The Nuances of Decentralized Media for the Newcomer

While perusing the internet trying to decide on what I want to put on this blog (besides the one that was just a basic), I realized there is A LOT of tutorials on how to setup mastodon, what the point of decentralized social media is and so forth.

It was a post on the instance I’m residing that gave me what to write. The nuances of living in this form of social media both as a user and as an admin. So, the first part will be for those who are looking for more information about being a user then for newbie admins, the things that I learned.

For ease as you read the first post, I am going to refer to Mastodon, Friendica, and other platforms as the “Decentralized Platforms” or “Fediverse platforms” and Twitter, Facebook, etc as the “Centralized Platforms” or “corporate controlled”. That way I’m not typing each one out all the time. If I need to make a note of a specific difference, I will then call the platform out by name.

Alright! Let’s get this show on the road!

Decentralized Services ARE NOT clones of the Centralized Services

One of the hardest things I have learned is that the decentralized services aren’t just knock-offs or clones of the major corporate controlled platforms that are available to everyone. The only thing that they share in common is their basic concept. To serve users data and information in a social way that promotes community.

If you are coming from one of the centralized platforms, you are used to having your friends, following the people you want to read and having the company serve you a daily list of interesting things they found for you based on search information you have done. It’s normal for you to be able to login, see what’s going on, and then posting a link or comment and keep going.

It’s great in a way that you don’t have to do the leg work to find new and interesting information but the trade off is that centralized platform keeps tabs on what you are doing. At minimum, they keep a profile on you and their users to help feed their computer program and at most, they then use the data to sell advertising space to other companies to target you with ads.

In short, a centralized social media needs money to run and decided that it uses your data to fund itself and then continue to sell it to make a profit for it’s shareholders. The one that comes first is the company.

A decentralized platform is, for the most part, opposite. Instead of taking care of shareholders and doing business, the fediverse services are designed around the concept of interoperability and being able to work with each other. The basic foundations the internet was built on. Down to the most basic of things, a fediverse server like Mastodon, is built to be run by someone but other things can communicate with it. The basics of interconnected computers.

This type of platform sacrifices one singular location and a helpful algorithm to find stuff and trade it that the user needs to do a lot of the work themselves.

In this vast planet of people, there are those who support either methodology to different amount of extremes. The question you should ask yourself is “What do you want?”

If you want a centralized system, there is no judgment from me and you do not have to keep reading this blog post. If you want to continue towards your exploration of the fediverse, then please keep on reading.

Don’t give up. I threw a lot at you but I felt it was important for you to understand the fundamental difference between the two. This isn’t a “run to alternate Twitter because of what Elon Musk is doing.” This is leaving one ecosystem for a brand new one.

So, you’re here and want to be part of the fediverse. What do you do?

That’s a very good question and you are not stupid in asking yourself. It’s actually one of the first key things as a newcomer you should consider. What do you want to do? Are you looking to make/share videos? Are you looking for a micro-blogging platform to share your thoughts? Are you someone who loves computers and want to get involved?

Those are questions you should answer before you move forward. In my case, I wanted to support decentralization so I’ve delved into creating my own instance and continue researching everything so that I can contribute and provide blog articles like this.

For ease of this post, I’m going to assume that you are looking to find a place to continue your social media experience. It’s the easiest to get started.

I’m going to assume you have found a home for your account. If not, check out this blog article for that sort of information.

So what do you do now? Here are a few things you should know about.

Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated

This might sound stupid to say out loud but the fediverse is built upon the concept of mutual respect and understanding. Rage culture is unacceptable and trolls are frowned upon. I would never give this advice anywhere else but when you get feedback, actually consider it before you ignore it. It could be a courtesy to help you. You’ll want to think it’s a troll but in this case, take a few moments, and then decide.

Nuance 1: Add context to your links (and use the content warnings)

On a centralized platform, it’s common to throw a link on there because the program would find all the info and display it in a nifty, little card. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to break that habit and add context to any link. Even if your fediverse service you are on has the ability, the ones that may be getting the information or the app viewing it may not.

One of the best things you can do is take the time to provide a small bit of information on what the link is about to give viewers an idea what they’re actually going to be clicking on.

Also, you can put content warnings on your posts. Be considerate. If you think someone may be offended or see something that is triggering, throw the content warning on there. Those who want to see it will click on it.

Nuance 2: Hashtags are not cringy; Hashtags are the backbone.

If you’ve been on social media long enough like I have, you have heard that hashtags are cringy and “they’ve ruined social media”.

In the case of a fediverse service, hashtags are actually the glue that sticks things together. In most every decentralized platform you can join has the ability to search through hashtags or even subscribe to them. The way for you to find new content you are interested in and new people to follow is through those hashtags. They are seen everywhere!

Now, do not go and hashtag every single word but keywords of your post so others who are interested in the same thing can find you.

Nuance 3 – You are your own Algorithm.

Are you not seeing anything in your feed? If not, there is a good chance you haven’t followed anyone because your feed is built of people you follow and in cases those who follow them. You are the one who curates what you can see and what shows up in your feed. Subscribing to hashtags, following users with ideas and thoughts like you are great ways to start filling up that feed with information to your liking.

You should follow indiscriminately and unfollow indiscriminately because that’s the only way you’re going to control what you see.

Nuance 4 – And follower and following count isn’t worth anything.

This is going to be the hardest thing to understand, especially if you are coming from a capitalistic platform where you have built a following.

The ratio of followers to following doesn’t mean shit here on the fediverse and that’s because of what we have talked about. People curate their own stuff so following and unfollowing is the way to get your feed the way you like. There is no value to how many followers you have except to understand that whatever your posting about has their interest. If you move on to a different number and your numbers shift, that’s just people adjusting their feed.

Don’t invest in your follower count. Invest in the engagement across the platform. You have to put emphasis on the social of social media, not the last word.


There is probably a lot that I am missing and that’s because I am still on this journey too. I have had the advantage of a wonderful group of people engaging with me and helping me make these adjustments and I wanted to pass on and provide that to anyone reading this too.

Until next time!

— Jonathan S.