Diaspora* (I will leave off the asterisk from now on) is a social network started in 2010 by some college students - in some ways it was similar to the facebook, but people could run their own servers that communicate with each other. Alternative social networks seem to take after either the facebook or twitter or some other successful product. One of its main features (which didn't really distinguish it that much from the facebook - its privacy options had "lists" - though perhaps they were not well-developed at this point ) was the ability to restrict posts to certain "aspects" (family, work, whatever else) - this was done before the launch of Google+ with its "circles". Over time things have evolved and changed - right now if you don't have a bunch of people you're following, it has an activity feed that is hashtag driven (kind of like tumblr) with commenting like the earlier non-nested facebook comments. It has "likes" only on the top post (ie cannot like comments) and only direct re-blogging.
Diaspora had its heyday in perhaps 2012-ish or something like that, so the number of people actively involved in it today is... much less than the peak. However, that's true of a lot of social networks - people abandon accounts rather frequently. What interests me here is that one of the largest and most active nodes of the Diaspora network is a relatively new one, Pluspora.com, which, as you might guess from the name, is a refuge for the former users of Google+. In fact, it seems to be the second largest node, even though roughly half the people who joined since its foundation 4 months ago seem to have disappeared. It accounts for about 1/6 of the users who have been active in the last month on the network (note: these statistics are not great).
Another network (which I have not tried to peer into) is Friendica. Almost nobody uses Friendica. It is, as far as I can tell, a FB-alike. There are profiles, walls, feeds, photo albums, even event calendars, plus integrations with just about everything. It was apparently popular with Occupy Nigeria back in the day (who knew?). Over the last year, in fact, it seems to have undergone a bit of a revival in its codebase, with significant new features being added. It actually seems kind of nice!
Mastodon, which we're all presumably familiar with from the hulvr.com site, is something I've been fiddling with for a while now. A side of its history I was not aware of and some new developments: I was vaguely aware that the site caught on in Japan. Apparently Twitter is, by far, the most popular social network in Japan. For a variety of reasons, the idea of a twitter-like platform that could be run from within Japan was quite popular with a lot of people (especially in the NSFW community). There's an article you can find on this if you really want. The scale of it wasn't quite clear to me until recently, but the Japanese community of Mastodon, despite their relative scarcity in The Discourse and the dev community, was until recently a majority or quite close to it (and mostly on just a couple servers - the largest being run by a site that does like the Japanese version of DeviantArt). Now, as you might be aware, recently Tumblr made the decision to cut out all NSFW content, which has led to a migration to a variety of platforms. Mastodon is more like twitter than tumblr, but a good chunk of the NSFW community moved to Mastodon. So now, just over the last couple months, the second and fourth largest Mastodon instances are Tumblr NSFW refugees - the largest a sex worker friendly server and the other just a run-of-the-mill NSFW one. Just looking at numbers, it seems like 1/4 of users in the last month are NSFW tumblr refugees (who have been there <2 months). Wow!
There are a few other interesting projects - Pixelfed is duplicating Instagram, Peertube is duplicating youtube (reddit's stabbot has just moved to peertube, actually!), there are a couple platforms trying to duplicate a Medium-like blogging platform (Plume and Write Freely) - all of these "federate" using the same protocol as Mastodon so they are in some sense, like, the same. Just... why would you view them in the painfully constrained Tweetdeck theme of Mastodon?!
Then there's Hubzilla, which almost seems like a CMS, is horribly unwieldy, and can read from every single other protocol in existence and interact with it. Still not sure what to think of it, but it's impossible to find anybody using it, impossible to figure out how to set up your profile, and NSFW stuff doesn't get like blanked out by default or something. I'm sure if you get it rolling, though, it's extremely powerful!
Diaspora is horribly lonely: there aren't many people on it and, unless you know people already, it's tag driven (and nobody is posting on the tags). It's not clear how you even find people you know. There doesn't seem to be a way to view, like, the posts just on your node (one way of meeting people), though there's a way of viewing the "stream" of all public posts of the nodes federated with your node. This is... slow. I muted a few prolific people and now that is, like, 2 pages every 24 hours. With maybe two posts I'm interested in. That's fine! Maybe that's the pace social media should be, frankly. Perhaps people share more to non-public aspects, but how the hell do you "connect" with them. If you're going to do it, maybe bring your own community! Diaspora does not federate with Mastodon.
Friendica: no experience with it, the number of active users is roughly three times the number on the node of Diaspora I'm on (which is not the biggest by any means). Friendica federates with Diaspora, so I've seen their posts. That's nice. It now also federates with Mastodon, apparently, in its latest release from like a couple weeks ago.
Mastodon: One big strength here is that things move fairly quickly and there are ways to track what's being posted locally on your server, which is going to be substantial if you have some people on your server. It has a sufficient userbase that you can find people to follow. Searching for people works really well. That's a thing for maybe connecting twitter handles to mastodon handles (not perfect but whatever).
Hubzilla: in the above it's possible to search for people by their handle or something, I have no idea how to even do that here. I found some people by looking at the public stream (which pulls in Hubzilla, Friendica, Diaspora, and Mastodon, maybe more) and saying, ah, that's somebody I follow elsewhere! It's just confusing and hard.
You know, that's one thing that was good about the facebook in the early days: it was quite obvious who you would be connecting with. It started out with only connectivity within your college (okay) and then branched to sharing across colleges (okay) - and the sharing settings were fairly clear: friends, friends of friends, in your college, public (essentially). It was an internet interface to already existing interpersonal communications. It was clear how a community is built. With, eg, Diaspora, it's not immediately clear how you form a community: you don't just have the group on your local node, you don't like already know people, and nobody's on the tags you're interested in on the tag-based feed either, anyway. Google Plus tried to do this by leveraging your contacts, but nobody cared about Google Plus. Google Reader had a limited way to do this - it was a highly underrated social network in addition to being a highly rated RSS reader. I still miss it. I use TheOldReader.com but it's not quite the same. Incidentally, it has integration with Pocket, which is my new favorite thing.
OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA NEWS:
So in the last couple weeks a new instance on mastodon spun up, apparently tied to a pod-cast I might have heard of but never followed, The Liturgists. I had been wondering about a "religious left" Mastodon and they are... not quite that, but they seem like interesting folks to be around, so I'm kind of happy they exist. They rapidly got up to about 1500 subscribers, so they must be a rather large pod-cast and are now probably a top 20 mastodon instance.
OTHER OTHER NEWS:
for fun I picked up an XMPP account in case I can convince any of my friends to switch to chatting like that instead of using google chat or FB messenger (I've pretty much weaned off FB Messenger except for conversations immediately arising out of FB and people who only have that - this makes sense). So far that's nobody! gzt at xmpp dot is if you're interested. I have OMEMO enabled so we can chat securely! I... don't think we have anything to talk about that isn't already going on in the normal channels though, so... Using Gajim on desktop and conversations.im on Android.
Statistics from: https://the-federation.info/