My thoughts on the future of the federation and how various groups can and will use it
I have been using the fediverse for almost 2 years now, its quite a while, although compared to many other users it isnt any substansive amount of time at all. I was very vaguely aware of sealion.club back when that was an instance, but that was when i was still very loosely into FOSS software and alternative tools.
Federated social media has come a long way since GNU/Social and I am not the best person to talk about the history of the fediverse itself. However I have listened to people talk about the core ideas and experienced the fediverse as my primary form of social media for about 2 years. (At the time of writing)
For the uninitiated, the fediverse is a federated form of social media, where instead of having one server host the entire social media, the fediverse allows anyone, including you and me, to host their own instance of their software of choice to interact with other instances. A popular comparison i've seen is that it is similar to email, and it is, in that you are shown as an address to other instances. For example; email@example.com is my account name and you just have to @ it on the fediverse to be able to contact me.
An obvious issue that comes up with the ability for anyone to make an instance is the issue of moderation. A common bat to beat people with is the bat of "harrassment", its the buzzword to bring up whenever any group of people have any sort of freedom, usually the people who wield this bat are the ones who end up actually harrassing people, however the concern in this instance does have some weight. The technical bar for hosting an instance is quite low, more of a monetary cost than a technical one. I do believe however, that the admin tools for instances are currently enough to both allow the users of the fediverse to curate their own experiences how they want, and for in the worst cases, the admins to directly intervene if necessary.
To give a brief overview of the things a user can do, A user can block or mute any offending accounts, or block words or phrases from appearing in their feeds too. This in my opinion is sufficient for most cases of someone being rude or trying to annoy you and although i dont really use such tools, I havent really thought of a situation where I have needed much more.
For some, that isnt enough, and primarily on Instances running the mastodoon software have co-ordinated a list of instances that they deem to be some form of "bad" and not suitable for their users. This is called #fediblock, and it started as a hashtag with recommendations to get instances added to this blacklist. It now has a website at fediblock.org. The reasons for said blocks range from things like "spam" to such things as "racism" and others dont have any reason listed. Even stuff like "doesnt block" X instance are also listed. Its interesting in its own way to see.
The use of admin tools, combined with consensus has and will make for an interesting shift in the overall structure of the fediverse, not just from these people, but other, more fairminded people will also fall into a similar route.
this next segment will be a short pseudo response to FSE admin Petes #fediunblock and as a segue to the circles idea https://blog.freespeechextremist.com/blog/fediunblock.html
Its an interesting idea and a clever counter to the fediblock, by using their list to turn a blacklist into a whitelist, one which will grow without any input from the user or Pete, he can effectively find the "good" instances that are willing to talk about a wider range of topics without spending a lot of time on it. As stated in his blogpost, the reasons for being put on the list can be as simple as not putting a certain instance that was on the list, onto said instances block list.
As such, the creation of two circles are formed, those of #fediblock, and those of #fediunblock. This circle would have been created anyway, however this formalises it and gives direct instructions to its creation. Pete makes an interesting point which sort of shows the way he views fedi, and the way he conducts himself on it.
"People flip out about this stuff, but fedi is a place where people talk about weird stuff they're hacking on, songs they wrote, food they ate, anime, jokes, memes, brainfuck programs that generate memes about anime girls eating food. It's a place of fever dreams, dirty jokes, drunken lies. Fedi's a party: conduct yourself accordingly. "
This sounds fine and for the most part, matches the general attitude of most people i have interacted with on the fediverse, This however doesnt account for everyone who may be interested in the protocal, which is fine but may be undesireable for some.
GAB, a twitter-like alternative, formed by Andrew Torba, is one of the alt-tech social media sites vying for the eyes of the American Right, more specifically the Christian right. The story of Gab is an interesting one, as the social media site has been deplatformed from every major step that it could have been, and has even been entirely rewritten. These, to their credit, were obviously no easy task and the dev team deserves credit for still having a working service, despite the trials and tribulations. The head of the site, Andrew Torba is not a developer himself, just a man with certain ideals, a good bit of money and business sense, and passion. There are of course negative stories about him, theres one about bees and some of his ideas have been flip-flop'y. however they dont matter to me in this context and I am not that aware of the specifics so I wont say much more on that tangent.
Gab however, did try to join the fediverse at one point. I dont recall the details of the affair and I am not the best person to retell the story, however I can give the general gyst and info that is relevant to this blogpost. Gabs rewrite is based off of Mastodon, which is one of the Fediverse softwares, both front end and back end. I believe Alex Gleason was involved in rewriting the mastodon code in order to be more performant and suit Gabs goals, I remember reading about how they wanted to switch from python to Ruby, that kinda thing. Gleason now has departed from Gab, I dont believe it was on friendly terms but he has launched his own FE, Soapbox and I believe helps run the spinster instance and makes a bit of money doing so.
Gabs attempts to join the fediverse didnt last long, perhaps 2-3 months before they decided to disable federation. They had decided that the people on the general fediverse werent the kind they wanted to interact with. I think it is worth considering the kind of people on Gab and why they werent compatible with the wider fediverse. This is interesting to note as Gab itself has a somewhat split userbase, whilst the site itself is "right wing" its still got its own set of subusers a beliefs, the "anime-right" made its home on Gab for a time, however their tendency to shitpost and post more lewd anime pics meant that a large amount were banned and migrated either back to twitter, or onto other fediverse instances.
Other sites have looked at the possiblity of moving to federation, Minds' CEO stated on a stream with Tim Pool that he was looking into the possibility of utilizing federation. Minds however has a quite different way of functioning, I cant remember it too well of the top of my head, however iirc their monetization relied on a method of boosting posts in a similar way to sponsored posts on something like twitter. This may be able to work in a federated enviroment, however the insentive to actually utilize such a system would be quite low, as pleroma and mastodon instances would not interact with that promoted content in the same way. It would seem to me, that they would either need to revamp their services, even beyond the back and front end stuff to get it working, in order to try and get something compatible with fedi going. They could opt to optimise their own software and effectively create their own fediverse, or leverage the activitypub protocal to create their own "circle", enabling them to have more control.
Gab could do something similar, when they first described Gab Socials federation, they told people that they would be able to run their own gab social server, however they would still be beholden to the whims of the wider Gab team. With the more Christian theme of Gab, I could see them trying the federation concept again, but with a more closed off approach, for example, I could see them having someone host a Gab instance somewhere in Europe, and they could even call it Gab Europe. Something like that anyway, i'm just spitballing, this would entirely remove them from the fediverse conversation as it stands.
The issue with Minds and Gab, and the way in which their users present themselves, as shown in Petes quote, is that they may not mesh quite so well with the majority of the users of the fediverse. This goes for Parlers users too, as that service requires a firstname secondname setup with even requiring a users mobile number to sign up. In simple terms, its like forcing Facebook users to interact with Twitter ones. This may be fine for some, but I think for many admins, it would not mesh well. Hell, even I would prefer to have something real name based as far removed as possible from the more free form username based stuff. Its one of the reasons why I hate the idea being pushed for REALID and that sort of thing as the solution to 'big tech censorship'.
It goes against my traditional "just sell me a burger ffs" mentality, however I find the idea of open minded people making their own services and seeking others in that capacity. It sort of follows in Moldbugs idea of what needs to be done and I think that is the way that 'we' as people are going to be pushed, at least if we want to try and overcome the hardship brought on by these regressive companies and those currently in power who seek to remove our ability to speak. These circles will form naturally as a result and this will accelerate into a battle over basic infastructure whether we like it or not. This is all on top of pushing our government to enact positive change.
There is the general notion of 'The Public Sqaure' the idea in which ideas can freely flow and debates can be had, all in public for the general populace to see. This is a novel concept in a time where people are deplatformed, beaten and in a frightenly growing number of cases, killed for saying things that are deemed bad by others. The fediverse, free and open software and the internet can serve the general public in being a great way of distributing information, as we have seen in this youth of the internet, we may have lost in the sense that only a handful of companies control the majority of internet traffic, this is something we as people can work on. To that end I think that the British government, and other western nations, could do with using the fediverse and activitypub as a digital public square.
To this end I think a new circle should be formed. This 'Public Square' could allow citizens to recieve information from their local councils and government, without having to restort to the likes of Twitter, and still maintain the benefit that using a social media platform over something like a static website can offer. Whilst I personally would prefer a smaller government to ignore social media, aside from being a glorified RSS feed, I understand the turning tide of the changing culture into a more direct one. Generally though, it is poor policy to be too interactive with the public, as enough time needs to be spent to formulate responses that match to legal reality. However if you zoom in figuratively to the more local level, and have a Digital Public Square where politicians themselves can interact with their constituents more rapidly and develop their ideas in real time, it could serve the public immensely compared to the current state of affairs, where politicians take a loud stupid minority as the wishes of the people on sites like Twitter.
In my opinion, this public square would have to be distinct from the wider fediverse, not just to preserve the unique culture of the fediverse, but also to reframe the purpose of the site in order to make sure that it is viewed from a civil discussion standpoint, as that is the best way to both garner a positive image of the concept, but also keep it productive and a positive use of MP's time.
This has veered slightly from what I was trying to say when I initially starting writing this at the start of the month, however I think that I am happy in the way in which my thoughts developed.