I’ll start with I kind of hate the term “fediverse”, but I do like the concept! If you’re not familiar with a federated network, Mastodon, or how this “bird site replacement” works, I’ll try to explain in as few words possible. A federated network is distributed amongst separate servers that communicate with each other using a common protocol or “language” (called ActivityPub if you want to dig into the details). So while your account lives in one server, because of the common language across servers, you are able to follow and reply to people on different servers.
Mastodon is one type of software that uses a shared language to create a Twitter-like replacement, and because of the federated network, all of these Mastodon servers are able to interact with each other. You could join any server and you’d be able to follow/reply to people on other servers fairly seemlessly. There are also other types of software like Pleroma or Pixelfed (which is like instagram), that also implement the same protocol, so you can even follow people using those platforms and vice versa!
You can join any server you want, and if you’re unsure I’d say just start with one of the bigs ones like mastodon.social. The server you join doesn’t matter in the sense that you can communicate with people on other servers if you want, but it does matter in that it is where your posts will live and more importantly how the server is moderated.
Whoever is hosting a Mastodon server has complete control over that server. The admins can read any post on the server, including DMs. This is the case with something like Twitter, but the perception of trust can be different when it’s just a few hobbyists running a server as opposed to a giant corporation. Those admins also have control over which servers can interact with their server. For example, an admin on a Star Wars Mastodon server could block that servers interactions with a Star Trek server. So even though the Star Trek users are following the Star Wars users (and vice versa), the admin can decide that no Star Trek server posts will appear on their timeline.
Dunbar’s Number and a Better Online Experience
Having a distributed network means smaller user bases for each server. Instead of having to moderate the interactions and posts of millions of users on a single server, moderators only have to monitor the thousands or even just hundreds on their own server, while also having the ability to block communities in mass that don’t align with the values of theirs. Additionally, if an asshole suddenly becomes the owner of the instance you’re on, the fediverse’s portability allows you to leave a server and bring your followers with you to a server that you more align with.
The concept of many, small servers really appeals to me because I think it’s the best way to scale social networking that prioritizes safety because of the theory behind Dunbar’s Number. For those not familiar, Dunbar’s Number is the concept that an individual has a cognitive limit on the number of people they can maintain a stable social relationship, that number suggested to be around 150. To me, that means that I could potentially host a server of about 100 or so users and successfully priotize the safety of their interactions in my server. And because of the federated network, those users are not isolated to my server, they can freely interact with others in other servers. Again, if some asshat decides to buy his way into owning another server and it becomes a toxic hellscape, I can easily block that server’s posts from showing up in my server’s timeline.
If you’re familiar with Discord, which while not federated, you’ll see that it has a very similar feel. My online interactions on Discord are by far the least toxic and most meaningful in large part because of the small and separated nature of the servers.
Hosting My Own Instance
Currently I host a single user instance on forcedconversation.com. I’m not sure if I will open registrations; I’m not sure what is going to be required of me to keep this thing running, what the costs will end up looking like, what moderating posts will be like, or even if there is interest to join. However, I am intrigued by the idea, especially if there were others that would be interested in helping admin and moderate the server. For now feel free to come follow me @[email protected] and if you would be interested please send me a message! I’m really excited about this technology and I hope more people start to jump on board. This feels like what the future of social networking should be!