Lemmy, the open Reddit Alternative

Lemmy is a distributed social network, an open-source and community-run Reddit replacement. I introduce what Lemmy is, and my story with it so far.

Terminology - Platform Introduction

ActivityPub is an open, decentralized social media protocol.

The Fediverse is a collection of social networks that can communicate with each other via ActivityPub.

The most well known social platform on the Fediverse is Mastodon; an open, distributed-but-connected alternative to Twitter. There are numerous projects with fresh ideas or setting out to replace or provide alternatives to big platforms like Instagram or Reddit.

Lemmy is a social network on the Fediverse similar to Reddit. Users post to themed or scoped communities (in Reddit terminology “subreddit”), comment on posts and reply to comments, and up- and down-vote posts and comments. Subscribing to communities produces a community-combined feed of posts.

Lemmy is the platform and software. A Lemmy Instance is one installation, one website, one place you can register on and that hosts content. Multiple instances then connect to each other - a process in the context of the Fediverse called “federation”.

Reddit Drives Users To Lemmy

In large part because of its leadership and continued move towards going public (stock market), Reddit has had multiple instances of dissatisfying users and being criticized.

In 2023, Reddit announced introducing high API usage fees at the cost of third-party apps, tools, utilities, and bots - often free, open-source, and integral to moderation and for accessibility, for example for blind users. The community reacted with boycotts, community blackouts, and a [mass-]migration of many of the content-contributors, more technical people, and more conscious people that care about how the platform is run and develops.

One of the alternative platforms and technologies was Lemmy, which quickly became one of the bigger migration targets. It was already usable, and many new instances were created, hosted by the community.

As a decentralized network, it’s not as simple to understand as a user. Instead of one platform, one website, you have a network and can choose your home-instance where you create your account. This choice is already a barrier and burden to a “normal” user. To make an informed decision you have to evaluate who hosts the instance under which rules and goals, and their sustainability, at least to some degree.

The home-instance is your base. You can subscribe to communities on other instances. Read and comment. But instances may not automatically federate, or may defederate from other instances - meaning to disconnect from them. They may disconnect because of spammers, undesired or inacceptable content, toxicity, other reasons that go against the goals or rules of the instance, or - depending on the instance administrators - arbitrarily. So choosing your home instance can have a significant practical impact - whether you notice or not.

All of this is complex and an initial barrier to new users. Add to that that other kinds of Fediverse networks and software can join in too. For example, Mastodon users can comment on Lemmy posts.

The centralized and distributed nature has both upsides and downsides.

One Account or Multiple Accounts

I initially created my account on feddit.de, and used that with and on numerous communities from various instances.

Over time I realized that the more popular communities and posts drowned out smaller communities and topics that I also subscribed to. Cross-posts and duplicate posts not being handled well yet didn’t help either.

I decided to make and use themed accounts.

  • One general account on feddit.de
  • One account for anime topics and discussion on ani.social
  • One account for programming and development related things on programming.dev
  • One account on beehaw.org for a more intentionally positive, well moderated, general instance, using it only instance-local, interested in whether a more cultivated approach would work and be noticeable
  • And some more - as potentially more themed accounts, or only to reserve my nickname on other instances, in general or for potential later use

I found good and bad parts to having multiple accounts.

Having themed accounts is certainly useful for categorization and interest-scoping. You can check one theme without being overloaded by others. You can become more or less active in one theme without impacting others.

With a more specialized approach, and in the case of beehaw an instance-local approach, I see much less content now. Regularly checking back doesn’t always yield new content. The platform is young and distributed. A “large niche”. Sizeable, but at the same time connected and localized. The effect of which is inherently noticeable through account separation.

Lemmy Breakage

Lemmy is a young project. It received funding even before its popularity surge. It had two full-time core developers for a while. With an increase in popularity, they had a lot of things to work on. Follwing the popularity surge, there was criticism of the developers and their approach and communication.

Broken releases had the most user-impact. Two broken releases completely broke the instances or communication between instances that installed the released updates, and it took some time for them to get partially and then fully fixed. Not great if you want to regularly use it, or establish confidence and use in users. Depending on your views you may consider it understandable or relateable given the young project age, developer inexperience, or lack of good or thorough practices, or general high workload/numerous concerns.

Feddit.de had two breakages independent of that, caused by hosting or administrative issues. With only one administrator with full rights and knowledge, hosting and managing the instance in their spare time, fixes did not necessarily come fast or easy. A second administrator was brought on-board, while the first disappeared. When the second breakage hit because of disk space running out, the second admin was busy with other things.

To this day, feddit.de works with third-party clients and frontends, but not on the instance website itself. When you open the website, it simply says “Server error”, and has done so for months now.

How an instance is run and managed is significant and defines risks of your account and content disappearing. And it’s often not obvious or discoverable how an instances is run or maintained, and how that will develop. Numerous instances that previously existed have disappeared again.

I was lucky to have alternative accounts on other instances that I was using and able to use. For my general and general discussion use, beehaw replaced feddit, and I only occasionally open other general and discussion accounts. My more specifically themed and scoped accounts became my multiple main accounts.

What Happened to Reddit?

It’s interesting to speculate how Reddit as a platform was impacted, and will develop. Reddit was and is huge.

Reddit had various problems as a social network and online community even before the user exodus last year. Only small communities felt personal, useful, and respectful. Everything else often had toxic voting behavior or comments, and depending on your communities, echo-chambers. Many communities, and for big communities most of them, lost their themeing, their scoping, their meaning. Once it’s masses of users they vote on a whim in their mixed feed, not as curation in a community.

While I regularly read of bot content and Reddit subjectively having become worse, I haven’t been using it much anymore, and can’t say. It was often bad before too. What’s certain through related news and announcements is that Reddit will continue to commercialize and worsen as a platform. It may be a slow death.

Lemmy Became My Primary Platform

The socialization of Lemmy and the Fediverse is exciting and fascinating, it’s interesting. Lemmy became my daily-driver for shared content and fully replaced Reddit for me.