Overview: Fediverse

This topic emerged from the 5th in a series of newsletters focused on #US2020 #disinformation. A major update in late 2022 followed my #twittermigration to Mastodon, and a smaller one a year later with the sudden deletion of my Mastodon server, followed by the arrival of Threads.


Fediverse: collection of interoperable social networks built on Open Web standards. ActivityPub standard, for example, is used by (inter alia) Twitter-lookalike Mastodon and YouTube-lookalike PeerTube, and sometime in 2024 newcomers Bluesky and Threads (tbc!).

Unlike Twitter and YouTube, however:

  • Mastodon/PeerTube are not owned and controlled by corporations. Anyone can launch and operate a Mastodon or PeerTube server, just like anyone can set up an email server and exchange emails with others using the email standard.
  • The person who creates a server sets its rules (privacy, hate speech, etc).
  • Users on any Mastodon/PeerTube server can not only interact with users on other Mastodon/PeerTube servers, they can interact across Fediverse platforms. For example:
    • if Mastodon user A follows PeerTube user B, B’s PeerTube videos will appear in A’s Mastodon feed,
    • user A can even comment on the video from within Mastodon, without visiting PeerTube or having a PeerTube account.

This would be like if my Twitter account followed someone's Facebook page, yet we could still interact seamlessly from our platform of preference. That’s impossible as Twitter & Facebook are walled gardens. Fediverse platforms like Mastodon and PeerTube are not – this is the Open Web on social.

See also: Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid, providing social media users with control over their data through personal knowledge graphs.

So what? New possibilities for new social platforms

While each Fediverse server is a community with its own rules, they're not walled gardens. This helps solve the vicious circle problem facing new platforms (why join a network where there are so few people on it? Hence noone joins it, so numbers stay low. So noone joins it): people don’t need to join the same social network, they just have to join any Fediverse network. 

Reality check: Servers must be bidirectionally linked manually? Mastodon apparently suffers from "the singleton problem... [as it's] difficult to convince ... a major server to [federate] ... with a minor one... three Mastodon servers contain almost 60% of the known Mastodon population" - Peer-to-Peer Network Models and their Implications.

See also: adversarial interoperability - another part of the solution to this problem.

Let's do better

If progressives decamp, they should decamp to Fediverse alternatives.

The EU Institutions could help: by simply joining and posting to Fediverse platforms in addition to Facebook/Twitter, they could:

  • encourage the emergence of alternatives to today’s toxic US platforms,
  • add a new dimension to the EU's strategy towards them.

Return of the Splinternet?

Nevertheless, wide Fediverse adoption still requires a 'mass decamp'. There have already been a couple of false dawns.


Cue the US2020 elections, following which "US conservative leaders may have triggered the sort an en masse decamp that Facebook/Twitter alternatives require to take off".

However they're not moving to Fediverse platforms, so this may simply return us to the #splinternet (pre-platform social media), but with even more political polarisation.

2022 update: Elon Musk and the #TwitterMigration

Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter triggered a huge uptick of interest in Mastodon, leading me to finally take the plunge after 2 years of faffing about. I was optimistic (my first post was literally Welcome to the Fediverse, starry-eyed noob), but within a few months I'd discovered an unhappy truth: the current infrasructure simply doesn't deliver content properly reliably.

I'd point you to the mid-2022 toot where I pointed this out, but (as if to illustrate my point) it's gone: in November my server simply disappeared, taking all my content and connections with it, without warning. I managed to dig out a screenshot of that toot from my phone and include it in All my toots gone.

As can be seen from that post, by then I'd created a Bluesky account and was promptly followed by Satan. I haven't bothered since.

Also in 2022: just as I was writing a Fediverse strategy report for another EC department, the EU's Data Protection Supervisor and the EC's IT department launched social.network.europa.eu, the EU's own Mastodon server. The result was underwhelming to say the least, with accounts limited to the institutions, rather than the people working in them. Someone clearly never read Euan Semple's "Organisations don't tweet, people do", missing a huge opportunity that news organisations started embracing in 2022: setting up a Fediverse server for their journalists to prove that they are their journalists, not an imposter.

Soon afterwards the EU Bubble's own server - https://eupolicy.social/ - was launched. As I pointed out at the time, this had real potential:

it should be very easy for eupolicy.social to avoid creating a Brussels Bubble within the Fediverse. In the past I spent a lot of time exploring how us denizens of the Brussels Bubble could outreach to national conversations online. In the Fediverse, that’s upside down: rather than building bridges outwards, we can pull national conversations into the Bubble, simply by following the right people.
-Am I on the right Mastodon instance? (November 2022)

Back then they had 720 active accounts. 13 months later that had shrunk to 330. The EU's social.network.europa.eu has 18. It wasn't a good year.

Threads, Bluesky, and more

Literally one month after my Mastodon server disappeared, Instagram's "Twitter-killer" Threads arrived in Europe, announcing their intention - like Bluesky - to join the Fediverse, so I dug out my never-used Instagram account to kick the tyres.

As discussed during a ZNLive chat one week before, this should make 2024 at least potentially interesting:

  • so far they should all use the same slogan: "We're like Twitter, but with none of your friends", so it's difficult to see people and organisations who rely on reaching an audience abandoning the incumbents anytime soon
  • the hope is that their openness (if it happens) stimulates innovation in the wider Fediverse, so we get new forms of social media rather than more Twitter clones: there are already plenty of other ActivityPub-compatible networks, as well as alternative protocols like Nostr.
  • all this could have huge implications for our own websites, where it might become both easier and more valuable to develop local communities of interest, networked into the wider Fediverse of decentralised social media, particularly with AI support.


Highlighted Resources tagged OR(#fediverse, #open web, #bluesky, #mastodon, #threads, #nostr) follow below:

Relevant resources

Curation is the last best hope of intelligent discourse

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Nostr, a simple protocol for decentralizing social media that has a chance of working
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"A simple, open protocol that enables a truly censorship-resistant and global social network."They're clearly gunning for ActivityPub, with a secondary page entitled Why isn't Mastodon good enough? The key point made is that while Mastodon was OK when "server owners could be trusted to be cooperative, but it doesn't r…

Bluesky: Twitter's Lonely Cousin? (#ZNLive snippet)

One of the snippets from a ZNLive interview I did in December 2023: "emerging social media platforms like Mastodon and Bluesky face a humorous yet real challenge - they're like "Twitter, but without your friends."With the European launch of Threads, the question arises: Can it offer a unique appeal to draw users? Will [they]...…

All my toots gone
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Exactly one year after publishing Am I on the right Mastodon instance?, I discover that I wasn't. At least I got a good image out of ChatGPT for the occasion, for a change.

Why I’m Finally Leaving X and Probably All Social Media | by Douglas Rushkoff
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One of my favourite writers/thinkers on all things digital future is "finally, definitely, fully leaving X, and probably all social media..."

Distributed digital gardens
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"the distributed/federated digital garden approach is the way to go for knowledge commoning... cribbing from ActivityPub's local, global, and 'those-you-follow' timelines... you could have local, 'those-you-follow', and global gardens... [with] some kind of liquid democracy", and interest-based groups, perhaps s…


Feedbot vous permet de faire de la veille, de suivre et d’automatiser la publication de vos flux RSS favoris sur Mastodon

Social knowledge graphs for collective intelligence
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The second in my 1/1/2023 bundle of 5 posts exploring collective intelligence looks at the role of decentralised social networks: "A personalised, decentralised Social Knowledge Graph for each user multiplies the knowledge available to them via a trusted network of Followers and Friends, and creating collaborative possibilities more akin to w…

A Minimum Viable Ecosystem for collective intelligence
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The "executive summary" of my 5-part bundle of 1/1/2023, which "provide a snapshot of my current thinking into how a decentralised collective intelligence ecosystem could be bootstrapped into existence."

Manton Reece - Micro.blog Mastodon

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Yoyogi "breaks from the timeline... elevates the author and centers the thread".Pick a Fediverse account (Mastodon for now, Pleroma and Misskey next) that you’re following and see just their threads, in a columnar interface.You need to login and give it permission: the accounts you follow are presented at left, allowing you to select one…

Am I on the right Mastodon instance?
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My second post following my personal #twittermigration: "the other users on your instance create its collective intelligence — the nearest thing you have to a content discovery algorithm".Not that I like algorithms, but "Apart from hashtags, ,,, your server’s Local and Federated timelines [are your] primary discovery channels when y…

Twitter alternative: how Mastodon is designed to be “antiviral”
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Mastodon is "subtly designed to reduce the huge, viral surges of attention we see on Twitter" and others, which have "deformed people’s behavior... coaxed people to constantly try to hack the attentional marketplace... incessantly making posts ... operatically theatrical... enrage ... [other] high-voltage reaction".Hence “antiv…

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Welcome to Mastodon - Google Docs
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"Welcome To Mastodon Welcome to Mastodon, and The Fediverse! This is a living document with some tips and Frequently Asked Questions about Mastodon and the Fediverse..."Pretty complete-looking

RSS to ActivityPub Converter

convert any RSS feed to an ActivityPub

Welcome to hell, Elon - The Verge
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Awesome hot take open letter to Elon Musk: "You fucked up real good, kiddo... no possible way to grow ... without ... compromises that will ultimately destroy your reputation and possibly cause grievous damage to your other companies... the problems with Twitter are not engineering problems. They are political problems... absolute monarchs u…

How to Leave Dying Social Media Platforms
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Those who've read Doctorow's books and blogs on the collective action problem stopping people leave the established social media walled gardens may not find anything new, except for the quite brilliant link he makes with "the 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof ... the Anatevkans can’t just pack up and leave: they are being …

Gab switches to Mastodon's code: Our statement - Official Mastodon Blog

The story on Gab and Mastodon:"After crowdfunding millions of dollars... Gab abandoned its own code and switched to ... Mastodon software in early 2019 as a way of circumventing Google’s and Apple’s ban..."Mastodon's AGPLv3 opensource license allows this, of course, but there are conditions, which Gab then broke until JoinMastodon &…

How to write an image description | by Alex Chen | UX Collective
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a "how-to guide ... through an online survey of Blind / low vision / visually impaired people."Discovered via Mastodon, where the culture is not to boost any toot containing non-accessible images, but applicable to all online publishing. "alt text and image descriptions are ... not actually the same thing. Alt text refers to the tex…

Elon Musk's Twitter impersonators: Trekonomics author Manu Saadia on making a fake Musk account for the lols.
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A very funny round up from week 2 of the twitter migration: "It hasn’t even been two weeks since Elon Musk officially took over Twitter, and things look like they’re going about as well as a Cybertruck demonstration... one response to Musk’s tenure has seemed to really get under his skin: the verified impersonators."Funny, but the number…

Mastodon Privacy Guide V.1.0

"a guide & a general backgrounder/crash course on data protection law... primarily targeted at Mastodon instance owners ... and users, but much of the elements will likely also apply to other #fediverse services" by "an External Data Protection Consultant, researcher, and general buzzkill who focuses on helping organisations and…

The Importance of Choosing the Correct Mastodon Instance - Carl Chenet's Blog
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Why is it important to choose your Mastodon home wisely? Because "You can move your user account from one instance to another, but you have to follow a special procedure which can be quite long... create another account on a new instance and import three lists... your followers, ... the accounts you have blocked [and] have muted".[note: …

The many branches of the Fediverse
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how "Mastodon fits into the much larger concept of the Fediverse... visualisation ... many different use-cases and benefits of different services".Good intro to the Fediverse as a whole, plus the visualisation in png & pdf, and some Q&As covering multiple accounts ("a user preference"), Nextcloud (adding ActivityPub end…

4 Twitter features Mastodon is better for not having - Scott.mn
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4 ways Mastodon doesn't optimise for enragement.On Mastodon’s "home timeline... posts don’t have metrics ... you have to click through ... makes you judge a post first by its content, rather than the score attached to it... the whole dynamic [being "ratioed"] doesn’t exist... leads to more thoughtful engagement rather than ... …

Hope for a Post-Musk Net. A federated future and suggestions ...
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JJ "explore some of the opportunities afforded by the likes of Bluesky, Scuttlebutt, the Fediverse, and Indieweb — not to mention good, old, reliable RSS".Most of the mastodon tips I knew, except: "enable the advanced web interface (it’s like Tweetdeck)" - I didn't know that existed so moved to Tusky and spent my first wee…


search the people you follow, are followed by, blocked & muted on Twitter, as well as the lists you maintain and follow, for possible Mastodon/Fediverse accounts. Provides graphs of which instances they're on, too, so useful for identifying which server to join.

Welcome to the Fediverse, starry-eyed noob (#TwitterMigration, day 3)
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I discovered the Fediverse as I kicked MyHub.ai’s shiny new tyres in early 2020, and I’m kicking myself now for not diving in then.

Building collective intelligence from social knowledge graphs
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Writing a chapter for a book on Personal Knowledge Graphs made me rethink MyHub.ai, and led to a new collective intelligence pilot project with the founders of massive.wiki.

From Personal to Social Knowledge Graphs: a vision statement
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I've been invited to write a chapter for an upcoming book on Personal Knowledge Graphs (PKG). My chapter will encompass each user’s PKG, the Social Knowledge Graph created by networking them together via the Fediverse, Solid hosting, AI writing tools and Decentralised Autonomous Organisations.This post provides a first draft of its Introducti…

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