A review of various federated chat and social media softwares

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A review of various federated chat and social media softwares

Post by LarrySwinger »

Okay, I've tried out a couple of platforms. For chat, I've tested Matrix, Movim, and SimpleX. For social networking, I've tried out Movim (it's a social network as well), Friendica, Diaspora, Gnu Social, and Pleroma. I'll review them below.

## Chat platforms
SimpleX seems to provide the best privacy, but there is no web client, and you can't invite people to your channel via a link either. Instead it works with invitations, like Whatsapp. It is not viable for a bigger community.

Matrix and Movim, on the other hand, are both great. They both support a web client as well as various local clients. It's possible to sign up on both networks without giving an email address. And you can register via Tor Browser, so users can maintain their anonymity. They both aren't for the completely paranoid, though. They support end-to-end encryption (e2ee), but the metadata isn't protected. Traffic analysis can reveal who's talking to whom. But for communities they're good.

There's one bug in Matrix. When you link someone to your channel, it asks the user to register on matrix.org instead of your own server. It still grants them access. Matrix is federated after all. But matrix.org does require people to fill in an email address. You can make the email address optional on your own server, but then you have to share one link with which they register to your server, and a separate link with which they join your specific channel afterward. It's a little messy.

Matrix supports a unique Spaces feature, which is a group of related channels.

My recommendation goes to Movim. Both of these softwares are on-par with each other, but Movim has the added bonus that it provides a complete social network, that's why.

## Social media
Friendica has a buggy, frantic interface. You could be reading a post, and then suddenly the content gets shifted down because a new post appears at the top. This gives the impression that something new has just been posted, but if you scroll up, you'll see that it's a post from 7 days ago, for example, that's just randomly appearing at the top. Then a minute later, the same thing can happen. I can't imagine that every node has this issue, but it's bad enough that this happened on the random node that I tried. Not a viable option.

Diaspora is very barebones. There are no groups. Instead there are tags which nobody manages. There is no way to get an overview of tags in which people are posting, so it doesn't fascilitate content discovery. It used to have some issues with federation in the past, in that content from other nodes won't always appear in your stream. I don't know if that's fixed. Positive things about it are the clean interface, and the Aspects feature, which are user-definable groups of people with whom you can share things. You can have one aspects for your friends, one for family, another one for acquaintances. Useful, but it's not enough.

Pleroma is even more barebones. There are no groups. There are tags, but you can't subscribe to those. There is no content discovery beside browsing a timeline of what people in the network have said most recently. The website is lightweight, but that doesn't make for a good interface unto itself. It has the Twitter-like interface, so the stream will contain random messages from the middle of a conversation. I see no use for this software.

Gnu Social is much better. This is a mature project that formerly went under the name StatusNet. The interface is clean, that's the most important thing about it. It looks like a Web 1.0 site instead of the Javascript-heavy bloat we're used to seeing. There are various timelines: one for what your friends are sharing, one for everyone on the node, one for the entire network, among others. A really nice feature is events, which anyone can create and which are aggregated in a dedicated page. When you share a status, you can either share a link or plaintext; there is no formatting. So it really is meant for microblogging, not regular blogging. There's a dropdown list below the textbox with which you can select who you share the status with. Beside "everyone" it lists all the groups you're in, and all the people you're following. Handy! There's a user list which looks like a phone book, and, more importantly, the equivalent for groups. One important feature I'm missing is an aggregation of what's being said in all the groups you're following. Well, every group has its own RSS feed, so you can subscribe to all of them individually with your favourite feed reader and use that for to aggregate them. But only part of your userbase is going to bother doing that. RSS feeds aren't particularly popular, unfortunately. In spite of this shortcoming, Gnu Social is still a viable option.

One that I'm skipping over is Mastodon. I've been exposed to the software from using Gab, and I did not like it. It has a decent set of features (the most important of which is groups), but it uses too much Javascript. What especially annoys me is that often you'll see an outline of the page, but all the actual content is masked by visuals that reveal the content is still loading. It can load for minutes. Of course, Gab is a fork of Mastodon, but I'm not expecting a completely different experience from straight Mastodon. It wasn't worth investing more time into.
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