Users of the internet have witnessed many movements over the past few decades. We have seen the shift from Web 2.0 to 3.0 and social media’s rise and widespread use. There is, however, a new movement taking place on the internet which is becoming increasingly hard to ignore. What am I referring to exactly? I am referring to the rise of the “Fediverse”, more specifically, the rise of federated social media platforms.
What is the Fediverse?
The Fediverse is a decentralized network of interconnected servers running open-source software that implements activities such as social networking, microblogging, and file sharing. The decentralised network is powered by the ActivityPub protocol for creating, updating, deleting and distributing content.
The Fediverse is based on the principles of federation, where users can interact with each other across different servers. This allows for greater user control over their data and eliminates the need for central authority. Examples of Fediverse software include Peertube, Pixelfed and, the most popular one of all, Mastodon. All three platforms operate using a federated network.
How does a federated network operate?
The mainstream social media platforms (such Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, e.t.c.) operate on what is known as a centralised model. In other words, all user data, content, and activities are stored, managed, and controlled by a central authority or company. The platform owns and controls the data and algorithms that determine how it is presented to users. Centralised social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter exist in a centralised place.
By comparison, a federated network operates where multiple independent servers (running software such as Peertube, Pixelfed or Mastodon) known as instances can communicate and exchange information with each other, allowing users to interact across different servers without the need for a central authority.
The servers are connected through a set of protocols and standards, enabling them to work together in a seamless manner. In a federated network, users have more control over their data and are not beholden to a single company or entity. Examples of federated networks include XMPP and the email network using the SMTP and IMAP protocols.
One of the greatest assets to the Fediverse is how different social media platforms running different software can communicate with each other. To use email as an analogy, anyone can send and receive emails regardless of what service provider you use. For example, someone with a Gmail account can send an email to someone else using Yahoo.
Why is it important?
The Fediverse is important as it has completely reshaped the way social media operates and how users communicate with others. Perhaps the biggest issue of centralised social media is that users rely on the platform to store and manage their data, which can be vulnerable to censorship, data breaches, and privacy violations.
For years, now we’ve been warned of the dangers of the “Big Tech” social media platforms like Facebook misusing our data and doing little to combat issues such as the spread of misinformation. In recent months, we have also seen Twitter, one of the biggest and most influential platforms, implode under the leadership of Elon Musk.
The problem is, centralised platforms, such as the ones mentioned in this post, operate as monopolies and tie people in using the network effect meaning that you are likely to stay on a platform, simply because your peers are there too. Ultimately, the social media platform has control over the direction of the service, not the users of the platform.
In my opinion, I believe that the Fediverse is heading in the right direction and operates in the way the original web (WWW) was designed to operate – as a distributed web of linked information. On the Fediverse, people have more control and freedom over their activity. They are not bound to algorithms, which determine what they can and cannot see.
Personally, I far prefer using Mastodon over Twitter due to its natural user experience and community-orientated approach. Furthermore, Mastodon does not use any fancy news feed algorithms making it easier to discover new content.