EDIT: This was written in the early-ish days of my federated social network exploration and posted to facebook, some of the opinions are out of date and a newer, related articled can be found here.
These are decentralised, open source, social networks which are interoperable (they all talk to one another). There is no advertising, no data-mining, no central ownership, but also no censorship. The don’t insist you sign up with your full name and indeed recommend you not doing so.
There are a number of different networks available with the most popular currently being Mastodon, Diaspora*, Hubzilla, Friendica etc. Each flavour offers slightly different services\functions such as chat, RSS feeds, photo albums, interactions with other social networks etc.
However, they are not owned by corporations and as such are generally not as feature-rich as those centralised, closed-source social networks such as facebook, google+ and twitter etc.
Each has a learning curve though not unsurmountable, I’d imagine pretty easy to overcome if you join one of the bigger population public servers. I’ve set up my own server so it was a slightly more complex process for me.
I tried diaspora*, friendica and briefly mastodon..
I loved the simplicity of diaspora* but it lacked some functionality that I was looking for (such as photo albums).
Mastodon is very twitter like and the server that I joined was overwhelmingly full of Japanese anime otaku so it wasn’t a great experience. So I don’t have much info to share on that one.
So I have settled (I think) on Friendica, it has an integrated RSS feed so I can see news articles etc. that I was accustomed to seeing in FB. It can integrate with other non-federated social networks. You can have multiple profiles, so for example a work profile and one for more personal relationships. I’ve integrated a FB like chat. The bigger public servers will have these features and more.
Friendica also has the greatest connectivity to other networks with in the two entities that are the federation and the fediverse (free network link below)
More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_social_network
Popular public sites for diaspora*, friendica and mastodon:
- instances.social (a good tool to find a suitable instance)