So You Want to Leave Facebook

A survey of social networks, from Signal to Scuttlebutt

Some of the top social networks of each category.

Slack and its clones

End-to-end encrypted messengers

  • It’s not at all a full social networking experience. Messaging is only part of how we connect and share with our friends and family.
  • Something could happen to them. These apps are free right now, but servers cost money to maintain. The groups behind them could run out and start charging you for it at any time, and you would be trapped again—because leaving means losing your contacts and messages.

Federated

  • No one controls the whole network!
  • There are a lot of options (gmail, outlook, etc.), so you can pick the best one for you. Different servers also have different policies and focuses for what shows up in your news feed — or what gets blocked as spam.
  • If your server starts misbehaving, you can switch to a new one without your friends having to switch platforms.
  • There are a lot of options. Deciding is hard, especially as a new user, because it’s a large commitment you don’t know how to evaluate.
  • If your server starts misbehaving, switching is still a pain, because you have to transfer your contacts and tell all of your friends to use your new identity (like an email address, ActivityPub id, etc.).

Email

The largest and most popular social network. It’s good at what it does, but I think we can all agree that it doesn’t meet modern expectations for social networking features. It’s also fairly insecure.

ActivityPub

The most mainstream federated social network besides email (although it’s hard to tell, because they’re really spread out by design). “ActivityPub” is not the name of any service you can join, it’s the convention that lets all of the users on the following sites talk to each other:

Matrix

No, not that Matrix — I wish.

Honorable Mentions

  • Diaspora: was very popular (for a federated social network) for a while. Emphasis on cross-platform posting (for example, to blogs, or Facebook).
  • SOLID: project of world wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee. Cool idea, unfortunately underdeveloped and shrouded in ambiguity.
  • Peergos: cool tech — servers aren’t trusted so it’s almost decentralized, but does not provide users much of a social network-like experience.

Blockchain

  • Anyone can participate: on a public blockchain, anyone can submit or read transactions.
  • Censorship is hard: no one can globally filter transactions to or from the blockchain.
  • “Good” content deserves to be rewarded, and what better reward than money? (details vary by platform)
  • Adding any new data to the blockchain incurs a transaction fee.
  • Blockchains are often slow and/or resource-intensive.
  • You have to be connected to the “main network” of people using the blockchain to participate. It won’t work offline or even just regionally (like federated systems can).

You have to pay to post

Examples: MIX (lots of cool ideas though), Memo, AKASHA (notably also requires you to get two chrome extensions), DoublePlus (a MIX webapp, seems to be down)

Depends on Blockstack

Blockstack is an organization which absorbs the transaction fees of using its blockchain-based ID system, and lots of other things.

Content curation/reputation focused

Examples: Steem, Relevant

Peepeth

A Twitter clone, and my favorite in this category. Everything is stored on Ethereum (and thus open to other people making clients), but they bundle things in a clever way which keeps costs fixed no matter how many tweets there are (and they cover this small cost). The big draw is their huge focus on encouraging quality content and making it a nice place to be. Of course, since it’s on a blockchain, it’s also very charity/tip focused so it’s easy to tip other people for a tweet (but they do take a cut). Unfortunately, as with all Ethereum apps still, you have to install the MetaMask browser extension to use it (which has its own UX problmes…).

Decentralized

  • This is harder technically.
  • Finding new people and content is harder when no central (or even federated) entity is amassing profiles and posts.
  • There isn’t necessarily an entity dedicated to keeping your stuff online while you’re disconnected.
  • There’s no central controller, data vacuum, or censorship tool.
  • An open platform means many options for users.
  • No reliance on fallible or untrustworthy third parties. Your data is yours.

Secure Scuttlebutt (SSB)

One content spreading mechanic, as mentioned above, is people storing each other’s stuff and spreading it to the next person, but the main way this happens in practice is through intermediary nodes called pubs, which are servers someone is hosting as a meeting place to exchange profile updates. Pubs can read your messages, and everyone can read who follows whom so it’s not very private, but they do have encrypted messaging.

Briar

Briar is similar to SSB, except with an extreme focus on privacy (which sacrifices many of SSB’s nice social features). First of all, the only way to communicate with someone new is to meet up in person and exchange keys (scan a barcode), and your key is required to be password protected. Once you’ve connected with someone all correspondence is end-to-end encrypted and you can only communicate directly (like with Bluetooth) or through Tor (which hides who’s talking to whom). Extremely secure. Not very user-friendly.

Iris

Honorable mention because of their emphasis on users forming a “web of trust” and the clever things they can do with that. For example: one problem/benefit of decentralized social networks is that no one backs up your password for you. So if you forget it, you can’t do a simple email reset or something. However, since in Iris you have already indicated which other users you trust, if enough of them say you really did lose your password you can replace the locked account.

Miscellaneous

Keybase

Their core technology is a clever secure file sharing system (with 250GB of free space), where something kind of like Slack has evolved around that. They’ve done a great job of making security user friendly (for both messages and files). Again, a very solid option, but it is centralized so Matrix is probably a better choice for its popularity, bridges, and federation unless you really value large secure file storage and a bit more polish.

Status

Status could have gone in the decentralization category, but it’s also not quite a social network. It’s very polished and has a lot of thought put into it, but is really a mobile crypto hub for interacting with Ethereum apps, storing cryptocurrency, and yes, also messaging. The messaging security is great, but that’s because they send each encrypted message to everyone else on the network, which obviously does not scale.

And the winner is…

  • …also think it’s toxic: try Peepeth.
  • …wish the chatter was more relevant: find the Mastodon community for your interests.

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