I Hosted my own Social Media Site


fedi.derpybox.com

For about a month, I hosted a little server on fedi.derpybox.com. This was my own private instance of Pleroma, a service compatible with communicating with Mastodon servers and other similar services. The whole deal with the fediverse in general is that anyone can run their own instance and use it to send content to the rest of the network. Think of it kind of like email or IRC where you have lots of different servers and clients talking the same protocol.

At any rate, I set up Pleroma on my instance instead of full Mastodon. There were a few reasons:

  1. Ease of Deployment. You didn't have to set up SMTP for a simple instance to work.
  2. Hardware requirements. I was hosting on digital ocean, I could get away with a 14 dollar/month VM.
  3. I wanted to try something different. I was familiar with Mastodon's UI at that point and wanted something new.

I followed the guide on the main site for setting up my VM, tweaked my DNS settings to redirect the fed prefix, figured out how to configure Nginx and we were off to the races.

Something nobody told me was upon finishing the user setup, there was no content. It turns out that Pleroma requires you to start following people before content starts appearing from other servers. So I followed a group of users and started posting from it. I did quick little movie reviews and shared pokemon I captured in Pokemon New Snap. This went fine until about a month when I got adventurous...

fed.derpybox.com

After the first month, I... messed up. I got curious about a fork called Akkoma. Akkoma is a fork of Pleroma which includes some nifty features, like having a pane open to view toots from other servers.

I went through the upgrade process, fixed up my database and everything seemed to work. The UI looked great, I played around with the feeds feature, everything seemed to work great... until I noticed the inbound feed from other servers. It was just pouring in! I would have been happy if this was the first attempt I made at installing my instance, but I didn't want this now. I only really cared about the people I was following, and all these people were coming from servers from all over, even NSFW instances that I didn't want to associate with.

As an interesting side note, it appears different fediverse services have different methods of federation. I remember finding a Spanish blog post of someone trying to explain the differences between Mastodon, Pleroma and Akkoma. He noticed a similar thing with Akkoma and was very confused.

About 7 hours of my server chugging away at the inbound feeds, I stopped it and migrated my server from fedi.derpybox.com to fed.derpybox.com. I reinstalled pleroma and got everything back under control. I used my server happily for another month.

The end

Finally, towards the start of September, I decided to pull the plug on hosting my own instance. What caused the end was the realization that while the people I followed are generally good people, I couldn't vet everything that came in the federated feed. It was more or less an uncontrolled deluge of content that I didn't monitor or frankly even care about. If something nasty appeared there and ended up getting stored on my server, I'd be none the wiser.

Even though my server was a single user instance only for me, I still had a legal and ethical duty to be the admin and ensure everything was above board. I was running a single-user instance to avoid this, I didn't want to have this role. I also made the realization that if something horrible did make its way into my server, I'm not the right type of person to deal with this type of evil stuff. I'm frankly too sensitive for that.

Back to mastodon.social

Before truly shutting down, I setup an alias to my account over at mastodon.social and transferred my account over there. I lost my content, but I kept my followers and imported my follower list.

It's true that I don't actually own the data on someone else's server, but as I said since the very start, I don't want to be responsible for other peoples' data. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make to not have to be an admin. The other thing is that anything said on the fediverse is pretty much public. Since your profile data and comments are sent to other servers, there's realistically no way to wipe it out from everywhere. For example, if you deleted your email address, everyone you sent emails to would still have your messages.

The positive outcome to all this is that I learned a lot when it comes to web hosting and knowing how the fediverse kind of works. I've found some interesting users along the way, shoutouts to the Johto Times Newsletter in particular.

I'm also still on Mastodon, and for the purposes of my blog, this is my preferred method of contact. Please feel free to reach out at [email protected] if you want to leave any comments, have any feedback or just want to chat. I'll be there! And who knows, maybe in the future if the fediverse gets better controls over the content which gets shared between servers, perhaps I'll relaunch fedi.derpybox.com once more.