With traditional social networks either imploding or suffocating users with algorithms & ads, many people are exploring alternatives to the sites they formally loved.
Image Credit: Mray (@email@example.com)
However, with an influx of new users, there seems to be a tension between whether instances should be forever free (to allow accessibility for everyone) or if admins should charge a small fee in advance from their community (which will help them afford to stay online in the long term).
While the vast majority of Fediverse instances are free, this is economically unsustainable without community support, as admin hosts will have to pay for storage & electricity to keep their sites online. For example:
- Mastodon World (a top 10 instance according to Instances Social) server bill is almost €500 per month (note: members are keeping the site alive with financial support)
- Mastodon.lol operating costs are several hundred euros per month (note: members are going above & beyond by financially supporting the site)
- Techhub.social costs are about $400 (in Canadian dollars) per month (note: members seem to cover most of that cost).
- Update: Fosstodon server costs are over $2,100 per month! Members are currently meeting most (if not all) of that cost.
Some sites like Cloud Island wisely charge a fee from members to help keep the lights on. However, the vast majority are pleading with members to donate financially to relieve the financial burden placed upon admin hosts.
Instead of choosing between accessibility & economic sustainability, Federated instances could choose both by adopting a freemium model—which incorporates the best from both worlds.
Try Before You Buy
Social.Coop & Mastodon.Green are Mastodon instances where members share the burden of keeping the instance alive. However, instead of charging an upfront fee, both allow approved members to freely post for a season before they are required to make the leap and commit financially.
- After 42 days of probationary membership without having their account frozen:
- They are expected to begin making monthly contributions (membership dues) between USD $1 and $10 (via https://opencollective.com/socialcoop), unless they have been approved as non-paying member by the membership working group
Interestingly Social.Coop does allow for access for non-paying members, which grants them flexibility in situations where a member is unable to commit financially.
Mastodon.Green boasts a similar trial period.
After a 1-month free trial you need to contribute with at least 1,50 € (+VAT) per month to stay on this server. (Users who signed up before 19 October 2022 can keep using it for free but are encouraged to cover their own costs with a membership)
The 1,50 € membership is available via our Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/AlbinSocialVia the Mastodon.Green About page
As more people join the Fediverse (which will result in higher operating costs), it will be interesting to see if more free instances adopt a “try before you buy” option to avoid running their servers at a loss.
Post Then Host Your Own
Toot.io appears to be your average, free Mastodon instance, with one glorious caveat: Toot.io is a managed Mastodon hosting service which means people can spin up their Mastodon site without having to deal with the technical difficulties behind the scenes.
Toot.io hosts some of the most notable instances in the Fediverse (one is in the top 20 according to Instances.Social), & should be available to accommodate instances of any size.
Despite not being the only company to adopt this strategy, Toot.io oddly is one of the few who prominently highlights their managed hosting service upon their free Mastodon instance.
A few other companies who boast a free Mastodon instance while also offering managed hosting services include:
- Mastodon.Indie.Host is free to use but offers managed hosting at Indie Hosters Contributers
- IPv6.Social is free to use, but they also offer managed hosting for Mastodon as well as Matrix
Side Main Hustles
Although there are numerous types of apps in the Fediverse, very few creators develop companies around their creations. Automattic (the company behind WordPress) is famous for their managed WordPress hosting service. A couple of companies adopting this strategy include:
- Musing Studio, the company behind WriteFreely offers managed hosting via Write.as
- Element is the company behind Matrix who also offers managed hosting options for people
Both of these companies offer limited free versions, with those willing to upgrade granted access to additional premium features (like custom domain support & faster access to customer service). Specific examples of either include:
- Write.as offers members who upgrade a numerous features ranging from photo hosting, format control (choose between blog, novel or notebook format), custom themes, etcetera.
- Element on the other hand offers premium members the ability to communicate with other proprietary chat applications
Fediverse creators desiring to work on their respective projects full time should consider establishing a business around their federated open source project as it demonstrates to the world that their “project” is a viable option, as well as help put food on the table.
Update: I forgot to mention BookWyrm, which offers managed hosting solutions for those wanting to create a book reading/tracking social network on their own domain (like GoodReads). It is only for non-corporate / not-for-profit organizations & individuals.
If the Fediverse were the Federation from Star Trek, then Counter.Social would be the Marquis.
After being blocked by numerous Mastodon instances for their approach at thwarting troll & spam factories by blocking residents from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan & Syria (note: other instances also block countries, but they will not be listed here to avoid having them defederated), Counter.Social ended up forging their path sans federation.
Despite being rejected by the Fediverse (& ultimately declining federating overall), Counter Social has surprisingly thrived & is one of the few Mastodon-based instances offering features that rival Twitter & Facebook.
Anyone who does not reside in a banned country can freely sign up for Counter Social, although people who upgrade will be greeted by additional features such as:
- 500 terabyte (what‽) file sharing option
- Emergency Radio traffic monitor
- Video conferencing option (similar to Zoom)
- Private groups feature
- Virtual Reality Realms (accessible online or with virtual reality headsets)
- Live TV streaming
- Self destructing posts
Although all of these features appear to be overkill (especially since they cost $5 per month for all of them!), their inclusion is probably one of the reasons why Counter Social is financially stable as a platform.
Note: Counter Social members have also raised a substantial amount of money, as well as contributed monthly via Patreon, to help further the development of the site.
Despite not being federated, Counter Social remains a popular option, & is a top 10 instance according to Instances.social (& might surpass Mastodon.online soon).
Is Freemium the Future of the Fediverse?
Currently, the vast majority of Fediverse instances are free & might remain free for the foreseeable future.
However, once more prominent players like Tumblr & potentially Flickr arrive, the number of people on freemium instances will outnumber the number of people using pure free instances.
Either way, instance admins need to figure out how to generate enough funds (either by donation, offering premium services, or going premium entirely) to become financially stable, as the costs of running a server might increase once tens of millions of people join the Fediverse—sooner rather than later.
Update: Some people are reporting issues trying to see this post (I am encountering errors as well). I am trying to find a fix. Hold on! Update 2.0: Problem should be fixed.
Another Update: I am trying to see why errors are still appearing. I will contact WordPress support about these issues. Very frustrating! LOL!
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