What is this post?

A quick and dirty look into Lemmy instances, their size and interactions, and some insights.

Disclaimers
  • I AM NOT AN EXPERT OR WITNESS: I only started using Lemmy in March 2022. Lemmy was around for around 3 years before that. I am not a developer or instance owner.
  • I DID NOT GO AND TALK TO PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND THIS STUFF: This is just me exploring for fun and starting a conversation. This is not a proper study. Consider telling any one who links you to this page as if it’s an expert historical account that I called them an idiot.
  • This is limited by my experience and my searching, it’s not comprehensive. If someone made a dark instance, I probably won’t find it. If there’s some deep lore, I probably don’t know it.

Thanks to https://lemmy.fediverse.observer/list for many of these stats.

Alright,

Now for the casual rambling.

Organic posting started on lemmy.ml from April 2019 so I will consider that the start of Lemmy as a service (my understanding is that lemmy.ml is the oldest non-dev instance)

As of now (May 2022) AFAIK, the Lemmy-based sites with the most total user comments are:

The count of users active in the last month is similar:

My guess is that the difference at the bottom of the list is due to highly federated instances spreading their user comments over many instances with more activity, and also due to some instances peaking a few months ago and then declining. For those new to user statistics, you’ll notice that popularity usually tends to be exponential: more popular things get more popular.

What was that first one? Hexbear?

Two of the sites listed there, Hexbear (aka. chapo.chat) and Bakchodi, do not federate. They are not part of the Fediverse, but they are using Lemmy. Hexbear is actually running their own fork of Lemmy. In that sense it reminds me of Gab, another huge island fork, but only due to size and isolation. While I can’t find an admin statement, various Hexbear Gitea issues from 2020 and this comment from December 2021 “We’re working on bringing Lemmy up to speed with some of the features our “fork” (it’s more of a rewrite) has. When that’s ready we’ll switch to that which will already have federation ready for us.” and this from Feb 2022 “The only issue is that [Hexbear] doesn’t support federation for semi-technical reasons (happy to explain), but that’s going to be fixed (later this year maybe)?” indicate Hexbear is open to the idea but unready (this 2020 comment even states they chose Lemmy precisely because of its federation goal), and Bakchodi appear to have just not set any up (the admin states “Federation is not functional as of now.” in a post and nothing more). Contrast both against Gab who cited abuse/security issues and lack of local federation users for their voluntary removal of existing federation.

Another point regarding Hexbear and Bakchodi is that they are continuations of existing popular communities: I believe that Hexbear is a continuation of reddit’s banned subreddit /r/ChapoTrapHouse, and Bakchodi is a continuation of the banned /r/chodi (which I believe was banned around the same time as /r/GenZedong’s quarantining caused a mass exodus to https://lemmygrad.ml/c/genzedong ). To the best of my knowledge, lemmy.ml, most of lemmygrad, wolfballs and szmer are new original sites rather than an existing active community migrating as a mass.

Connections

Most instances are connected into the Fediverse. Hexbear and Bakchodi appears to be the only active non-trivial instances that don’t federate.

Due to the political environment of the internet today and the content currently on Lemmy, I personally think it makes sense to classify the current federation networks of Lemmy instances into four loose groups:

  • socialist ‘left’: Primarily value socialism and/or anarchism, and related topics. Generally explicit about their instance’s political alignment. The largest group. Examples are lemmy.ml, lemmygrad.ml, midwest.social, and would include hexbear.net if it were connected.
  • liberalist ‘right’: Primarily value freedom of speech and other liberty. While none yet are explicitly politically-biased through administration[correction], they do overwhelmingly have users with views typical of the American ‘right-wing’ as an inevitable result of where they are promoted, the ideas only they tolerate and the existing posts. Examples are wolfballs.com and exploding-heads.com.
  • general open: Overall mainstream OR diverse political views, will generally tolerate political instances on both sides of the above divide. Often national instances or ‘general-purpose’. mander.xyz is an overt example, gtio.io is also an example. lotide.fbxl.net would be an example, but it’s a lotide instance rather than Lemmy.
  • anti-intolerant: Primarily value friendliness and inclusivity, and so will readily block instances that tolerate intolerance, such as those in the liberalist ‘right’ category and potentially those further in the socialist ‘left’ category. An example might be sopuli.xyz.

These are all politically determined, as unlike Mastodon and Pleroma there don’t tend to be any instances based around controversial single topics or around graphic content that causes instances to defederate. I thought there were more instances that blocked both sides of the ‘left’/‘right’ divide, but they don’t seem to exist yet (which is a good sign) beyond lemmy.rollenspiel.monster. It is also worth mentioning that lemmy.ml has blocked some instances due to abuse rather than any cultural disagreement.

The first two of the four categories are by far the most popular, even if not the most numerous in instances, probably due to them picking up users being kicked out of reddit and reddit alternatives as they block more and more political subreddits or become unsavory. The earlier kicking of many ‘harassment’ subreddits from reddit around 2015 lead to many ‘right-wing’ users to populate Voat and then later bannings lead to communities.win becoming popular, which I believe explains why Lemmy doesn’t yet have a strong influx of users who align politically with those banned subreddits and more-so with recently-banned communist subreddits (the core developers’ political views and lemmy.ml’s reputation may have impacted people moving to instances named after Lemmy or considering hosting new instances, but I suspect it wouldn’t affect people who were invited to a place called Wolfballs).

Interestingly, there is already a mirror instance that reposts from reddit: goldandblack.us.to

Growth

fediverse.observer has some stats. Ignoring the huge outliers in the middle, there has been a jump in growth in the past two months which I would mostly attribute to the influx to lemmygrad.ml wow look at that second graph and the launch of unfederated-but-included bakchodi. Apart from that, there has been a remarkably consistent growth in all the active instances. That’s a good sign that this group of communities could last a while.

Some concluding thoughts, with regards to reddit

As someone who hasn’t really used reddit in many years, I like to promote the view of us being independent, growing our own culture, our own norms and not merely aiming to mirror the same shallow emptiness. The bottom line is, we grow a lot when reddit shuts a place down, and as you can see in some of those stats, growth creates more potential for growth. I think it’s important to think about what habits we see now both here and there that we want to encourage, and which habits we don’t. Think about what should each community tolerate and reject and enforce (and make no mistake, that answer differs depending on purpose and audience!) and how do we redirect people in the wrong places or teach those who are mistaken? (protip: typing these things out each time is very dumb! That’s why we invented FAQ pages!) What struggles did Mastodon face as they started to grow more and more?

Parts of reddit and similar groups will continue to arrive. Look at this list of communities that used to be allowed: it started off with the very blatant controversies like sexualizing minors, moved on to open blatant racism-focused places that conducted raids, and now they’re at banning subreddits about a US (former) president and pro-China memes. Now that Lemmy has established itself as the home of some of the most recently banned communities, I personally think it’s only a matter of time before reddit pops off a few more communities as they face pressure from media flak, investors or other major influences, and we should prepare for how to handle this: make potentially targeted communities aware that we exist before an incident, and make sure communities have a clear set of rules and guidelines written for the people that come in expecting this to be reddit again. I think this is an opportunity to fix the things we don’t want repeated.

harc
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Just to confirm - Szmer is a new community, with support from some polish antifascist fb fanpages. Thanks for the interesting writeup!

@Liwott
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Nice analysis !

From what I understand about the “lib right” instances, I would not say they don’t have a politically biased administration. Individual freedom is fundamentally a liberal/libertarian value. In the case of wolfballs, their sidebar is very explicit about the admin’s political opinions :

How do you define a women A women is defined as x chromosomes and no tallywhacker i.e probably not you

wolfballs maintains that God made all man kind equal in his eyes. Man and women. There is nothing in between either.

  • antivax links

In addition to the biases that set instances apart, it is probably useful to mention that users of decentralised media will have a tendency to be more anti-corporate and/or privacy enthousiast, which is also probably why socialists and libertarians are more present here than soc-dems and liberals. Plus, as you said, being less mainstream platforms, they often have to face the arrival of banned users from other sites.

I think it is interesting to compare the recurrent migrations of banned Reddit users to Lemmy with last month’s massive influx to Mastodon following the latest Elongate. I wonder how things will play out when a zillionaire offers to buy Reddit.

About stats, what happened in early 2021?

poVoq
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I think there was a hickup with the URL migration of Lemmy.ml and it was double counted for a while.

@Liwott
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that rings a bell, thanks !

comfy
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I think I was far too vague in that definition. The admin teams of those sites are CERTAINLY biased, and the sidebars display that bias, even where off-topic. 100%. I don’t disagree with a single thing you said.

My point was that they go out of their way to say they are permissive of conflicting content and views, and from my observation it’s true: it’s an ideological requirement of being pro-free speech. So while a communist could go to wolfballs and make posts, they won’t be moderated by staff but they will of course be in a sea of unpopularity due to the strong community bias shaped by both the site’s administration and community. That said, I suppose it’s fair to argue that the passive administration (not deletions and bans, but statements and theming) do shape the community, case study: about a month ago a small surge of white nationalists and neo-nazis started posting mini-essays, causing the admin of wolfballs to explicitly denounce them and their racism as unwelcome. So I suppose I am incorrect in what I said, they merely don’t forcefully ban conflicting groups but they undoubtedly discourage them, intentionally or not, through administrative decisions.

it is probably useful to mention that users of decentralised media will have a tendency to be more anti-corporate and/or privacy enthousiast, which is also probably why socialists and libertarians are more present here than soc-dems and liberals. Plus, as you said, being less mainstream platforms, they often have to face the arrival of banned users from other sites.

The word limit (and admittedly forgetfulness) prevented me exploring this, but absolutely. Socialists and US libertarians are the main audience here, as you can also see in places like gtio.io where most users fall into those two categories, and generally agree/disagree as expected on relevant issues.

@TheConquestOfBed
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Right wingers love when people pay attention to them, even negative attention. They often won’t defederate from you and get butthurt when you defederate from them. On mastodon they’ll even do campaigns where they send suicide promoting dms with gore in them to lgbt people.

comfy
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A couple of weeks ago I was looking into what the situation between Gab and federation was (as I think they did federate with a few Gab, Pleroma and Mastodon instances until 2019[?]), and there were still people TO THIS DAY on FreeSpeechExtremist (Pleroma) mocking them for being unable to handle real free speech. I mean, it’s not that they are ‘right wing’ but that they are edgy teens (or manchildren) who enjoy being a troll, and as a result they are therefore attracted more to typical right-wing topics like racism and nazi imagery and hate groups. Negative attention is validation that you did a good job evoking a response, that you won.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking into what the situation between Gab and federation was (as I think they did federate with a few Gab, Pleroma and Mastodon instances until 2019[?])

wow very interesting that gab is still alone!

comfy
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Well at this point they’re willingly alone. They were ostracized by a lot of Mastodon for cultural reasons but were federated with some of the right-tolerant parts of the Fediverse (I don’t know how much it was) and I think a couple of independent Gab instances. However they intentionally removed federation from their code in 2019, there’s a stream from one of their devs detailing why but essentially it wasn’t used much (so it was never a priority feature to maintain), the way Mastodon does it is inefficient, and some malicious people were taking advantage of that by setting up instances with thousands of fake users and making Gab send notifications to all of them. I think it’s fair to assume Gab is much more financially motivated than most of the rest of the Fediverse, so they didn’t really see it as beneficial to them to keep federation going, so yeah, I think they will be forever alone!

@Liwott
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They often won’t defederate from you and get butthurt when you defederate from them.

This behaviour is well explained by their desire to fight for “absolute free speech”, so it does not require the extra assumption that their intention is to gather attention.

On mastodon they’ll even do campaigns where they send suicide promoting dms with gore in them to lgbt people.

Even this one can be seen as overcompensating for the “pro-LGBT censure”. While the ideology itself does not justify making these campaigns, it depicts censoring them as even worse.

Not saying they are right in any way, just that the core of the problem you describe is their ideology of absolute free speech, rather than it being misrepresented by attention-seeking individuals.

I frankly don’t care. They can rot until they figure out how to talk to people like proper human beings.

@Liwott
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So while a communist could go to wolfballs and make posts, they won’t be moderated by staff but they will of course be in a sea of unpopularity due to the strong community bias shaped by both the site’s administration and community.

I am not sure I understand the difference with lemmy.ml. Do you have examples of people banned (edit : or post removed) because of their political alignment ? (I mean beyond the “no bigotry” rule)

comfy
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Here are a couple of concrete examples (which are clearly politically motivated bans in-line with the instance’s community purpose and values).

The Falun Gong one is stated as the anti-bigotry rule, most likely due to this thread, but I suspect it was to do with it being Falun Gong, a Chinese movement with very anti-left political involvement. Interestingly, I don’t see a ban on the founder (but a ban on @FalunGong from that community by the admin for “Homophobia”).

edit: 7 hours after this post was made, that community’s founder spammed a bunch of generic troll/pro-Trump posts across the site and was immediately site-banned, after making no posts in the past 3 months. I guess I can raise the dead!

@Liwott
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I see thanks !

@camccar
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I am not sure I understand the difference with lemmy.ml. Do you have examples of people banned (edit : or post removed) because of their political alignment ? (I mean beyond the “no bigotry” rule)

https://lemmy.ml/post/143057/comment/106051

I read in the mod log once no trumpers allowed. That is specifically targeting political alignment.

@Liwott
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I see thanks !

poVoq
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Anyone knows the status of the Hexbear migration back to standard Lemmy? Has been quite a while since they said they wanted to merge their changes back.

comfy
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On other software stacks, I have got friendly responses from hinting a fork dev to upstream again after I assume they just forgot for a few months. As long as it’s not annoying or harassing (at the end of the day, it helps if they do it themselves but the upstream can also pull those changes in if they see something good)

I think it’d be great if they did. As it stands, hexbear is dead to me until they start federating.

@letstry
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This is a great post - very thoughtful. I had not seen those growth state from Fediverse Observer - very impressive.

I just wanted to add a few thoughts into the mix:

Helping Non-Political communities grow critical mass There are lots of communities that have nothing to do with politics, that struggle to gain critical mass. That problem is magnified because entire instances are being blocked based on politics. I think it would help if the blocking mechanism was more granular so instances could block the specific communities they found objectionable rather then the entire instance. That would allow non-political communities (e.g. Coffee, Fitness and Health, Saunas, etc to spread across more instances and make it easier to gain critical mass. As they gain critical mass they would help attract new users to the Lemmy Network

Silos and Echo Chambers We hear a lot of discussion in the media today about people being locked in their Silos and Echo Chambers - only associating with those they agree with. I think by making the blocking mechanism more granular so specific communities were blocked rather then entire instances, we might help our users avoid that trap. For instance, we may not agree on politics, but we both may enjoy a vegan diet and enjoy sharing/discussing vegan recipes.

Do not let politics divide and conquer us I guess I am saying - as well as the Lemmy Network is already doing - I think politics is holding us back from even more success.

Cross posted from Exploding Heads

comfy
creator
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It’s an interesting point you make about the broad politics-based blocking being an unhelpful obstacle to growth, and I agree.

I’m skeptical on whether a more granular, community-specific blocking would help, as I think instances are usually blocked to stop their users coming over and posting unwanted things rather than their communities being blocked.

I think the best current solution is to not set up those apolitical topics on political instances. /c/coffee and /c/fitness shouldn’t be on lemmy.ml, because they don’t benefit from being on “a community of leftist privacy and FOSS enthusiasts”. It’s a little bit more nuanced with communities like Exploding Heads, because while the instance rules aren’t explicitly political, the majority of the thousands of posts there are, leading many apolitical instances to not follow it, so it might as well be considered a political instance for the sake of this question: /c/sauna is affected by the political nature of Exploding Heads.

For science and nature topics, mander.xyz federates with all kinds of instances and doesn’t have a political reputation so it doesn’t get blocked. I can’t really find any other examples, most have either blocked wolfballs or don’t follow many instances. I mean, you would have thought federated.community would be appropriate but they appear to only follow themselves and lemmy.ml.

I’m considering taking up the Lemmy staff instance creation program to make such a community. I’ll pitch the idea for feedback here to see peoples’ thoughts but I think there really is a need for an explicitly apolitical instance for hosting those communities that get blocked over irrelevant politics.

@letstry
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leading many apolitical instances to not follow it

There is a difference between a user choosing not to follow a community (which is the default for all Lemmy users - you need to make a conscious decision to follow/join a community) and an instance deciding to block another instance - in which case they are making a decision for all their users. They are taking the decision to follow or not follow out of their users hands.

Seems to me if you want to maximize the growth of Lemmy, you really want to give the freedom to users to choose. But at the same time, the instance owner needs the right to stop material that is clearly inappropriate polluting their instance. That is why I think blocking at a community level would be a good middle ground. It would give users more freedom, help non-political instances gain critical mass, while allowing instance owners to nurture their instance.

Hope that make sense.

@letstry
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instances are usually blocked to stop their users coming over and posting unwanted things

It is easy enough to block individual users if they are misbehaving on your instance rather then blocking an entire instance. I think it does the potential of Lemmy a disservice to cast it in terms of one tribe versus another tribe. Don’t fall for the old “divide and conquer” trick.

Saunas,

seems to mostly be conspiracy theories for the record, there is a post cross checking it against wiki

@guojing
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There was also that time when hexbear announced that they were going to rewrite all of Lemmy in Javascript. Unsurprisingly that didnt go anywhere.

Amazing quality post with lot’s of useful info, thanks! I was already aware of the bakchodi instance but hexbear is something completely new to me…

Backchodi is just another indian “dank jokes” instance where people can’t draw the line between hate speech and humour, and exploit that ambiguity to their advantage.

@TheAnonymouseJoker
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Bakchodi.org / r/chodi is a Hindutva fascist instance. They will never federate with leftist instances.

Lemmy does not seek internet traffic and ads at ANY cost – ANY cost being enabling minor sex criminals, racist mobs, toxic discriminatory mobs and enabling people to wish for death of certain countries’ individuals because they oppose imperialism.

comfy
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Are you replying to anything from the post in particular or just making a couple of statements?

Lemmy does not seek internet traffic and ads at ANY cost

Lemmy is a software that can be used and abused for any of the reasons you described. Other Fediverse softwares like Mastodon have already been used for (debatably, depending on jurisdiction) all of those purposes, although usually not for the sake of traffic or ads, and the biggest instance pawoo.net is commercial with ads. These are things we’re gonna have to think about if we don’t like them.

Would you say wolfballs ‘[enables] racist mobs’? I say it certainly does, despite the founder explicitly discouraging them. And wolfballs are certainly a part of Lemmy as much as most other instances, probably more than you or me seeing as their founder is a constructive contributor to the software development and owns one of the biggest instances.

If you just mean the current largest parts of the federated network which is generally neutral and socialist instances, then yes, they aren’t as susceptible to those themes, but don’t confuse that with Lemmy and its parts of the Fediverse.

bakchodi.org will never federate with leftist instances

Well most instances aren’t ‘leftist’, bakchodi doesn’t seem worried about federating, they claim they actively want to have opposing views, and instances that block wolfballs will probably block bakchodi regardless of who it chooses to federate with, so I don’t understand why you made that claim.

“they actively want to have opposing views”, yeah nah that’s not gonna happen. Not with hindutva fascism, no.

@Liwott
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Bakchodi.org […] will never federate with leftist instances.

Can you link any such statement?

Can you tell me why a fascist instance that openly desires genocide of minorities and lower castes in India, will federate with leftist instances?

comfy
creator
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Can you tell us where the instance is fascist and doesn’t merely contain fascists and bigots? For one, their sidebar rules contradict fascism. [note: TheAnonymouseJoker gave convincing evidence, see link in reply]

They’re both shitty, but they will behave differently so it’s important to distinguish if you want to make these claims.

why would they federate

To grow in numbers, to spread ideas, free advertising, to take advantage of non-political communities their users might want to visit, all kinds of reasons. Did you know wolfballs and lemmy.ml federated for a long time? Sure, neither is fascist but it’s an example of highly-conflicting communities federating properly.

https://lemmy.ml/post/259732/comment/177340

I am from India. I know how r/chodi and Hindutva Indian right wing fascists work. Do you know how they work? Others are not fools here. You may have written this informative post, but I am also on Lemmy since 2 years, guarding this platform and helping admins and developers since day 1.

You can act all free minded and context free about these instances and elements of society, but everything cannot be measured with the same stick. There is a serious problem with chodi people, to the point they prop up religious terrorism and physical harm to minorities.

comfy
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Thanks for linking that post, that’s the evidence I wanted for them being a far-right instance.

Hopefully I did not sound hostile. I just act bold, confident and in face when I feel confronted, when something should be so obvious.

comfy
creator
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Thanks, I completely understand, it’s a political topic and one we should care about. On the other hand, I hope I don’t sound too unemotional when analyzing these things!

It know it can be annoying to have to explain what seems obvious, but with a lot of those right-wing communities like bakchodi and wolfballs, the sidebar descriptions create an illusion of neutrality like “No hate! Everyone welcome!” (where now I notice more and more nationalist/misogynist posts on bakchodi) and I didn’t know enough about Indian politics to recognize the symbols in their logos or what many of the posts were talking about.

@letstry
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Did you know wolfballs and lemmy.ml federated for a long time?

Do we know why they stopped federating? It might be a useful exercise to find out why and how Lemmy can be improved to allow them to federate again. Especially as you said they are both active in the software development - it seems to be the perfect opportunity to workout how to remove a roadblock to Lemmy’s growth.

It also demonstrates another shortfall is this entire instance blocking system. If Lemmy.ml has blocked wolfballs, then the owner of the wolfballs instance cannot even participate in this discussion to help work out a better way forward.

Out of interest, do you know who blocked who first? Was it a tit for tat response? You blocked me, so I am blocking you?

comfy
creator
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Do we know why they stopped federating?

Out of interest, do you know who blocked who first?

I think this comment (lemmy.ml admin) and the parent announcement (wolfballs admin) are the best public source: https://wolfballs.com/post/6363/comment/5599

My interpretation of that post is that lemmy.ml hesitantly defederated first, as there wasn’t really much ‘useful discussion between both instances’ and mutual attacking/downvoting. wolfballs.com was not surprised and claimed they were moderating a community more than they wanted out of respect for lemmy.ml’s admin. It was a mostly destructive interaction due to conflicting political leanings and passionate communities seeing that on their front pages. Maybe contrast with gtio.io, a neutral instance that doesn’t really have aggression or brigading.

Interestingly, I just noticed that nutomic proposed that community-federation idea that you put forth!

If Lemmy.ml has blocked wolfballs, then the owner of the wolfballs instance cannot even participate in this discussion to help work out a better way forward.

They have an account here, I’ve had good conversations with them. I also suspect you are the Exploding Heads admin? If so, same situation.

@Liwott
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Why wouldn’t they? What do they have to lose in such a federation? One may argue, as OP did, that they would want to spread their ideas to new publics, without being too afraid of losing their own.

Hence my question on whether they made any statement about not wanting to federate with leftist instances.

I get your point that their core ideology is nauseating and incompatible with any form of leftism. I’m also not saying anything along the lines of federating with them being any good.

I’m happy to see hexbear and lemmygrad have overtaken lemmy.ml in some stats

@wiki_me
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User count is not very meaningful, an active user count is better, this website does that.

Interesting that szmer.info has 65 active users monthly, I think I’ve seen like 5.

comfy
creator
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Yes, I don’t think I ever used a total user count, only “users active in the last month”.

That’s a useful link for some different statistics. Thanks.

@wiki_me
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You gave this link.

As you can see in the website i linked to, lemmy.ml does not have 16k active users.

comfy
creator
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Alright. Well, rest assured I used the ‘All Columns’ option and never used the ‘User’ column, as you can tell in the sections where I list statistics.

@wiki_me
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deleted by creator

What’s hexbear? It looks like the biggest instance, but doesn’t show up on my feed.

comfy
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As the post says:

Two of the sites listed there, Hexbear (aka. chapo.chat) and Bakchodi, do not federate. They are not part of the Fediverse, but they are using Lemmy.

Go visit it. It exists. But it won’t show up on any of our feeds because it doesn’t yet federate and won’t for a while.

interesting: the largest instance (by far) does not federate.

poVoq
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Mostly for historic reasons. They forked off to add some features and work around some performance issues in an earlier version of Lemmy before federation was added.

This post offers better estimate of hexbear’s active user count

comfy
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And recent too! Thanks for sharing.

Everything about Lemmy; bugs, gripes, praises, and advocacy.

For discussion about the lemmy.ml instance, go to !meta@lemmy.ml.

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