If you’re old enough to remember the early-ish days of the internet, you may remember the general excitement of the unbounded possibilities of what the web could bring. It was new, exciting, and felt world-changing. It’s now a ubiquitous part of our lives, and many think it’s a terrible no good thing. I agree there’s a lot to dislike about how the internet evolved, but it’s still a net-awesome thing to me. And it can still be a force for good and great in the world. I’m actually still very much excited about the internet.
Social media is one of the areas that I’ve grown less excited about over time. Twitter was great in the beginning; Facebook was intriguing but I pretty quickly realized it wasn’t the place for me. I’ve long championed the idea of owning your own content and publishing your best work on platforms you control. In the last ten years, too much time effort and money has poured into corporate-controlled walled gardens that have failed to protect the vulnerable and push forward the idea of the open web. With the recent crumbling of Twitter, that might be about to change.
What Is the Fediverse
The word Fediverse itself is a mashup of “Federated” and “Universe” along the lines of Metaverse or Multiverse. It refers to a movement towards decentralization, mainly in social media. Unlike traditional social media platforms, the Fediverse operates on a decentralized model. Instead of relying on a single central platform (like Twitter), it consists of multiple interconnected platforms and instances. Each instance has its own rules, moderation policies, and user base, creating a diverse and inclusive ecosystem. Instances can interact with users from other instances by following them, liking their posts, and engaging in conversations. This federated model allows for greater user control and community autonomy. It allows a user to publish content on a platform they own, and still interact with the larger Fediverse.
For me, the Fediverse represents the excitement and possibility of the early internet, where everyone controls their own content and is free to publish where and how they want, yet stay interconnected with the wider world.
The Problems with Centralized Social Media
The movement towards a decentralized system is being driven by issues that more and more people are concerned about:
Centralized social media platforms often collect and store vast amounts of personal data from their users. This data is used for targeted advertising, but it also raises concerns about privacy and data security. Users may not have full control over their personal information, and there is a risk of unauthorized access or data breaches.
Most social platforms started out as simple feeds of content from the people you follow. Most, probably all now use algorithms to display curated content to users. These algorithms can be biased and reinforce echo chambers, filter bubbles, and polarization. Users are often shown content that aligns with their existing beliefs and preferences, which can lead to the spread of misinformation and a lack of diverse perspectives.
Centralized social media platforms have become breeding grounds for the spread of misinformation, fake news, and propaganda. These platforms can be easily manipulated by malicious actors who spread false information to manipulate public opinion, sow discord, or promote their own agendas.
Content Moderation Problems
Moderating content on centralized platforms is challenging. Platforms struggle to effectively enforce their content policies, resulting in the proliferation of harmful content. There are ongoing debates about how to balance freedom of speech with the need to prevent harmful content. The New T(w)itter is a prime example.
Control and Ownership
On centralized platforms, users do not control their own content. The platforms have complete control over the user experience, rules, and policies. This control can be abused or misused, impacting users’ ability to freely express themselves and shaping the information they receive.
Inequality and Amplification
Centralized social media platforms may inadvertently amplify the voices of influential individuals, organizations, or celebrities, which can further exacerbate existing inequalities in society. It can be challenging for marginalized groups or individuals to have their voices heard and to gain visibility on these platforms.
Ad-driven Business Models
Most centralized platforms heavily rely on advertising revenue, which can prioritize maximizing user engagement over quality or meaningful interactions.
Benefits of the Fediverse
As excited as I am about the general openness of the Fediverse, the people that are truly pushing it forward are trying to address most of the failures of traditional social media listed above. This includes:
Privacy and Data Ownership
Decentralized platforms prioritize user privacy by allowing individuals to have more control over their personal data. Users can choose where and how their information is stored, reducing the risk of data breaches or unauthorized access.
As a network of interconnected decentralized social platforms, the Fediverse allows users to connect and interact across different platforms. This interoperability fosters freedom of choice, enabling users to join and use the platform that best aligns with their preferences while still being able to interact with users on other platforms.
Decentralized platforms often implement community-driven moderation systems. Instead of relying solely on centralized control, users and communities can set their own moderation policies and enforce them according to their own values and guidelines. This distributed moderation approach helps prevent overreach and allows for more diverse and tailored community guidelines.
Reduced Manipulation and Censorship
With decentralized social media, there is a lower risk of manipulation and censorship. Since control is distributed among different platforms and communities, it becomes harder for a single entity to exert undue influence over the information flow or enforce a specific agenda.
Decentralized social media encourages a more diverse range of content and perspectives. Users have the freedom to join platforms that cater to specific interests, resulting in a broader variety of communities and discussions. This diversity helps foster more inclusive and open conversations.
Reduced Reliance on Single Points of Failure
Decentralized social media reduces reliance on centralized authorities. Users have more autonomy and are not subject to the rules and policies of a single controlling entity. This decentralization of power promotes a more democratic and user-centric environment. They are also more resilient to single points of failure. If one platform experiences technical issues or shutdown, users can still connect and communicate through other interconnected platforms within the decentralized network, ensuring the continuity of social interactions.
So what makes the Fediverse the Next Big Thing?
This is just my opinion, but the Fediverse will hopefully democratize social media in much the same way that the web has democratized the internet. No one entity owns or controls the web we are all much better off for it. Open clear protocols have spurned innovation and made life better for so many across the world. I’m envisioning a similar trajectory for open social platforms that grow far beyond the reach of our current social situations. As much as I used to love Twitter, I’m happy to see a better future replace it.
I’ll hopefully be writing more about federated publishing platforms and how they relate to businesses and individuals. I’m encouraged to see the WordPress community embracing the Fediverse and I’m excited to see where that will take us. WordPress has done a lot to make publishing content easy, we’ll see if it can be a part of this next wave.
If you’re interested in getting started on the Fediverse, Mastodon is a good place to start for now, but there are many others. Migrating to another service down the line is already possible and will only get easier over time. Check back for more on the Fediverse.