I feel like there are some misunderstandings flying around. I wanted to write something to help. Part opinion and part technical. This post is meant to spread the word and maybe dispel some doubts around federated social media, commonly referred to as “The Fediverse”
Ok, stop, a fedi-what?
Fediverse. Check the link above. It’s a word used to describe the whole of a new-ish movement for decentralized social networks. What’s that you might ask? Well, it’s what it sounds like. A social network that doesn’t depend on one dude and his intentions to operate, because nodes or instances within that network are not managed by one central entity. Those nodes talk to each other, or federate. This creates a FEDerated unIVERSE of systems all sharing these social interactions. Mostly over a protocol called Activitypub.
Activitypub is a standard by which instances in the fediverse (or most of them anyway) communicate, or federate. It’s the language any federated instance needs to understand in order to participate. These instances will track users activity on other instances, and pass those notifications off to their own users who they follow. The awesome thing about a protocol like Activitypub is, as longas all of the instances are using the same protocol, they can talk to each other. There are implementations of activitypub instances that mimmick many different commercial social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitt.. er… _X_, Youtube, even Twitch. So, if the platform you prefer is instagram-like because you’re into photography, or cat pictures, or sharing pictures of your butt, and someone you’d like to follow (or someone who wants to follow pictures of your butt) are on a different format platform… They can!
And on top of that, so far these implementations are all self-hostable and open-source. So, if you want to keep those pictures of your butt on your own server so you have a choice when you’d no longer like those pictures shared across the internet, you can!
So why does all of this matter?
I could go into all of the privacy and data rights rabbit holes that you probably expect me to right now. But I don’t think that’s what people really care about. I mean sure. Some of you probably care that you get control of your data, how open it is, and where you’d like it to live. But the average Facetwitgram user just doesn’t. If they did they wouldn’t be on those sites in the first place.
What does, or should, matter to those folks is the freedom to choose. Freedom to not be at the whim of a corporation. Let’s take _X_ as an example. For a very long time, privacy-minded folks, seemed to flock to Twitter. It was viewed as a safer and maybe cleaner place where you had a little more control over your identity and maybe even a little anonymity. Personally I was there for the massive Information Security community that existed there. Then they started with ads, and promoted tweets, and then they started mucking about with the chronological timeline, and inserting filler posts from folks you didn’t follow because they thought you’d (or they’d) benefit from you seeing them… It was on, in my opinion, a decline.. then E-Day happened. That is when Elon Musk was essentially forced to buy Twitter or spend time in an orange jumpsuit. He started making sweeping changes that seemed to make no sense at all, firing or laying off a huge portion of the staff, ending things like content moderation programs, and turning accounts back on for some of the worst and most offensive people that plagued the platform. The last straw for me was his insane re-brand from the Twitter brand that’s so ubiquitous that its become a verb, to _X_.
The point there is, that folks had come to rely on twitter. It was part of their life, they had made friends, met soul mates, exchanged ideas, built careers, around this platform. And now they had absolutely no say in its crumble into a platform that it is now. Many people had enough, and fled to Mastodon. Mastodon is an activitypub twitter clone.
The future of social networks
It is my hope, that the federated model is the future of social media. Meta, who owns Instagram and Facebook, has recently stood up an instagram-related service called Threads. I assume they wanted to cash in on the demise of twitter, because threads is basically a twitter clone that uses your Instagram login. But it’s run by Meta, so you can bet it’s having a field day with your data. Personally, I think Threads has a lot of similarities with Mastodon, except that you cant host it yourself, and it’s closed source. Oh, and its run by a corporation who’s sole purpose is to collect information about you and sell it. But it also federates…. Or, at least they say it will.
Let that sink in. One of the big problems with the fediverse isn’t the people who are there, it’s the people who aren’t. Early adopters of mastodon found the place quite empty. They couldn’t find anyone to actually interact with, and as a result went back to the closed gardens that they were used to. But… Imagine if you could follow your facebook friends from Friendica (a facebook clone in the fediverse), or youtube channels you love from your peertube instance. Well, if threads works out, maybe it’ll set the stage for other big social platforms to start talking activitypub. And if they do, you’ll be able to happily check out your nieces and nephew’s childhood pics on Instagram, or follow nazi’s on _X_, or chat with aunt Marge on Facebook from the confines of your chosen open platform.
The issue here is, that these large companies shouldn’t have any real motivation to federate. What do they get out of it? Sure their users get more reach, but they don’t care about their users. They care about their user’s data. So is this al a plot to help them siphon up information from us freedom loving fediverse users? I guess only time will tell.
So, for me…
Personally, I don’t see a reason to support any social network that won’t federate. We need to choose for ourselves what the future holds. If you’re on a federated platform, follow me @gangrif, and follow this blog