I'm not sure when I first logged onto identi.ca. I'm pretty sure it was after my friend Greg Grossmeier signed on that I created my account "firstname.lastname@example.org". I started following people that I knew in the FLOSS (Free / Libre Open Source Software) community. But I also started following other folks on there as well. The public stream moved at a ticker-tape crawl (not like the Twitter public stream which moved faster than you could read). But it was exciting to be part of something new.
Identi.ca is a federated social network created by Evan Prodromou. What that means is each node of the network operates independently. So I could start my own instance at decafbad.net and build my own community of users. You could join any of the other instances out there and interact with the folks on that community of users. The federated part is that each of the users on these systems can then follow each other. So if Bob is at the example.com instance I can follow email@example.com.
Also Statusnet, the software that powered Identi.ca and the other instances was released under the GPL license. That meant that anyone could hack on it and spin up their own version of the software.
At the time this was unheard of. Twitter was just hitting critical mass and having some growing pains trying to figure out their next move. And, as Twitter is wont to do they made some controversial decisions.
The first explosion of identi.ca accounts came like a wave. Many folks hopped onto identi.ca for a variety of reasons. Some were looking for the next big thing, some looking for what Twitter wasn't giving them. Some were just following Robert Scoble and Leo Laporte. Whatever the reason they were populating the instance and conversations blossomed.
Over time folks faded back to Twitter. Identi.ca tended to get these waves of people who checked out the service, but then realized they had different conversations on identi.ca than they did on Twitter.
I remember Steve Gilmor co-organized a conference about identi.ca and the future of social media. I remember watching the live-stream of the proceedings. Steve seemed more interested in ensuring that these services had "the firehose" like Twitter had. The firehose was the entire public stream of Twitter. Identi.ca had it, but each instance had its own public stream. So in order to get all of the traffic out there you'd have to poll each of the instances for their public feed.
It was a strange conference to look at, with multiple people having their own ideas of how social media would work. Steve seemed interested as a journalist for having a stream to research and investigate. Others were looking for how to monetize this technology.
I think we're still trying to wrestle with those questions.
But over time the instances grew quiet for various reasons. Folks migrated back to Twitter, and admins realized that administrating communities of people is hard work.
Identi.ca went through a re-write to use a new protocol. Previously it used a protocol that is now known as OStatus. The new protocol is ActivityPub. ActivityPub was a better protocol than OStatus, but sadly it hasn't caught on.
Eventually Evan moved on to other endeavors and identi.ca / pump.io was no longer his focus. There have been several attempts to keep the service running but as of this writing identi.ca is down.
But what's great about the GPL is others can take the software and use it to build their own platforms. There are currently two major forks of the identi.ca code / protocols. GNUSocial is closely related to the old StatusNet software. The other is Mastodon, which is a complete re-write of the code in Ruby.
Right now I'm seeing a migration of users from Twitter over to Mastodon. They all have their own reasons. For some the bullying on Twitter is unbearable. For others the racism. Whatever the reasons they're searching for alternatives.
It's like identi.ca all over again. Maybe they'll stay and set up roots. Maybe they'll just pass through like the others.
Whatever the reasons I'm glad that identi.ca still lives on.
(If you would like to take a peek at Mastodon check out joinmastodon.org for more information. And follow me @firstname.lastname@example.org.)