Mastodon announces Pixelfed, an open-source alternative to Instagram

Mastodon’s quest to federate the Internet continues with the imminent launch of a photo-sharing platform which promises to be more privacy-focussed and to give more power to netizens

Updated - November 27, 2019 11:47 am IST

Published - November 26, 2019 05:24 pm IST

A sample screenshot of Pixelfed’s interface

A sample screenshot of Pixelfed’s interface

Mastodon is not done making headlines. One November 26, the open-source and federated platform announced, via Twitter, that they would be launching Pixelfed, “a fediverse alternative to Instagram and other photo sharing platforms.” Tacked on the end of the tweet is the hashtag #TheFutureIsFederated.

The tweet is a quote-tweet from the Pixelfed The only form of explanation comes in a teaser video. “What is the fediverse? It’s magic. A platform for the people. And we mean everyone. We’ll be arriving soon! Power to the people.,” says the video.

The website for Pixelfed displays a basic outline for the to-be-released platform. Much like Mastodon, it promises to be free of ads, with chronological timelines with no interference from algorithms and privacy-focussed in that there will be no third party analytics or tracking. Essentially, Pixelfed gives netizens the power to the ability to run your own site that links up to all the others to form a large collection (or federation) of sites.

In terms of privacy, Pixelfed has two-factor authentication systems, account logs, the ability to block accounts, potential to connect devices, a help centre. Similar to Instagram, one can also mute accounts, privatise your own account, make certain posts private, file reports against anti-guideline posts and one can even unlist posts. You can also block accounts, disable comments, hide follower counts, set up content warnings for more sensitive or triggering posts.

Pixelfed’s logo

Pixelfed’s logo

The design interface also looks quite similar to Instagram with the ability to ‘heart’, comment and share posts, as well as a Discover tab to reach out to other content creators on the site. However, unlike Instagram — who may not be affected much by this — and like Mastodon there’s no singular eponymous app... though the logo looks amusingly similar to that of Picasa by Google. The Documentation section of the site disclaims, “Pixelfed is still a work in progress. We do not recommending running an instance in production at this stage unless you know what you are doing!”

It’s not new though...

Browse the official website and one will notice Pixelfed’s first blog post was dated April 27 of this year, however on October 26, a blog post titled ‘Urgent security issue...’ stated, “We have become aware of a new security risk that has emerged within the past few days. This exploit is bad...”

It is important to note that this isn't an issue with the Pixelfed software, but with a web and PHP server combination (nginx and php-fpm) that some people running instances of Pixelfed might be using, and since people can host their own instances of Pixelfed. Basically, this blog post, serving as a public service announcement, was made to inform those people as it affects many websites running that combination of software. Hopefully, these security measures in the coding and back-end of the platform have been ironed out.

A simple Google search of Pixelfed also brings up forum-based discussions, too. One particular forum from 8 months ago at dissects the possibilities of what Pixelfed would mean. One user in the forum discussion mentioned, “To be fair, Pixelfed is in its early shoes. I know it from an ‘alternatives to Facebook etc’ list but it still has to gain some traction like Mastodon. However — and that's the problem — as long as you build an ethical service you probably won't reach the masses, because non-ethical platforms will always outperform you, and if it's just by how much they spend on marketing.”

Mastodon has been vocal about their sustenance coming from seed funding, much like Pixelfed. The platform is open to funding via popular digital funding site Patreon and from their sponsor Oscillas, a business automation firm.

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