What's the fediverse? (It's not blockchain) What's the fediverse? (It's not blockchain)

What's the fediverse? (It's not blockchain)

Twitter has been bought and Mastodon, a Twitter alternative that lives within the Fediverse, is the 'new hotness'. There are claims that its decentralized with hopes to be the next big thing, but hold on... that sounds an awful lot like the promises of crypto and blockchain, and we know how that went.

Thankfully, Mastodon and the 'Federation Universe' are not hypercapitalism masquerading as the great equaliser to save us all and bring forth a new age. The goal is simple, make services less centralized so that no one entity can start charging $8 for half the ads. This is achieved by allowing anyone to run their own Mastodon instance, and permitting users registered on other (or their own) Mastodon instance to interact with theirs.

For example, someone could sign up for Mastodon on (fake sites) mastodontvshows.com, and use that identity to interact with running instances on steveswebsite.com, mastodon.germany.social, and boardgames.social. Unlike cryptobro claims about blockchain, there is the acceptance of some centralization in that each instance is run and controlled by some entity, however if something were to go wrong anyone can spin up a new competing instance. Awesome!

Unfortunately, if the Mastodon instance that you initially signed up with (and therefore tied your identity to) shut down, then so too would your existence, partially (turns out keeping distributed systems in sync is complicated). For that reason, many users host their own instances or keep copies of their account data if they ever need to switch to a new instance.

For most people, that's all you need to know about Mastodon. But, the Fediverse is bigger than Mastodon. The backbone of Mastodon and the wider Fediverse is a standardized protocol known as ActivityPub. Any service which speaks ActivityPub can communicate with any other service speaking ActivityPub; imagine one app and one identity to view 'stories' from all the people you follow, this is what ActivityPub enables.

Of course, I don't see any commercial social media companies adopting ActivityPub, so we'll have to see about 'stories'. Considering that most interest in federated social media services is coming from the ironically less sociable crowd (not to stereotype nerds too hard), and that those with the ability and drive to develop for it are probably even less likely to be interested in such a feature, I have my doubts. However, I'm keeping an eye on the fediverse and look forward to watching its development, which could not be said for my views on cryptocurrencies and blockchain solutions for problems that don't exist.

If nothing else, I recommend giving Mastodon a try.