Decentralized Instagram alternative, PixelFed, launches new iOS app

PixelFed is a federated social platform for sharing photos. It mimics Instagram’s features but is open-source, privacy-focused, ad-free, decentralized, and gives complete control to its users. PixelFed’s new iOS app hopes to entice iPhone-using Instagram users away from Meta’s popular image-sharing app.

PixelFed iOS app
PixelFed launches iOS app to better compete against Instagram

Instagram, the popular photo blogging service owned by Meta (aka Facebook), is a closed platform that forces ads into its feed, tracks usage, and doesn’t function with other social platforms. Closed social networks like Instagram have led open web advocates to develop open-source alternatives that return privacy, choice, and control to the user. Those solutions are generally labeled as distributed or federated social networks, and most modern platforms use the ActivityPub protocol for interoperability between platforms.

The most promising Instagram-like federated platform is PixelFed. PixelFed brings the best features of Instagram to an open-source and decentralized app and, in some cases, improves upon them. PixelFed’s main features include:

While PixelFed has enticing features and functions well as a web app, it has struggled to gain wide adoption sans a native iOS app. To address that issue, the PixelFed team has spent the last several months working on a new iOS app for iPhone. They hope it will help them better compete against Instagram and grow their user base. The iOS app is available now for beta testing via Apple’s TestFlight.

PixelFed for iOS first look

The official PixelFed app for iOS, even as a public beta, is impressive.

Profiles and Collections

Arkadiusz Wieczorek, a Polish developer and privacy advocate, and hobbyist photographer, is an active user of PixelFed. Wieczorek’s PixelFed account offers one of the best examples of how to get the most out of the decentralized Instagram alternative.

PixelFed profile in iOS app
Arkadiusz Wieczorek’s PixelFed profile and post

Wieczorek uses PixelFed’s Collections feature, which Instagram users will find familiar.

PixelFed's iOS Collections example
Arkadiusz Wieczorek’s PixelFed Collections

Direct messages

Messaging is one of the most popular features of Instagram, and PixelFed fully supports it. Although, users should keep in mind that messages aren’t end-to-end encrypted, and they should consider using Signal if they want to have truly private conversations online.

Discovery

The iOS app has a feature that makes it easy to discover images and people using PixelFed. Daniel Sup, Founder and Lead Developer for PixelFed, told Coywolf, “the Discover feature uses both local and remote posts known to that specific instance.” Sup said he is “working on a centralized Discover API and app feature to improve this for all instances.” PixelFed’s profile on Mastodon also posted that “no matter how active or small your instance is, access to a communal curated discover experience will benefit everyone.”

Preferences and reporting

PixelFed has familiar tools for managing unwanted profiles and posts in a feed. For example, muting and blocking options are a tap away.

PixelFed Mute
Muting and Blocking option in the PixelFed iOS app

Users can also report spam and abuse. Sup told Coywolf that “reports are sent to the local instance admin for them to handle.” That means reports will only be seen by the person(s) running the node where the reporting account exists. And if action is taken against a user, it will only apply to that federated server.

PixelFed Report
Reporting posts in the PixelFed iOS app

Interoperability

Since PixelFed is federated and supports the ActivityPub protocol, other social platforms that support ActivityPub, like Mastodon, can follow profiles and interact (Like, Reblog, and comment) with posts. For example, my Mastodon account at coywolf.social follows PixelFed accounts hosted on different instances, and their posts appear in my Mastodon feed.

Getting started with PixelFed

The easiest way to start using PixelFed is to create an account on an existing node. However, if you want complete control of your PixelFed account, you can install and run an instance yourself.

PixelFed supports importing Instagram accounts, so Instagram users that want an open web alternative can move their images over to PixelFed. PixelFed also supports exporting and importing accounts from one PixelFed instance to another.

If you enjoy using PixelFed, you can support its development via Patreon.

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Jon Henshaw

Jon is the founder of Coywolf and the EIC and the primary author reporting for Coywolf News. He is an industry veteran with over 25 years of digital marketing and internet technologies experience. Follow @[email protected]