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If you're active on social media, you're almost certainly familiar with Instagram, the popular image-sharing app owned by Meta. Instagram is a closed platform that forces ads into users' feeds, tracks usage, and collects user data.
Fortunately, there are some open-source alternatives to Instagram. PixelFed is a privacy-focused, ad-free, decentralized social media app that aims to give complete control to its users.
Let's look closer at PixelFed's features and how they compare to Instagram's.
PixelFed is an image-sharing app similar to Instagram in that it offers users a photo feed plus stories, filters, likes, sharing, direct messages, and more. It also allows links in photo captions—a feature Instagram users have sought for years.
Unlike Instagram, PixelFed is a decentralized photo-sharing network based on the ActivityPub protocol—the same one used by Twitter alternative Mastodon—in an effort to offer users increased privacy and control over their data. Open web advocates encourage using alternative open-source technology to promote innovation through collaboration and information-sharing.
Open-source solutions like PixelFed are often called distributed or federated social networks, sometimes referred to as the Fediverse. Their use of the ActivityPub protocol allows for interoperability between platforms, which closed networks like Instagram don’t allow. For example, PixelFed integrates with Mastodon, meaning users of each social network can follow each other without having to set up accounts on each platform.
One of the biggest perks of using an open-source app like PixelFed is the total lack of advertising. For users frustrated with the increasingly disruptive advertising injected into their feeds and Stories, PixelFed's promise of an ad-free experience is particularly appealing.
PixelFed also allows users to create their own custom URL, such as pixelfed.yournamehere. In addition, tech-savvy users can create their own “instances,” allowing them to run their own websites with unique standards, such as upload limits and codes of conduct. Others can join PixelFed instances created by someone else, such as the main pixelfed.social instance.
In contrast to PixelFed, Instagram is like most modern social apps in that it is closed-source, meaning its code is not available for public use, and users cannot change or use the code or create their own instances. This makes users subject to the whims of Instagram’s policy or terms of service changes, and unable to introduce their own features like adding links in captions.
For some, the benefits of Instagram include its pervasive popularity — there are currently about 2.35 billion active Instagram users globally, making it the fourth most popular social media network.
Comparing PixelFed and Instagram
|Format||Closed-source with apps for iOS, Android, and Fire OS, plus web access||Open-source with iOS and Android apps (currently in beta), plus web access|
|Active users||2.35 billion||Approximately 169,000|
|Advertising||Visual advertising targeted to specific users based on their behavior on the platform||None|
|Cost||Free with ads||Free|
While both Instagram and PixelFed offer iOS and Android apps and web access, PixelFed's apps are still iterating in beta, so Instagram's app offerings (which also feature FireOS compatibility) are understandably more robust for now.
With just over 54,000 users on its most popular server compared to Instagram's 2.35 billion users, PixelFed's user base is still much smaller (and perhaps less intimidating to navigate) than Instagram's massive global user base.
PixelFed is ad-free and privacy-focused, giving users complete control over what photos they share and see. Instagram makes most of its money from its advertising business, and it’s impossible to use Instagram without coming across various advertisements aimed at getting users to make purchases.
Both Instagram and PixelFed are free to use, although Instagram currently offers a subscription feature that allows users to pay to access exclusive content from their favorite creators.
Instagram and PixelFed's main features and functionality are nearly identical—a photo-blogging style image-based home feed with Stories, Collections, likes, sharing, direct messages, and the ability to report or block certain content from your feed.
However, PixelFed also comes with the features of open-source networks, like a lack of advertising (and the knowledge your data isn't being collected and sold), account portability, the ability to create custom domains and instances, and interoperability with other decentralized networks like Mastodon. PixelFed also allows users to embed clickable links in photo descriptions, which could greatly benefit businesses and influencers by allowing them to drive traffic to other sites.
Which Is Right for You?
Great for you if you're looking for a commonly used, well-established social media platform and have no qualms about using closed-source networks.
Pass if you value privacy or prefer lack of advertising, open-source network capabilities, like account portability, and interoperability with other platforms.
Great for you if you're an Instagram user interested in keeping total control over your photos, selectively sharing to trusted followers and networks (think sharing photos visible only to friends and family), and want a private, ad-free experience. Conveniently, the app supports importing Instagram accounts, making it easy for users to move their images to PixelFed and get started immediately. It also supports exporting and importing accounts from one PixelFed instance to another.
Additionally, if you already use federated social platforms and support ActivityPub (like Mastodon), you can use your account to follow and interact with different PixelFed accounts on different instances, and their posts will appear in your Mastodon feed.
Pass if you prefer a fully developed platform with more users and want to reach a wider audience. PixelFed's mobile apps are still in beta, so certain features or functions may be added or changed in the future.
Try PixelFed Today With Clovyr
If you want to try PixelFed as an Instagram social media alternative, you can try it right now! Love it? Keep the app running with Clovyr for a transparent, flat monthly fee, or port it to your own cloud account for free.
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