State of the Decentralised Social Network

It's been a few years now that some of us have been watching closely as a few distributed social networking tools have been developing. I am one of those, I don't like to have personal accounts on corporate servers and I do think that if it's not distributed it's not an Internet communications tool.

I haven't tested them all, but I have installed and used 3.5 of them. I count the 0.5 because at some point I had well, that's a GNU-Social/StatusNet "issue". I did briefly try to install a few others, but the experience was kept so short I don't have anything interesting to say about them. So this is just my personal experience with the following and is hence far from being a complete comparison.


Diaspora logo

It's been about 2 years since Diaspora managed to seduce people into giving them money to program a usable decentralised alternative to Facebook. Today, they are still working on the interface.. .. . No really they are, they want to make the experience more emotional.. . Whatever that means.

The whole thing seems to not even have a goal other than to be seen coding on a mac while wearing skinny jeans. I have to admit the interface looks good, but you can tell it's been at least their main focus.

Everything seems quite unclear with this project, which is now managed by Diaspora, Inc. Yeppe, incorporated.


This is the 1.5 of those I tested, the reason being that I installed GNU-Social first, and then turned it into a StatusNet node. The thing was this: It was super easy to install but then it was just insane. Every upgrade, though rare, was a battle, I can't even remember the details, but it broke, I had to restore DBs and redo upgrades, I had to revert at some points. I ended up moving the code to StatusNet which was basically the same, but seemed to work a bit better or something like that.

For the GNU-Social part, as much as I enjoyed the chats with Matt Lee, I think that the project is/was (I never know) just not active enough. I think the initial idea was to fork off StatusNet and create a less twittery more facebookish tool.. That never really happened.

Switching to StatusNet helped make maintaining the thing a bit easier, but there was still this big problem.

With StatusNet you feel like you're on the edge of the social web.

There's this big central server called, and if you're not on it, you're almost on the other side of the fence. There are features that will only work with users of the same node.

You can only send private messages to people on the same node as you. You can only block users that are on the same node as you. Replying is sometimes tricky and sending "@" notices to specific users is nearly impossible. And because 99% of it's users are on, nobody sees any problem with that.

In the end, it's not a distributed social networking tool, it's a tool where you can subscribe to other people's dents and to groups, but you can't avoid loading posts from those who just love to post everything to every group all the time, and other users (from cannot easily reach you.


Friendica logo

Yes, I did save the best for last.

This tool provides something you would expect from Diaspora, except that it's been been funded using zero money and all started with one programmer, Mike Macgirvin. He was later joined by a few other volunteers. Nobody gets paid to do this.

The project was functional since I installed my node, that was in October 2010. Already then (or even before) you could connect to others and send messages.

Some critics have been a bit harsh in regards to Friendica because of the user interface. I must say a few things to these people:

  • The design has been getting better and better, thanks to more template designers.
  • WTF people ?!! I mean, the tool works, it's secure, it's rock solid, it's free and Free, and all you do is bitch about how you hate it because of the styling ?!11!
  • The program allows you to develop your own template, if you don't like the current templates, and there are many, create your own.

It's like dismissing Darwin's theories because you don't think bald people are cool.

I too didn't like the first themes, but what's more important ? Why are you interested in distributed social networks ? If it's just for the UI then you don't get the point.

Anyway, it does exactly what you'd expect such a tool to do, it's fast, easy to maintain and it's truly decentralised.

This thing was programmed by someone who knows what he's doing. I've not had one issue with upgrades, actually it's been too easy. I started using the git version, then after a year or so of zero maintenance I switched to the tarball version and was prepared to spend the day upgrading bits of DB and what not.. But none of that, it just worked. I even switched back to the git version, because it's just that easy and reliable.

The people involved are not interested in hosting your account, the goal is to get people to install their own node, because that is the what a decentralised social network is. Unlike Diaspora who mainly promotes using 2 of their servers, Friendica lists all public servers equally, and then still informs users they could/should probably install their own node.

It's as easy as installing a Wordpress.

Friendica doesn't stop there. It can connect to many other services like StatusNet, Diaspora, Twitter, Facebook, Wordpress, Tumblr and whole bunch of other things I didn't even know existed.


I think it's clear. My Diaspora server didn't last long and my StatusNet is just there to pickup spam and eat RAM and CPU while keeping me in Social Web suburbia.

Friendica nodes puts each user in the centre, like it should do.

You probably want to find out more, here are links to the projects mentioned here: