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How to run a small social network site for your friends (runyourown.social)
252 points by catacombs 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

>Why to NOT run a small social network site [...] If you choose to run a site like this, it means that people will now depend on you for something that's important to them. People on Friend Camp are very forgiving when we have down time, and sometimes that down time can last hours if I'm asleep or at a movie or otherwise busy.

Kudos to the author for responsibly mentioning the caveats and setting realistic expectations. Before asking friends & family to depend on a personal Mastodon server, consider carefully if you really want to take on that burden of responsibility to become a sysadmin and defacto tech support.

Yes, I think we'd be better off if we had equivalents of much of Facebook or Twitter implemented as distributed protocols like email rather than as a centralized system. You'd have your own @fred@example.com rather than just @fred at the One Big Company. Most ISPs could include them with the basic package or you could get them from someone else online the way you can get email from your ISP or gmail, hotmail, etc.

You could then still run your own server, just as you can with email, but you wouldn't have to take on that responsibility to get most of the benefits of taking control of your social media.

That is what https://diasporafoundation.org/ is trying to achieve, or something close to, IIRC. I'm not sure what state the project is in currently as I've not kept an eye on it recently, but it sounded promising when it started out. Looking at the release blog there seem to be regular small updates so there is at least some active development going on.

As I understand it, the founder of diaspora met an early end at his own hand.

Wow, I had no idea of this. There's even a Wikipedia page mentioning it that's not hard to find.

The lost potential always makes me wince in these situations. Obviously, not all suicidal people have the possibility of recovering (especially if you include euthanasia), but it feels to me like a lot of them could, if we had healthier social/support systems.

Very sad but he had a couple co-founders as well as some community of people interested in continuing development AFAIR.

That is literally what ActivityPub and its predecessor OStatus are for: a protocol for declaring an identity and interacting with everyone else. The protocol is heavily oriented towards exchanging small-ish messages asynchronously to a bunch of recipients or to a server, so it's mostly intended for microblogging, but there are already some other uses popping up (an instagram-like photo sharing system, a youtube-like video site where you can post/follow/comment through your account, a standard blogging platform...)

All of those applications talk to each other in a way that is finally looking like it's got enough steam to hold.

isn't what https://about.riot.im/ is?

Riot is a chat client/app - not a social media client/app in the strict sense. It is one of many clients/apps that uses the matrix protocol. I guess the nearest analogous clients/apps to Riot would be WhatsApp and good ol' IRC. In WhatsApp you might have groups, whereas IRC has rooms...and Riot leverages the "different rooms" concept for different chats. I would say Riot is a bit closer conceptually to IRC than WhatsApp...Because...Riot - and every other client/app that leverags the matrix protocol - is designed to be decentralized, or at least federated...so much in the same vein as good ol' email. I hope this nickel tour helps. ;-)

thanks, but what is the matrix protocol missing again? groups vs rooms vs profile vs private chat... aren't they all the same if you set proper security?

Sorry, I'm not sure what you're asking...? My comments were merely trying to clarify your question about the Riot client/app.

Matrix is a distributed (federated) protocol, I also run my own server.

However, I have not yet advertised it to my family, because that would mean having to maintain a high uptime.

To alleviate this, decentralised user accounts would be needed, which [1] is about.

[1]: https://github.com/matrix-org/matrix-doc/issues/915

omnimus 4 months ago [flagged]


why not?

That was a really well written article, and though I didn't agree with some points, I couldn't stop reading it until I finished it. Something about the layout, the line spacing and such was engaging enough (of course, the content and how it was organized was the biggest influence).

I too feel that identity migration (or the lack thereof) is an issue that needs to be solved. I'm not sure if there's a technical solution that would be easy for people to follow. At the very least, users should be able to take their content out and have it migrated/hosted elsewhere, similar to how email content can be moved somewhere else, even if they're forced to get a new address.

I personally believe that Mastodon and other Twitter like solutions are too noisy and disjointed, without clear and prominent topic/subject and threading. Facebook groups has a better interface for handling this kind of conversation.

One point I disagree with is the "neighborhood" classification. Most users will not really understand it or get what it means whenever the neighborhood servers change (new ones get added, some get removed). It seems way too complex. The concept of local vs. global on Mastodon is in itself a cognitive barrier for many people to overcome. Global vs. "friends" is the easiest distinction to understand and use. In my observation most of the users on Facebook tend to use one of these for their posts, and nothing else.

> I'm not sure if there's a technical solution that would be easy for people to follow.

Why not? It should be no harder than specifying the server you want to migrate to, and the handle you wish to use there. Everything else should be handled by the backend, and the receiving server’s mod team.

The absolute greatest discovery I made on this article is oulipo.social, a social network where the letter e is banned. The text on the page has to be one of the greatest things I have witnessed in a long time. There is a fully functional and amazingly well written FAQ all without the letter e: https://oulipo.social/about/more

Here’s question 6 from that page for a taste:

What synonym should I sub in for [x]?

Try to stop looking for synonyms; if you try to swap out individual words, you'll find it tough going. Pull back and think abstractly about what you want to say and find words for that.

I didn't see a mention but it is almost certainly inspired by the famous (in some circles) book by Georges Perec, A Void.


The entire book, a murder-mystery, is written without using the letter 'e'.

Contrast with dolphin.town where you can only use the letter e.

There's a feud.


Ironically the URL for the FAQ contains the forbidden later, but it sure sounds like a cool concept.

"Letter" not "later" , damn you autocorrect and also damn the window for editing comments is short :(

I think what I mainly worry about is that whilst I’d be happy keeping it pretty small - friends of friends, and family - I know that some of my family believe (and share socially) some abhorrent views, as too do some friends of friends, and so I’d necessarily be anointing myself censor-in-chief.

I left Facebook because it was a Sisyphean task to simply point out the glaring omissions and outright fabrications that my “friends” shared. Here? I’d have to actually deal with it, and probably also be somehow responsible for it.

I think the idea is that such a social network is an idea space, not a family space, and therefore family members who don't share your ideas would not be invited.

> who don't share your ideas would not be invited

So, an echo chamber.

were loyalists invited to the continental congress? Sometimes there's simply no merit in allowing certain people into certain spaces.

It is not true at all that the Continental Congress consisted of people identical in thoughts and ideas. Much debate took place from people with very different ideas. It was not an echo chamber, which is what one gets when only people who already agree on things are allowed in a space. It's everyone's right to create such a private place, and it may be soothing to them if they only like to hear the sound of their own voice.

It sounds exhausting to have such correct views about everything and yet be surrounded by so many people of inferior intellect. If only we had more brave souls willing to publicly point out how the rest of us are all wrong... :)

Or you have standards of discourse. I was on a moderated email list at one point that had extremely strict ones, including that anyone could call on you to produce primary sources for your assertions at any time. You could post further until you did so or you withdrew the assertion.

It also had forbidden topics, including religion and politics. Very specific topics that verged in those areas could be discussed, but general positions were simply not acceptable discourse on the list.

The list was pre-moderated, mind you: every message passed through a moderator before posting, and might be returned to you. It was extremely labor intensive and basically had a full time moderator.

That's great for limited circles wherein everyone understands and wants to play by the rules. For the larger public (i.e., Facebook), it's not really scalable without falling into de facto authoritarianism. The "edge cases" in one part of the world might be the voices needed to defend freedom in another, and once you start applying a different set of rules in different scenarios or making exceptions, you've lost impartiality.

My response was directed more at people who avoid public discourse simply because they feel a need to correct people all the time. Funny thing is, real reason and facts don't need justice warriors. Science skeptics, fake news, and conspiracy theorists have always existed. Shouting matches haven't solved any of those problems. With time, wrong ideas tend to die naturally when thoughts and ideas (even wrong ones!) can flow freely and respectfully.

> Funny thing is, real reason and facts don't need justice warriors.

I don't know if that's really true...

Try changing a flat-Earther's mind using rhetoric, reason, and facts. Probably not going to happen.

On the other hand, geocentrism took a long time to die, but when it did, it wasn't because justice warriors were shouting louder (though many tried); it was simply a fact that could be independently verified by more and more people.

Real scientists don't launch marketing campaigns when they've made a discovery. They publish it in a journal and invite others to verify (or disprove) their findings.

You don't change people's minds by telling them what the truth is. You show them how to discover the truth for themselves and let them draw their own conclusions.

But don't take my word for it :) Look for the pattern in history and you'll see.

Sounds like it could use sources for the assertion. ;)

the article we're discussing this under is explicitly about advocating for such smaller spaces, and arguing against having to make everything scale to cover the entire world. not a public discourse, a private one.

When the call to action in an image macro showing a huge queue of brown people ostensibly coming to your country invites you to google a specific term if you want 'proof' of its assertions and yet actually googling that term furnishes you with multiple, thorough debunkings of the entire point it was making, and yet still it's being shared far and wide by friends and family, I don't need, your snark notwithstanding, to assert any level of intellectual superiority over anyone.

It literally invited them to prove it to themselves and yet seemingly none of them did.

But no, you're right. We should try not to be more right than other people, lest we're the bigots.

So you ignore it. Then what? The only ones speaking have their ideas become the ‘truth’ simply because they’re the loudest majority. Next thing you know the earth is a disc or vaccines cause Autism.

Isn't this what block and mute are for? Or simply posting a better, more persuasive argument. Not sure why a top down censor is needed.

My own wish is that the tools social networks can use to change what we see would be democratised - I want to be able to choose the algorithms that define my feed, from anything goes to chronological to safe for children to only "authoritative sources" etc. Power to the people.

Those are fine tools as well. I’m not even suggesting a top down censor. I’m simply pointing out that the parent to my post is being ridiculous in mocking the grandparent poster for wanting to call out those who are pushing falsehoods.

If all of the ‘normal’ people just become silent and let the ‘crazy’ people run rampant because it’s impolite to correct them then we head down a path that I don’t want to go down. A path where society starts falling apart because common sense things like getting vaccines is no longer popular because the vocal ones have made it so and the people who know it’s a good idea have been silent.

>So you ignore it. Then what? The only ones speaking have their ideas become the ‘truth’ simply because they’re the loudest majority. Next thing you know the earth is a disc or vaccines cause Autism.

Sounds like a slippery slope argument, which I've been told are invalid.

Slippery slopes are a real thing, and slippery slope arguments are frequently valid.

What distinguishes a valid slippery slope argument from an invalid one is the details about the slope. Is it actually slippery? Does it slope in the direction the argument asserts it does?

Small shops can be a diverse ecosystem, en-masse robust and anti-fragile.

Edges, servers at the edges - monopolies are not a free Internet.

Computers run our lives, either we are in control or they are - Stallman is right - without GNU's four freedoms neither societies nor peoples are free.

None of those are good enough reasons to want to run your own social network though. I don't want to pay to maintain it, I don't want to spend time fixing it and thinking new features. Most of all I don't want to have to police it! These aren't enjoyable differences and fail to build a convincing case to run your own social network...

Those are not good enough reasons for you, perhaps. They may however be good enough for others. Your experience is not the only experience.

Case in point: witches.live has code for handling the moon.


I like the small social network vibe because it reminds me of the old BBS days. I think social networks thrive with some form of exclusivity to keep them stable - Facebook started by requiring your college email address and BBSes were limited by the range of your area code (or else you would suffer long distance calling fees).

A network of 50 friends is interesting, Mastodon seems to group by interest or topic which is interesting, but there was something special about the local boundaries of BBSes that created interesting dynamics and let you see the same people on different boards and in different contexts, all from the same small-ish pool of people. It was a great mix of self-selection (which BBSes I chose to visit, the personal variations available) and forced interaction (who else would visit them and why).

Wont your friends be scared of you snooping on their private messages? For all his faults Zuck wont tell the friend circle what a slut so-and-so is.

True, he just tells the ad buyers.

I have never heard of any leaks of private messages (by facebook, let's not count shoulder surfing or the counterparty telling) coming back to haunt the people who wrote them. So the risk you are mentioning seems more theoretical than the very real risk if a friend runs it.

Good point. I should have excluded law enforcement et al from my statement.


Would you please stop posting unsubstantive comments and especially ideological flamebait to HN? It's not what this site is for, and we ban accounts that do it.


Any tips on how to get your friends to actually use the social network? I've tried and failed with Slack and Mastodon.

This is the biggest question to me too. Whenever I try to do something like this, my friends will do it for a short while, seemingly in support of me/the project, then fall off.

I have the same issue with making computer games too. They will try it once, say good job, and never bring it up again. I now try and approach games like, 1) what is something that I can play by myself that still brings value and 2) what is that "it feature" that will make someone curious/interested enough to come back, and focus on that.

Maybe it's the same for community sites.

> I have the same issue with making computer games too. They will try it once, say good job, and never bring it up again.

Are you picking friends who like to play games (i.e. they play games you haven’t designed)? If so, are you making the genre of games they like to play? If having your friends enjoy your games is important to you, consider collaborating with one of them, making them part of the design process — make a game for them. Better yet, make a game for you to play together, either cooperatively or competitively, whatever you prefer.

Alternatively, make a game where the characters are you and your friends. Ian McConville, of Three Panel Soul[1], made a pixel art game “for and audience of one” where the main character was his girlfriend. At the end, he asked her to marry him[2]. You don’t need to do something so grandiose, but being a character in a game might make your friends more invested in playing it.

[1]: http://www.threepanelsoul.com/

[2]: https://www.comicmix.com/2008/06/27/webcomic-news-roundup-lo...

Added to a collection of social network plan ideas: https://github.com/joelparkerhenderson/social_network_plan

I've been brainstorming and planning for a different kind of social network and found your list very useful!

Are you planning to do something with it, or just collecting info?

Collecting info to help spur ideas among developers and designers. I'd like to hear about your perspectives; reach me at joel@joelparkerhenderson.com.

This is, overall, a great idea but I do worry about security. Even if I keep all of the code fully patched, I have learned that pretty much anything can be broken into.


You don't get the same flexibility, but they take care of backups, updates, and security.

For what it's worth, I really love the design of this site. It has a really slick xwindows aesthetic.

100% agreed! I'll add that its - dare i say - minimalist-designed approach made it an additional joy to read. I couldn't think of where i saw such a similar look-and-feel, but now that you mention it, yeah "xwindows aesthetic" would be a good description for it! Cheers!

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