3 open source social platforms to consider

A photo-sharing platform, a privacy-friendly social network, and a web application for building and sharing portfolios.
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216 readers like this
Hands holding a mobile phone with open on the screen


It is no mystery why modern social media platforms were designed to be addictive: the more we consult them, the more data they have to fuel them—which enables them to grow smarter and bigger and more powerful.

The massive, global interest in these platforms has created the attention economy, and people's focused mental engagement is the new gold in the age of information abundance. As economist, political scientist, and cognitive psychologist Herbert A. Simon said in Designing organizations for an information-rich world, "the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes." And information consumes our attention, a resource we only have so much of it.

According to GlobalWebIndex, we are now spending an average of 142 minutes on social media and messaging platforms daily, 63% more than the 90 minutes we spent on these platforms just seven years ago. This can be explained by the fact that these platforms have grown more intelligent over time by studying the minds and behaviors of users and applying those findings to boost their appeal.

Of relevance here is the psychological concept variable-ratio schedule, which gives rewards after an average number of responses but on an unpredictable schedule. One example is slot machines, which may provide a reward an average of every five games, but the players don't know the specific number of games (one, two, seven, or even 15) they must play before obtaining a reward. This schedule leads to a high response rate and strong engagement.

Knowing all of this, what can we do to make things better and loosen the grip social networks have on us and our data? I suggest the answer is migrating to open source social platforms, which I believe consider the humane aspect of technology more than private companies do. Here are three open source social platforms to consider.


Pixelfed is a photo-sharing platform that is ad-free and privacy-focused, which means no third party is making a profit from your data. Posts are in chronological order, which means there is no algorithm making distinctions between content.

To join the network, you can pick one of the servers on the list of instances, or you can install and run your own Pixelfed instance.

Once you are set up, you can connect with other Pixelfed instances. This is known as federation, which means many instances of a software (in this case, Pixelfed) share data (in this case, pictures). When you federate with another instance of Pixelfed, you can see and interact with pictures posted to other accounts.

The project is ongoing and needs the community's support to grow. Check Pixelfed's GitHub page for more information about contributing.


Okuna is an open source, privacy-friendly social network. It is committed to being a positive influence on society and the environment, plus it donates 30% of its profits to worthy causes.


Mahara is an open source web application for building and sharing electronic portfolios. (The word mahara is Māori for memory or thoughtful consideration.) With Mahara, you can create a meaningful and verifiable professional profile, but all your data belongs to you rather than a corporate sponsor. It is customizable and can be integrated into other web services.

You can try Mahara on its demo site.

Engage for change

If you want to know more about the impact of the attention economy on our lives and engage for positive change, take a look at the Center for Humane Technology, an organization trying to temper the attention economy and make technology more humane. Its aim is to spur change that will protect human vulnerabilities from being exploited and therefore build a better society.

As Sonya Parker said, "whatever you focus your attention on will become important to you even if it's unimportant." So let's focus our attention on building a better world for all.

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This is Youssef from Paris, France. I am presently in my final year as a computer engineering student at Telecom SudParis and I'm also pursuing a bachelor in philosophy at Paris X. I am currently interested in building platforms to train software engineers through competitive programming.


Just wondering why with the popularity of established federated social networks like Diaspora, Friendica, Hubzilla, gnuSocial, etc none of them are included or excluded for any reason?

I don't think that this article was intended to be a comprehensive overview of open source/federated social platforms. Plus, the ones you mentioned have been covered extensively elsewhere. Nothing wrong with devoting a few column inches to lesser-known platforms.

In reply to by Danie van der Merwe (not verified)

The problem with main$tream social media isn't the fact that it's closed source, but the fact that it's for-profit. I followed your link to the Okuna website and one of the items on the nav bar is "angel," and of course I get that sinking feeling. I click it, and sure enough, I scroll two thirds of the way down to the bottom of the page and confirm that sinking feeling that that's angel as in investor.

I believe the ubiquity of spyware and spam is a consequence of a technical ecosystem (if you want to call it that) in which monetization is a prerequisite for anything happening. I do of course know there's no such thing as a free lunch, even if you're willing to code for free, someone has to pay the hosting bill. Thing is if the monthly hosting bill is a few dollars (rather than a few tens or hundreds of dollars) there will probably be any number of middle class (or even low income) hobbyists who will eat that cost, with an attitude that it's well worth it if it means I can put an ad-free site online, or post my writings without answering to editorial authority, or whatever other noncommercial communications goals one might have. So it is that there was a renaissance of DIY ethos during the era of dial-up ISP's, whose 5, 10, 20 clam a month plans customarily included a few megs of filespace for at least some static HTML content. I think the death of the blogosphere (and the corresponding rise in commercial "social media" as a replacement communication outlet) really kicked into high gear around 2008, with the recession, and a growing number of people reaching the conclusion that they don't have the luxury of NOT monetizing their hobbies. But the thing about monetization is that it is a do-or-not-do proposition. Once the camel's nose is in the tent, EVERYTHING that's cool about noncommercial feats of creativity is instantly a lost cause. You can't implement monetization in digital media without tamperproofing the technology, basically DRM, but tamperproofing also includes ad-n*[blocker]s for even values of n. In turn, you can't tamperproof paywalls (or adwalls or whatever) without killing general purpose computing.

So, like Danie van der Merwe, I must ask why we aren't focusing mainly on federated networks, which slice the network into pieces small enough (we would like to hope) to fit into consumer-level hosting plans (we would also like to hope) in ways that still allow more or less frictionless search for and access to people and content throughout the network.

Concerning Okuna, their business model is not presented in their website. I do think they need money to continue their work and are looking for an Angel since they cannot rely on crowd-funding and donations in the long term. Furthermore, I do not know how good or bad this will influence the company's project in the future.

I do believe that federated networks are a great solution but, as Scott Nesbitt said before, the message of this article is to make readers aware of their transforming social environment and to present alternative social media platforms that deserve more attention from the popular audience.

In reply to by Lori

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