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Why the Fediverse is so slowly adopted

Friendica instead of Facebook, Pixelfed instead of Instagram, PeerTube instead of Youtube,… The Fediverse seems to have promising answers to many of the the ad-infested, siloed social platforms out there. Though the user counts of all those wonderful platforms are dwarfed compared to their commercial originals. Here is one strong, if not the strongest, reason why their adoption is so slow:

The vast majority of Fediverse platforms don’t have a mobile-first, user-first strategy. For many it seems more like server first, admin first. Only, that does not help when you need to gain weight and relevance first and foremost.

Go ahead, see for yourself how fast and easy you – as an end-user, on your phone – can sign up and try out any of the above platforms!

A quick analysis of friendi.ca

Built-in support for ActivityPub (e.g. Funkwhale, Hubzilla, Mastodon, Pleroma, Pixelfed), OStatus (e.g. StatusNet, GNU social, Quitter) and diaspora* protocols. Support for email contacts and communications (two-way) via IMAP4rev1/ESMTP.

From the friendi.ca homepage, throwing funky names and terms at me

The lingo on the homepage aims for admins and geeks, not for a teacher or a teenager or the person running the bakery down the street.

  • the Gàidhlig translation was added to the repository, thanks to the work of @gunchleoc,
  • node admins using relays can now configure languages of postings arriving over the relay that should be discarded automatically,
  • the 2FA login has been reworked, and
  • it was discovered that using the Blowfish algorithm is implying a password length limit of 72 characters. Should you use a longer password, this will be transparently dealt with upon your next login.
friendi.ca, speaking about its latest release “Giant Rhubarb” 2022.10

Developers speaking to developers. The rest of humanity went back to Facebook after reading this.

If you find the right button…

…when trying to register, you end up here: A fairly large directory with currently 218 options. Even if I’m German and intuitively go to the German servers, I still have a whopping 66 options, but no guidance which server to choose.

What could be tried out instead:

  • Allow me to find a server that’s geographically close (local community). Maybe there is even one from my town or region!
  • Tell me, it’s OK to literally pick any server, because I can change my mind later and move with all my belongings to any other server.

Mobile-first

I forgot when this term came up first. Along with “responsive design”, it must have been at he end of the Noughties, after the iPhone came out. That’s when it started: We order food, book our next travel or share photos from our last, we read news and check the weather – we do all of that primarily on our phones. And that is especially true for social media.

Just, our future townsquares in the Fediverse do not serve that need at the moment: How is Friendica supposed to grow without mobile apps for Android and iOS? How is Pixelfed supposed to steal users from Instagram without mobile apps? How is PeerTube supposed to gain relevance without mobile apps? …

This is where all the promising ideas of all those platforms hit the wall. And slow adoption is particularly dangerous for social media platforms! I registered with Mastodon in 2018, had a look around, found literally no one I knew, left after a few days, and would not come back before 2022.

Mastodon does it right

Today, Mastodon is the (maybe only?) shining example in the Fediverse. New users are pouring in, sure, mostly because of Elon Musk making a mess out of Twitter, but also because it’s as easy and frictionless to create an account for Mastodon as it is for Twitter. And because you can do that even through a variety of native mobile apps from your sofa or on the bus.

Mastodon’s homepage primarily tells you to “Get the app”. Also it features a compelling tagline and easy-to-understand copy wrapped in an appealing, friendly visual design. Everything targets the end-user, not the admins/hosts.

Luckily, Mastodon’s success can be replicated with a user-first, mobile-first strategy: With a homepage that a addresses the end-users, the non-geeks. With a try-out experience that brings you in just a few clicks taps to your first glance at a timeline or whatever. And with native mobile apps. Let’s go! 💪🏼🤓

By Tim Reiser

A Senior Design Lead at IBM in Germany blogging about random design and UX topics. Family guy, dog person, nuts about music, living too far away from the mountains and the sea.

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