2023 annual update: federated.press is one year old
Published on November 4, 2023 by Joshua Wood
TL;DR: We had an eventful first year running a journalism-focused Mastodon server. We worked on some fun projects, overcame some challenges, and now we need your financial support to go the distance. Click here to donate! (monthly and annual commitments are preferred, but one-time donations are always appreciated.)
Hey everyone! It's been a wild year for social media, with Twitter in turmoil and myriad upstarts competing to be the alternative. I launched federated.press in November 2022 as a refuge for journalists and supporting folks during the largest-ever Twitter exodus—back when X was still Twitter. Since then, we've grown to over 2,300 users, with roughly 200-300 active every month. Our members include freelance and independent journalists, congressional correspondents, news organizations, trade unions, and plenty of regular folks like myself. Here's a recap of our first year.
In January, we joined the Open Collective Foundation, a 501(c)(3) fiscal host. Being sponsored by OCF means we can accept tax-deductible donations—which is important since servers aren't cheap! (To help us keep the lights on, please become a monthly supporter.) OCF has been an invaluable partner and has saved me a lot of time in administrative work.
In March, we announced a community partnership with a fact-checking project, News Detective. News Detective is part of MIT's Sandbox Innovation Fund Program, and they're working with journalism students and the public to promote media literacy. We worked together to test a custom Mastodon integration that integrated federated.press with their fact-checking platform, making it easier to crowdsource fact-checking of content on Mastodon.
Throughout the year, I also struggled with our hosting provider in a futile attempt to keep costs down. Without getting too technical, when we started, we were hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), a popular cloud hosting provider. AWS is great for high-availability services (like Mastodon) that need to scale up quickly, and they provide redundancy in case of unexpected failures. That's great for solo operators like myself, who are working (very) part-time. Unfortunately, AWS is also quite expensive. Early on, it became clear that we needed extra resources to guarantee a reliable service to our users. Still, I was already spending much more than we were bringing in: monthly donations were ~$12/month, but our total operating costs were ~$250/month and growing. As the person who took the initiative to launch federated.press, I was paying the difference (and still am).
Since I was already well over my budget for funding this project, I couldn't justify adding additional resources; instead, I paid personally by responding to intermittent outages, often during my work days and evenings. I won't lie—it was stressful. I knew I'd burn out if I didn't find a more sustainable option. So, I began to research other hosting providers. I didn't want to be the only person on-call for the server anymore, so I needed to find a managed hosting provider—someone who knew how to run Mastodon.
Enter Jeff Brown of Fourth Estate and Honeytree Technologies. Jeff is a technologist like myself, and in addition to already running Newsie.social (one of the largest news/media Mastodon servers) and recently taking over management of Journa.host (a server for verified journalists), he owns a web services company that offers managed Mastodon hosting. With Jeff's expertise in technology and journalism and with Mastodon in particular, Honeytree seemed like a good fit for federated.press.
In October, Jeff and I discussed the technical requirements and logistics of migrating federated.press from AWS to a new dedicated server provided by Honeytree. We set a date for the migration—October 13, 2023. I scheduled a few hours of downtime for that day via our status page, and we were all set. When Friday the 13th rolled around (a date that didn't escape me), Jeff and his team worked to move our database and file storage to the new server. Everything went well, and we were back up within the scheduled maintenance window with a new, faster, cheaper server.
How much cheaper? So far, we're paying Honeytree roughly half of what we paid AWS and other managed services in September. Our September hosting expenses were $298.79, and we're paying Honeytree a flat $149/month for a fully-provisioned server. Best of all, performance has been significantly better and more stable since the migration. Thanks, Jeff and team!
That brings us to today, November 3, 2023—one year after I first registered the federated.press domain name. Has it all been worth it? If you'd asked me a few months ago, my answer may have been different, but today it's yes—definitely worth it. I've learned a ton, met some really exciting people, and have had the opportunity to support the journalism community—something that has become increasingly important to me over the past few years. I'm also grateful to our members, especially those who have offered encouragement or contributed financially to help keep federated.press up and running. There is much work to do, but I still believe that ActivityPub and Mastodon are important contributions to the World Wide Web, and I'm glad that we're a small part of that.
So—what's next? My plan is to keep running the server over the next year as we try to reach a sustainable level of funding—which should be easier now that our costs are reduced. To that end, I'd love for more of you to get involved. To cover operating costs fully, we need $200/month in recurring monthly donations, and we're currently at $36.35. If you are an active member here—or if you just support our mission—please consider a monthly contribution. One-time donations are welcome and appreciated, but annual and monthly really helps with cashflow planning. Click here to donate!