouldn't assume it was you.

Good point. Perhaps better to login with OpenID?

OpenID is dead, effectively.

So it's still a major problem.

No more than anywhere else. If you have your own domain name, you can host your own GNU social instance, or point people to your profile.

That's not really an answer. Repeating the mistakes of the past, especially with something as personal as social media, is a HUGE oversight that needs to be corrected post-haste.

How would you solve this? I think that GNU Social's goals are to decentralize social networks. How would you "fix" this without some kind of centralized identity verifying registry? If someone hosted a GNU social where impersonators were not purged, I think other GNU socials would exclude them from their circle of trusts in addition to purging bad users from their own systems. The centralization will most likely be rejected by the privacy and small government advocates in the community.

I believe that rather than saying your issue is not solved, the issue has been replaced with a new one: how would does GNU social's network of trust work? When a spammer starts or occupies a GNU social, what is required to prevent my host GNU social from suffering? How would a new user from a centralized social network know which GNU social is the right one to start with?

I have not read enough about how GNU social works and hope to find out how/if this issue can be resolved.

It's the correct answer for the web.

You don't get to be st3v3r everywhere, you get to st3v3r@st3v3r.com if you have that domain.

Isn't this what the tent.io guys set out to do? Is that still an active project?

This software and discussion miss the reason you can't descentralized a twitter clone: analytics. One of the advantages of centralized services is the capability to quickly analyze what's going on from the content of the messages but you can't do that with a descentralized service.

For an enterprise, yes, analytics would certainly be more important; because you'd want to measure success of whatever...but those are goals more for a company. If I only wish to share with, say, my family and a few important friends (without resorting to email blasts) the types of things folks normally share on a centralized social network, then analytics isn't important for me. I just basically need to host "the party" but don't care as much about measuring the success of "the party". My goals are not necessarily all the same as twitter/facebook, etc. ;-)

No, it is for something bigger than a company, it is for the world: if there is a earthquake or tsunami you want to receive the alert immediately.

I am not pro Twitter, I am just saying that from the computer science point of view you can't find a distributed solution to one of the problems Twitter is trying to solve.

Ah, ok, sorry i think i misunderstood your note because i fixated too much on the term "analytics".

For what i will call "broadcast" events - such as your very valid tsunami, earthquake examples - sure it would be essential for those alerts to get out...But whether you're using a centralized or a decentralized approach shouldn't matter - assuming of course that one of the nodes of the decentralized method gets the needed input about the alert - in order to pass it on to the other peers of the decent. network. Much like email and websites, and to some degree mobile phone carriers, having a decentralized network does not necessarily prevent fast distribution of important/up-to-the-minute/broadcast information such as alerts. In fact, one might argue that having a decentralized approach might help with overall resilience. That being said, as much as i am a proponent of decentralized (and open) social networks, they have many non-trivial obstacles to contend with...but i do hope for one day to not have to exclusively depend on closed and centralized platforms like twitter et al.

Ok, so I'm bad at landing pages, but ... I mean, really.

Is GNU against good user experience design?

Is that a rebranding of diaspora?

Stuff like this is never going to work, because it suffers from the chicken-and-egg problem. Everyone (who cares about Twitter or something like it) uses Twitter because everyone else uses Twitter. You can make an account on Quitter or Diaspora or any other decentralized FLOSS network, but it'll be useless because all your non-nerd friends (and most of your nerd friends too) won't have accounts there, and will continue to use Twitter and Facebook because that's where all their contacts are. There's not really any way around this. The only thing that can happen is that something will somehow become so popular that everyone will just abandon the current service. This is what happened with MySpace: for whatever reasons, everyone moved over to Facebook, and abandoned MySpace, and now it's a dessicated husk that seems to become a place for bands to advertise and that's about it. This could potentially happen with either Facebook or Twitter, but I'm not holding my breath; the masses have shown over and over now that they're happy to chain themselves to highly centralized, proprietary products and services: FB, Twitter, the "app stores", not to mention all the proprietary software out there that intentionally and obviously uses nasty lock-in tactics.

> it'll be useless because all your non-nerd friends (and most of your nerd friends too) won't have accounts there

Call it Eternal September, the unwashed masses, the quality of online communities dropping as they grow, call it whatever, I'm ready for a reboot, desperate even.

You are probably right — there'll be a chicken and egg problem even with hardcore nerdy gnu fans, but if new networks are created that attract nerdy passionate people, they will already be an interesting place, and if they ever happen to go mainstream then we will have at least taken our online "town squares" and public spaces back from private ownership.

An exciting new world where people aren't forced to use their real name (and prove it with government ID), where people can post their photos even if they contain nipples, where you might even have control over who can access your data.

I'm ready to jump ship, just looking for the boat to jump to.

If i want to get out of the way of the Eternal September, i just stick to IRC and domain-specific forums.

I just got a GNU Social account last night. Things I like: you can tun your own server (no vendor going out of business problems); it is easy to remote follow people; I picked up some followers by asking people on Twitter/FB/G+ to also follow me on GNU Social.

I plan on posting a lot to GNU Social and see what the experience is ike after a month or two.

I signed up and am having a great time. 3 people responded to my first message within a minute.

Sure it doesn't replace existing communities or networks. But it's creating new ones right now.

You just have to believe in it!

This. Your family doesn't use HN or reddit, but you do. You can use GNU Social the same way, and maybe it will attract your family to it over time as well.

(my mother has a reddit account, gods help me)

Apples and oranges. I use HN and Reddit because those have communities centered around certain interests (tech news here on HN for instance). So I come here to chat with people about tech topics. The design of the forum facilitates this, by people posting links to articles and then us discussing them.

Places like Facebook are full of random people, generally who you know but for a brand-new social network would be just a bunch of unknown randoms. I'm sorry, I have no interest in trying to strike up a conversation with some random person who could be anywhere on the planet. There needs to be some kind of commonality, some reason to interact. On Reddit I can go to a subreddit centered on a certain esoteric topic and chat with people about that. On OKCupid I can try to chat up women who live near me and have interesting profiles and go out on dates with them. On GNU Social, what am I going to do there? I have no idea.

The nature of gnu social and ostatus is that the users of it, by the nature of it being niche, are technical. The major feed usually contains almost exclusively developers and FOSS activists talking about coding or software freedom.

That is the commonality right now on ostatus, and new communities can join it any time and form new centers of commonality.

I would have felt the same way about MySpace.

The reality is, alternatives can arise. Facebook won't last forever, and Twitter even less so (although one of my favorite attempted "Myspace killers" was a social network for karaoke singers)

Right, but look at history: MySpace died out (mostly), and was replaced, but by what? Facebook, another centralized, proprietary service. And then came Twitter, which was yet another centralized, proprietary service.

When has an open, decentralized product or service ever supplanted a centralized, closed, proprietary one? Never, that I can think of. Linux never replaced Windows, not for the vast majority of users. It did become very popular for servers, but really it took over from proprietary UNIX there, and really created its own market because back in the early 90s there was no such thing as a webserver; the whole use-case is different with Linux on servers. So UNIX was never really entrenched in exactly the things that Linux servers are used for now. Then there's smartphones and embedded devices like that, but there again Linux really created its own market; before Linux, small devices generally didn't have enough power to run a heavyweight OS like Linux. Android (semi-open, uses Linux) came about pretty much simultaneously with the iPhone. So here again, there wasn't some single proprietary thing that was dominant and entrenched in a mature market. There's the Apache webserver, but here again, there was no big dominant proprietary player. LibreOffice hasn't had much success in supplanting MS Office. MySQL is very popular, but here again there was no dominant proprietary web database; MySQL created that market (though PostgreSQL has become a serious competitor to it, but it's also open).

So in summary, the only time I've seen open, non-proprietary solutions win out is when the environment changed, frequently because of their presence and availability, making them the natural pick. I've never seen them beat out an entrenched dominant player in a mature market. So I definitely don't expect to see it happen with Facebook. What I could see happening is something coming up which uses a non-proprietary or decentralized system which creates a whole new market, rendering one of those things obsolete. I have no idea what that could be though, but then again 20 years ago I wouldn't have imagined that people would want to spend massive amounts of time on a "social network" sharing inane pictures and videos and making idiotic comments to each other about them.

That's getting close to a "no true Scottsman argument." You go through the list, find every successful open source project, and try to explain why it doesn't count.

Some of your examples are flat out wrong: Oracle was the big dominant proprietary player when Yahoo decided to risk going with MySQL (which was great, and I can't wait for MySQL to get replaced by Postgres).

Now think how many websites are running on WordPress. It pains me to say it (because the code quality is so bad), but that's an example of successful open source project. Git is up there too. Don't like Github? Switch to Sourceforge. Don't like Sourceforge? Run your own server.

So if you define the category narrowly enough, anyone can say, "no open source project with these exact characteristics has ever had success," and be right. But because it's been limited so heavily, the example from the past will have no predictive power for the future. You need to find a different way of analyzing the problem.

> You go through the list, find every successful open source project, and try to explain why it doesn't count.

Wrong, I explain why in each case, they've completely changed the market, they didn't just come in and take over from a successful and dominant proprietary player.

>Oracle was the big dominant proprietary player when Yahoo decided to risk going with MySQL

No, they weren't. Oracle was never big in web databases. Ever heard of the LAMP stack? There was never a "LAOP" stack. Oracle was never used as part of a stack with Linux and Apache and Perl or PHP. Oracle was used in a bunch of big-iron systems back then (and still are), but they were never a serious player in small webservers. MySQL helped create that market.

This is something like claiming that Harley-Davidson took over part of the market owned by the Ford Model T truck.

>Now think how many websites are running on WordPress. It pains me to say it (because the code quality is so bad), but that's an example of successful open source project.

Which proprietary product did it out-compete? That's right, none. WordPress created a whole new market. It's just like all my other successful FOSS examples. It never successfully out-competed a dominant proprietary product.

>Git is up there too.

git is probably about the only FOSS product, now that you mention it, that's made any real inroads against proprietary products, and even here, not that much. It's used all over the place for FOSS development of course, but there was never a dominant proprietary product used for source control for FOSS development. BitKeeper was the closest to it, and that was only used for a single project AFAIK (the kernel), and using a special gratis license. FOSS development has always been done with FOSS VCSes: CVS, SVN, Mercurial, etc. Now, git has made some inroads against ClearCase and Perforce in corporate software development (as have all the other ones: SVN, CVS, Hg, etc.), but usually only for new projects. ClearCase has been very hard to dislodge in the companies where it's been standardized on (even though it's an absolutely abysmal version-control system that only succeeds in hindering progress).

>So if you define the category narrowly enough

I've already stated my requirement. Show me a good example of a FOSS product completely taking over for a highly successful and dominant proprietary one, instead of just creating a new market or expanding the market (while not displacing the proprietary product at all). I don't think you'll be able to come up with a single one.

Copying the design of Twitter and Facebook. What a great way to make a good first impression and to respect the copyright the GNU project cares so much about. I can't imagine a better way to show everyone just how amazing you are.

The free software community must be truly happy to have such amazing supporters on their side.

Do you understand that GNU got started by copying Unix?

You can copy a product without violating copyright, although there have been several court cases on this topic.

Of course you can copy the product as such, that's fine by me and I think even necessary.

They've gone far beyond that here though, copying not just the product but significant parts of the design. The Quitter thing looks almost exactly like Twitter. If they'd copied the website of a bank like this, it would be considered phishing.

This is well beyond copying an idea or a few design concepts.

I thought they where just using bootstrap which was created by twitter. I'd say 50% of the web looks like twitter today...

EDIT: OK, I take that back... After looking at some of these sites, some have really copied the design waaaay to much.

You can implement ostatus however you like. It just so happens the most popular implementations are just clones of the Facebook / Twitter looks because they are familiar.

There are more servers than just these, and most of them have unique UIs.

Gnu social is an open platform, so as others have stated you can host your own. And, it allows you to customize the look and feel pretty much without limit; however you wish it to look. I can't explain exactly why the quitter network or the default Gnu social network look the way they do...but my guess would be for new user comfort; sort of to provide a familiar environment. But again, at the end of the day, because gnu social is open source, you can tweak your network to suit your needs.

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