GNU social is dead, long live GNU social

I do look at my access logs sometimes and I’ve noticed two surprising things recently. Firstly, there is still fairly regular traffic to the The Unofficial GNU Social Manuals that I host on this website, even though Mastodon and Pleroma took over the microblogging aspect of the fediverse long ago. Secondly, quite a few of those hits have had this unusual user agent…

"GNU social/2.0.0-beta0 (THIS. IS. GNU social!!!!)"

…which is pretty funny. I like to imagine there are a few SEO consultants out there squinting and muttering, “wtf is a GNU?”

So it turns out the GNU social project is alive again, which was news to me. They have yet another new website, The history of the project is kind of complicated. At the time I first encountered the fediverse in 2015 the original founders had moved on and @mmn was heroically holding the fort as sole maintainer. Later, @maiyannah worked on the postActiv fork for while, but the project as a whole was fading into obscurity without a proper implementation of ActivityPub, the new protocol which binds the fediverse together.

Now there is an ActivityPub-capable version by Diogo Cordeiro, Alexei Sorokin and others, a fork which has been called version 2. There is also a version 3 in the works.

Why is this cool? For one thing, GNU social was always a very straightforward webapp to host - PHP, MySQL and a few modules. It’s also a more old-school, simple HTML interface where it doesn’t matter if you don’t have JavaScript. Most importantly, the fediverse and its protocols are made stronger by having lots of implementations. Even if GNU social is a less popular implementation, the existence of that “long tail” gives a lot of credibility to the overall project and acts as a stabiliser against popular implementations changing things on a whim.

I have opened a ticket on the new issue tracker to see if the unofficial documentation can find a home as part of the GNU social project itself. It may not be so relevant to v3, but it’s looking promising so far and I hope that it will continue to be useful in the short term.