What is GNU social

GNU social is a social network platform for communities. It enables you to publish short notes including URLs and pictures. If you're interested in what someone has to say you can subscribe them. When you log in to your account you see a timeline containing all the notes from people, groups and tags you subscribed. You can have a conversation with another person by replying to each other's notes.

You may have seen this sort of thing before. GNU social is special for three main reasons:

  • Accessible: It follows A11Y, AnyBrowser, and provides a complete i18n interface for easy l10n.
  • Customizable: Every community running GNU social has the power to provide a unique experience to its members.
  • Privacy focused: GNU social is part of the GNU project, it's 100% free software, with no malicious features or spyware.

The Free Network

GNU social allows you to connect to a decentralised network named The Free Network, part of the IndieWeb. Being decentralised means that there is no single server that controls The Free Network. Instead, many servers are run by different people around the world. These servers communicate with each other to form a federation. You can create an account on any one of them. Although the servers sometimes look different, ultimately it doesn't matter which one you choose - you're still part of the same network as everyone else.

If one server suffers an outage it's inconvenient for the people who have an account on that particular server. The rest of the network continues to operate as normal. This makes the fediverse highly resilient. Censorship is difficult as servers can be located anywhere in the world.

Because GNU social is free software it's here to stay. A corporate social network might disappear or start running advertisements when the venture capital runs out. The GNU social code is available to everybody and there are many servers where it's free to create an account (the support tends to be done by means of donations).

This is a social network that does what's best for the people who use it - not what makes the most money.

IndieWeb

The World Wide Web was born open (every base software was made public domain by CERN).

Then social media developed making it easier to non-technical people to have a part on the internet.

Before Web 2.0 there was television and journals as information sources; Afterwards, people were able to create their own information as well as express their opinions.

The internet started to close at the same rate as ads technology developed. To have a presence online has a cost. When it becomes free to you to have your presence, then you must be the product.

Ad-tech plays a risk to society with its demands for personal information, and it is manipulative by promoting disinformation and extremism.

The centralised social media plays privacy issues and has put the power of moderation in a few big corporations which have been censoring information and pushing to extremes.

The IndieWeb allows diversity, doesn't build any monopoly, and welcomes innovation. Each instance has its own moderation policy and that's the extent of its power.

As with email, you can interact with any server running a free network compatible software. And as with email, that server may have blocked you or not. Your moderation (if you are a system administrator) is limited to your own instance and instances who all have set you as a remote moderation. Every server is a different community who shares a common trust in their administrator and supports him to main the server active. Groups are federated, and therefore, you can interact with the people from other communities regarding common interests.

Please note that how you see a certain group is affected by your instance's moderation. If you happen to be in an instance with a too severe moderation, you may want to leave it or set your own, otherwise you may be getting yourself inside a filter bubble. And that defeats part of the reason why it is worth joining the IndieWeb.

Filter bubbles is when you're only able to see information and opinion that are in conformity with what you believe or reinforce your own beliefs due to algorithms designed to make your experience more personalised. These tend to be used on commercial social media. It's important to note and avoid it. This technology leads to unhealthy extremes because of the absent opposition and debate of ideas.

Timelines

Communication became cheap. Everyone wants to share information. However, people aren't interested in consuming everyone's information.

Commercial social media solved this issues with algorithms that lead to filter bubbles and by prioritizing the ones paying more.

We only have a quota of time to dedicate to our social media. Instead of automated sorting and filtering (elimination) of non-paying information. GNU social gives you powerful manual sorting and search tools.

Understand that fake news can still be shared, sometimes non-intentionally. You should always take everything with a grain of salt and fact check. That responsibility will always be on your side and that's the wisest option as any automated mean can lead to mono-culture and any form of central government can build up to censorship.

Getting Started Choosing a server

You have to make one decision to get on GNU social: which server to use. If you’re technically inclined and want to host your own then you can do that. For everyone else there are many choices available. Many of them are listed on this webpage.

There is a small advantage in choosing either a local server or a server where you already know people. Every server has a user directory that lists all the accounts registered there. This can make it easier for others to stumble across you.

Although there are many servers not all of them allow members of the public to create new accounts. The administrator of each server can turn this feature on or off.