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.


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.

US2020: Return of the Splinternet?

Nevertheless, this still requires a 'mass decamp'. 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.

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.

Ideas to develop

Fediverse Directory

Aggregates profiles across all cooperating Fediverse servers to help new user find out "where (most) of my friends are" by user providing access to contact list. Will by definition accelerate early successes, but will lower the barrier to joining.

Possibly even allow user - once she's joined on platform - to follow friends across platforms.

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


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


Stuff I (Really) like

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

Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech | Knight First Amendment Institute
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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…

Adversarial Interoperability | Electronic Frontier Foundation
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"adversarial interoperability... create a new product or service that plugs into the existing ones without the permission of the companies that make them... once the driver of tech’s dynamic marketplace" now stifled by legal means by Big Tech, which "climbed the adversarial ladder and then pulled it up behind them".EFF sees re…

Simplifying Zettelkasten by working out loud
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What did I learn about learning as I explored using Zettelkasten idea and knowledge management to write five newsletters about disinformation in the 2020 US elections?

How Some Conservatives Have Switched to Parler, Rumble and Newsmax (FN)
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Fleeting Note (FN): the creation of Fediverse-based alternatives might suddenly become an urgency.

To Mend a Broken Internet, Create Online Parks | WIRED
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"Our digital public sphere has been failing ... [but] History offers a proven template for how to build healthier public spaces."Filter Bubble author Pariser hearkens back to Walt Whitman's creation of NY's Green Park, when "New York City had no public parks ...only walled commercial pleasure gardens for those who could af…

What is ActivityPub, and how will it change the internet?
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ActivityPub separates content from platform. Posts from one platform propagate to other platforms, and users don’t need an account on every platform ... for ex., YouTube clone PeerTube and Mastodon both implement it, so is Mastodon user A follows PeerTube user B, B's new videos will appear in A's Mastodon feed. A can even comment on it f…

Building a More Honest Internet - Columbia Journalism Review
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In the US, radio began as a free-market free-for-all. More than five hundred radio stations sprang up in less than a decade to explore the possibilities... 40 percent were noncommercial... network of interlinked stations playing local and national content supported by local and national advertising, became dominant players...Soviet Union... ideolo…

Principles - For The Web
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The web was designed to bring people together and make knowledge freely available. Everyone has a role to play to ensure the web serves humanity. By committing to the following principles, governments, companies and citizens around the world can help protect the open web as a public good and a basic right for everyone.

Platforms wield a worrying amount of power over news and information. Can a more decentralized web help? » Nieman Journalism Lab

platforms like Facebook have ... amassed unprecedented gatekeeping powers ... Can new decentralized systems with no single point of control... be a remedy? A new report ... concludes that “protecting the future of speech online involves not only these ambitious experiments in decentralization, but the cultivation of an ecosystem of competing publi…

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