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Episode #96: What is the "Fediverse"?!
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Episode #96: What is the "Fediverse"?!

How The Newest Crop of Social Media Platforms Have Changed the Game

For most of us, social media is a daily part of our lives. We use it to connect with friends, share our experiences & cat photos, and debate strangers about Star Wars trivia. That’s the upside. But the downside is pretty awful…

Social media platforms offer little or no control over our own data and images, they bombard us with tons of targeted advertising based on our click history, and they manipulate not only what and who we see but also when we see it.

Back in Episode 49, I explained why the Facebook empire run by Dark Lord Zuckerberg is a manipulative, destructive, and greedy corporate entity that refuses to protect its users’ privacy or the spread of disinformation. Not that Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat are any better because they’re not, but that’s by design.

The design of today’s social media results in substandard products that are based on a parasitic premise: you and your data are the product.

But… what if there were a better design?

What Is The Fediverse?

First, the name: Fediverse stands for “Federated Universe”.

The name is a good descriptor: The Fediverse is a network of interconnected social platforms that offer the features we’ve come to love — micro-blogging, photo sharing, music and art posts, or interactive messaging boards — but which collectively operate on open standards and protocols. My fellow Trekkies will already understand this concept because #obviously…

Kind of like this. But for social media

Here’s why this design is a big deal: today’s biggest social media platforms are owned and controlled by a single, corporate entity and are run on closed standards using software code that we’ll never see. This allows a few, select people to wield enormous power and control over billions of people’s daily experiences.

Because of that, let’s call this The Dictator Approach to social media: “I’m in charge! You have no choice but to trust me! Me and my teams know what’s best for you and for data so we’ll take care of things from here, thanks.”

The Fediverse goes in the opposite direction.

Instead of having a single, corporate owner, The Fediverse is a federation of independently operated “instances”. Instances are simply servers that an individual or a company uses to run the software and services that are used to access The Fediverse.

Let’s call this The Democracy Approach to social media: “Lots of people share control! That includes you! And, since you know better than we do what’s best for you and your data, you get to decide how it is managed.”

How Does It Work?

I’ll use Mastodon as an example. For those who haven’t heard of Mastodon, it’s a federated social media platform that looks and works a lot like Twitter… only it isn’t owned by an arrogant, anti-semitic, douche-canoe control freak who likes giving white supremacists a place to amplify their vile hatred.

That’s why I now call it “Shitter”. Ahem. I’m guessing that’s why millions of people - myself included - have left it and flocked to greener pastures.

Joining Mastodon is easy: users register by signing up via an instance that best represents their region, interests, or personality. There are thousands of different servers and some specialize in catering to gamers, artists, the LGBTQIA+ community, and, of course, tech.

As I’m a writer on Medium, I created the Tech Talk Mastodon account on their instance. Once I’m logged in, I can interact with other users on that instance. However, the real magic is this: as long as I’m logged in to Mastodon via my instance, I can also read, follow, or chat with people on ANY OTHER instance.

That’s possible because The Fediverse is built on open-source communication protocols. This decentralized design ensures that there is no single point of failure or censorship, as no one person or corporation has complete control over the network.

Neat, right? Only… doesn’t that sound familiar?

Well, it should. What I just described is, essentially, how email works. Anyone can sign up for any email provider. But even if I sign up for ProtonMail and you sign up for Outlook, we can still send each other emails. That’s because email servers all use the same standard protocol to communicate.

The goal of The Fediverse is to bring that model of communication to social media.

How Is It Designed?

The design of The Fediverse is what sets it apart from Facebook, Shitter, and Snapchat. It operates on a decentralized model, allowing for greater user control and privacy.

The Underlying Technologies

At the core of The Fediverse's design is the communication protocol that allows interaction between instances. It’s called ActivityPub and it’s an open-source and decentralized protocol for social networking. ActivityPub allows instances to exchange messages, share content, and follow each other, creating a network of interconnected platforms.

Sidebar: open-source means that ActivityPub’s code is publically shared, so anyone can view it, confirm that it is secure, and - more importantly - find bugs and improve it. For these reasons, open-source is considered “The Gold Standard” of software.

To best demonstrate how powerful ActivtyPub is, let’s do a thought exercise… Imagine if a user on Facebook user could seamlessly share messages with users on Instagram, Snapchat, or MySpace. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Of course, that’s not possible because there IS no interconnectivity between social media platforms.

Only now, there is! And ActivityPub is the reason why. This is why I think of it as THE ROOT of the Fediverse tree:

How ActivityPub is the root of The Fediverse. Image by Per Axbom

What About Security?

Security and privacy are major concerns when it comes to online interactions. This is why privacy advocates despise Facebook and Shitter. The Fediverse addresses these concerns by incorporating security measures into its design.

Decentralization

Design is important. In this case, the design of the Fediverse network is, itself, a security measure. In a decentralized network, no single point of failure or vulnerability can compromise the entire system. That means the Fediverse will continue to operate, even if ten, 100, or 1000 servers are hacked or shut down for any reason.

Not true for Facebook.

Back in October of 2021, they had a global shutdown that lasted for 6-7 hours. BILLIONS of people couldn’t log on to any of Facebook’s kingdom of social media websites, including WhatsApp and Instagram. And, while I’m no fan of Facebook, a global shutdown event like that is terrifying. BILLIONS of people who rely on the Facebook empire of apps to communicate with one another… suddenly could not.

YOU Own Your Posts and Data

One of the fundamental principles of The Fediverse is user ownership and control. On traditional social media platforms, your data and posts are owned by the platform, not you.

By comparison, The Fediverse puts you in charge. You retain ownership of your posts and have the ability to decide who can view and interact with your content. In practical terms, that means you can:

  1. Set your posts to auto-delete after a certain amount of time

  2. Leave one server and join another without losing your followers

  3. Export your posts, media, and follower lists

That second item is amazing to me, in particular. It’s like saying, “I don’t like you anymore, Facebook! So I’m gonna MOVE all of my friends and followers over to Snapchat or CompanyB where I’ll interact with those same people.”

Amazing… but there are limits.

Currently: users cannot migrate their posts and their media from an old server to a new one. Instead, old posts will remain posted unless a user opts to delete them. Additionally, anyone interacting with posts from an old account will be redirected to that user’s NEW account. Neat.

For the moment, users can only download an archive of their posts and media, but cannot bulk upload them onto a new instance. While that sucks, I’m guessing that - in the not-too-distant future - Mastodon and other services running on ActivityPub will make that possible as well.

Caveat Emptor

It’s worth remembering: on a decentralized network, each instance operates independently, employing its own admins, who implement their own security measures and moderation policies. Some admins may operate their instances with stronger community guidelines than others.

Therefore, join well-run and well-liked instances such as Medium’s, Mastodon Social, or others.

Although… there is one other security-minded solution for those who want the MOST control over their data…

Run Your Own Instance

Another distinctive aspect of The Fediverse's design is the ability to run your own instance. This means that you can set up and host your social media platform on your own network, free from corporate oversight or rules.

Running an instance allows users to create a digital space that aligns with their values and preferences. They can curate the community, moderate content, and customize the platform's features to cater to the specific needs of their users. This level of customization is impossible on Facebook or Shitter.

In my opinion, it provides a more tailored and personalized social media experience. Frankly, it’s also a lot more like our in-person interactions. We not only choose who to spend time with and who to avoid, but we also decide which community organizations to join or leave based on how those communities behave.

That kind of freedom should be built into the design of our digital worlds as well.

With the ability to run your instance, you have the freedom to create your own social media space and shape the online experience according to your preferences, not someone else’s.

Why It's Better than Tradition Social Media

If I haven’t made it clear already, The Fediverse offers many advantages over traditional social media platforms. Let's explore the biggest and best of these...

You Own Your Posts

One of the standout features of The Fediverse is that you retain ownership of your posts and data. Unlike traditional social media platforms, where the platform claims ownership of the content you create, The Fediverse respects your rights as the creator. This means that you have control over how your posts are shared, who can view them, and how they are used.

This ownership empowers individuals to protect their privacy and maintain control over their online presence. You can choose the level of visibility for your posts, ensuring that they are seen by only the desired audience. By owning your posts, you can also decide the fate of your content, whether it's archiving it, deleting it, or moving it to another platform within The Fediverse.

You Can Move Your Data

In The Fediverse, you have the flexibility to move your data between different instances. This portability feature is a significant advantage over traditional social media platforms, where migrating your data can be a challenging and time-consuming process. If you're dissatisfied with one instance or want to explore different platforms, you can effortlessly transfer your profile, followers, and content to a new instance within The Fediverse.

This freedom to move your data ensures that you are not locked into a single platform or subject to the whims of a centralized authority. It allows you to explore different communities, discover new connections, and adapt to evolving preferences without losing your online identity and social network.

There's No Advertising?!?

You heard that correctly, friends!

There are no advertisements on The Fediverse, so you won't be bombarded with tailored ads based on your browsing habits or personal information. This absence of advertising creates a more authentic and focused social media experience, where interactions are driven by genuine connections and shared interests rather than any commercial overlords or creepy agendas.

There's No F🦋💪🏼&⬆️✂️🛀🏼 Algorithm!

Traditional social media platforms employ complex algorithms that curate your feed and prioritize certain content over others. This manipulation can lead to information bubbles, echo chambers, and the amplification of certain voices while suppressing others.

The Fediverse takes a different approach. And by “different”, I mean “none”.

There is no algorithm governing your timeline on The Fediverse. Instead, you have direct control over the content you see. You choose who to follow, which instances to connect with, and how to curate your feed. This user-driven approach ensures a more diverse and inclusive experience, where you have the power to shape your online environment and engage with a wider range of perspectives.

The Money Thing

All of this should beg the question: if there are no ads and no algorithms and it’s free to sign up and use then… how does The Fediverse actually support itself?!

It’s the obvious question. The answer is also obvious: most of it runs on donations. Therefore, you should donate.

Does that mean you HAVE to donate? No.

But ask yourself how much is it worth to:

  1. Not have your data harvested by a company?

  2. Not be manipulated by an algorithm?

  3. Not be bombarded by ads?

  4. Not have your posts, pics, videos, and writing owned and manipulated by others?

If you don’t want yourself to be the product, then I think it’s 100% worth it to donate $60-100/year to your instance admin. That money will go to paying for the hardware and software that runs your instance but it will ALSO go to paying for the time that admins put into fixing problems, moderating users, and creating a safe, fun, and informative environment.

Popular Fediverse Platforms

Nearly every popular social media website now has a Fediverse equivalent. All are free to join. That makes it easier than EVER to connect with friends, share opinions, photos, and videos, but NOT have a company harvesting that data for their personal or corporate profits.

I urge everyone to check out the platforms below and set up accounts. Then, tell your friends and family to do the same. Traditional social media companies and their Dictatorship approaches cannot survive when users leave in droves when they discover that there are actually better solutions.

I’ve linked my own accounts below, so come find and connect with me!

Microblogging:
Migrate from Shitter ➡️ Mastodon (Find me here & also here)

Photo Sharing:
Migrate from Instagram ➡️ PixelFed (Find me here)

News Feeds & Messaging:
Migrate from Facebook ➡️ Firefish (Find me here)

Video Creation & Watching:
Migrate from YouTube ➡️ PeerTube

Topic-Organized Discussions:
Migrate from Reddit ➡️ kbin or Lemmy

Writing:
Migrate from Medium ➡️ WriteFreely (Find me here)

Music & Composition:
Migrate from Soundcloud ➡️ FunkWhale

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Tech Talk - The Technology Newsletter for Everyone
Tech Talk - The Tech Podcast... for Everyone
TechTalk is a podcast that's meant to help absolute beginners and non-technical people learn about technology in a fun and informative way. We don't talk over your head! Instead, we use everyday language to make sure that you understand all of the important subjects and challenges that we discuss. Tech is important: let's learn about it together in a fun and funny way.
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