Fediverse (Overview)

Context: this is an Overview page (not a Service Page) about a topic which emerged from the 5th in a series of newsletters focused on #US2020 #disinformation. More: Simplifying Zettelkasten by working out loud. A major update in late 2022 followed my #twittermigration to Mastodon.

What?

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. 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? Opens up possibility of 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.

Return of the Splinternet?

Nevertheless, this still requires a 'mass decamp'.

US2020

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.

Elon Musk (2022 Update)

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 - first post: Welcome to the Fediverse, starry-eyed noob (TwitterMigration, day 3).

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.

(2022 Update):

  • the EDPS and the EC's IT department did, as I was writing a Fediverse strategy report for another EC department), but the result of both was underwhelming, to say the least.
  • upcoming Mastodon release: multilingual support. This echoes the multilingualism strategy I first explored from inside the EC in ~2002, but we couldn't handle the performance load of coupling multilingual content management and user personalised language preferences. In the new version:
    • each post can have multiple language versions,
    • each post displays in your order of language preference
    • replies are ordered by your lang preference

Ideas to develop

Business models

Good overview here:

  • mostly usual suspects (storage/security, subscriptions, freemiums),
  • advertising based on more limited data, brand advertising and - more intriguingly - reverse auctions, where users "offer up their data in exchange for access or deals" (cf Solid).
  • cryptocurrency-based equity - to be explored.

Twittermigration to Mastodon

(2022 Update)

Choosing your instance:

"the other users on your instance create its collective intelligence — the nearest thing you have to a content discovery algorithm" - so there are pros and cons for choosing both large, general instances or small, focused ones. More as I found it: Am I on the right Mastodon instance?.

See also:

Other useful tools & tips

Strategy, approach

I crossposted everything for a few days, then tried to use moaparty's "trigger" hashtag to crosspost selected content, firstly in both directions and then principally from Mastodon (my principal home) to Twitter.

That didn't work, so now I just post different stuff to different places. My "noob" post sets out the "city vs country village" metaphor which I still find useful. See also:

... Twitter is not a Mastodon replacement. They're different places to do different things: on Mastodon there's "less of the massively viral, you-gotta-see-this posts... a lot more murmuring conversation", with lots of content hidden beind content warnings. The world probably needs both - Twitter, after all, does bring "crucial social and civic issues to mainstream attention", which will be harder on Mastodon even with the same sized userbase

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Highlighted Resources tagged #fediverse or #openweb follow below, or jump straight to all of them:

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Stuff I (Really) like

Here are the latest 9 resources I've Highlighted about Fediverse (Overview). There's more reading over here.

Am I on the right Mastodon instance?
mathewlowry.medium.com
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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…

Welcome to the Fediverse, starry-eyed noob (#TwitterMigration, day 3)
mathewlowry.medium.com
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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
mathewlowry.medium.com
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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
medium.com
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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…

The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral | Hapgood
hapgood.us

I suspect this will be a canonical text for me moving forward with myhub.ai.Mike Caulfield in 2015, when my first hub was only about 2 years old, had also "been experimenting with another form of social media called federated wiki... instead of blogging and tweeting your experience you wiki’d it. And over time the wiki became a representation…

Facebook Is Dead (It Just Doesn’t Know It Yet)
bettermarketing.pub
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Interesting piece on the reverse side of the network effect: the more people leave, the faster the remainder leave. So what will make people leave?Gen Z want privacy, hate bullying/speech, don’t like ads and think "Facebook is for moms and grandparents""Millennials Are Ready to Ditch... too old to bicker with strangers... [and] stil…

Evan Henshaw-Plath, Planetary.Social | The Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure
publicinfrastructure.org
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One of a great series of Reimagining the Internet podcasts. Guest: the Planetary.Social founder, discussing:the early days of Twitter: "Twitter's innovation ... happened all at the edges... users created everything... inline images and short links and retweets and the app, actual at and hashtags... the company... cultivated this garden w…

Decentralized Social Networks vs. The Trolls - ConfTube
conf.tube
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After pointing out that mainstream - ie centralised - social platforms cannot moderate effectively due to scale, then introduces fediverse/activitypub-based platforms. Will they face same moderation problems as the mainstream if/when they grow?Takes Gab's unsuccessful move into fediverse as an example: "Almost immediately, Gab was met by…

Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech | Knight First Amendment Institute
knightcolumbia.org
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Given the myriad problems posed by social media platforms - content moderation, disinformation, censorship, privacy, anti-trust - this article "proposes an entirely different approach... that enables more free speech, while minimizing ... trolling, hateful speech, and large-scale disinformation efforts... also might help users ... regain cont…

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