Why are we not using free, decentralized platforms?

on captainepoch's log

In the last week there was a huge influx of users joining the Fediverse1 in the wake of Elon Musk buying Twitter. Whether if this is something good or bad is a topic I am not going to get into in this post because it is out of the scope of it, but I will have to mention something related to it in another section of the post.

The “network effect” of Twitter (and others)

Twitter has been, for the past years, one of the default social media platforms where, among others, programmers and their communities resided to communicate with their users. This made Twitter the de facto platform for publishing news, software releases, and even giving support to users.

After a long time using a “free” platform to publish content, who would want to go back to the old RSS feeds, or mailists, right? Well, it turns out that a lot of people had Twitter just because they could not get their news using more traditional methods2. Twitter was the source for everything.

This, of course, drove Twitter to serve ads and to increase its data collection. For example, why does the Twitter app need to collect which applications a user has installed? It does not. And yet, it does.

If you want to check this out, go to the Privacy Policy of Twitter, section 1.2, at “Device information” (Wayback Machine link).

This behavior can be extended to any social media platform nowadays, whether it is Twitter or Facebook.

The Fediverse

After the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk, a lot of people move away from Twitter to a more open ecosystem. That is when Pleroma, Mastodon and more come along.

Pleroma and Mastodon are both Twitter clones based on the ActivityPub protocol. They enable users to interact with each other, from their own instances or using one already running by a third-party.

The fediverse offers decentralization, freedom and privacy3 for users joining the different instances of the software that comprises this universe.

But since a ton of new users moved to one or other instance, I cannot but think that they did not really care (at all) about the ecosystem in the first place. A lot of people in the FOSS world (myself included) have been trying to get people into this ecosystem for a long time, and yet we were received with slogans like “But everybody is at <insert here platform>”. The same excuse.

It is a weird feeling. It is like a banter coming from a lot of people just because another rich person bought a company. So what? It happens from time to time. And be honest for a second: Twitter sucks.

Privacy within the Fediverse

The openess of the platforms and the software made almost imposible for a sysadmin to reach the same status of advertising into the platforms. None of them support adding advertising into their software, you would have to patch it (and maintain a copy yourself with those patches) in order to add ads.

You can easily, however, add tracking scripts (such as Google Analytics) because that involves a small patch easily maintainable.

Another thing that people tend to forget is that you are putting your trust with your data into another third-party (often a couple of sysadmins). This does not guarantee any privacy if those persons are not trustworthy. The software that runs the Fediverse already collects as minimum data as possible, but still.

And also everything you posts, if not marked as a DM, is public somehow. Even the followers-only posts. If someone follows you, (s)he can see what you posted (or you have your account locked but accept a follow request).

Monetization and long-term instances

One of the problems that seems to give people the feeling of failure is that the servers are often ran by one person, and that person has to pay for everything. If the instance increases its use, it means more hardware requirements (such as RAM and storage), so maybe the person running that instance takes it down after a period of time running it.

Bear in mind that Twitter was “free” because of the advertising4 done into the platform. Owners of the instances often do not ask for donations, but it is nice if people throw some money at them to keep things running. Remember: people who run this kind of software are not rich, precisely.

To set an example: the instance mastodon.world did not have a donation page. But since the influx of new users, the administation chose to open a OpenCollective page for users to donate money and keep things running, and it is doing pretty well.

Bear in mind that, in this ecosystem, you are not the product.

Moderation of content

One thing I saw this past few days is people asking for heavy moderation of the content, specially with other federated instances. New users coming from Twitter seem to want to be under the same umbrella of heavy moderation of content that they do not see fit in their description of what it should be allowed to be posted.

The software running your instance already provides the tools to deal with this. You can mute people or whole instances, instead of running to your admin to defederate. You must have in mind that federation is what makes the fediverse.

Also, if you ask to defederate with one instance, people who want to follow from that instance and/or interact with people will not be able to do, same as you if you want to follow someone in that (defederated) instance.

There are, of course, cases in which moderation and defederation are in place, such as posting CP/CSAM. That should not be allowed by any chance. I even suggest to report that to the authorities.

Mute that person -or those persons- that you do not like, or even the whole instance, and move on. Stop asking for heavy moderation in the name of others, when you are the only one wanting that. That stifles openness of respectful discussions.

Recommended instances to join

I am not really a big fan of recommending instances, because I do not really know how the moderation team is on them, with which instances they federate or not, or just how well maintained is the instance itself.

But, since there are a lot of people joining lately, I would like them to join a couple of instances where you can express as free as the platform allows (some of them might have closed registrations at the moment of this post, go and check them back from time to time):

  • stereophonic.space is the latest instance I joined, and I have been a member since a lot of time. The admins are cool guys and they can help you with any problem you have there.
  • nixnet.social is another cool instance, with a good and thoughtful moderation team.
  • blob.cat is another comfy instance, a bit moderated, but very open to discussions if you are respectful with eachother. Also, blobcats.

You will have, of course, comply with the legal requirements such as not posting anything illegal under the country the instance is hosted (they add that at the “About” page, normally).

The expected behavior on all of those instances is: do not be a dick and have fun!

PS.: Those are a few of the hugh quantity of instances out there.

What does the future hold?

What the future holds for the Fediverse is unknown. This is something that is new and exciting, and people seem to have a good time while interacting with others.

There are, of course, any kind of people there, and you should curate your experience there a bit to enjoy to the fullest.

I suggest to you, a new user to the Fediverse, that you should join a very open-minded instance and explore the Fediverse to the fullest, so you can see you will not miss propietary social platforms (with time, of course).

I only talked here about Pleroma and Mastodon, but the Fediverse is more than those:

And more that may come in the future.

  1. A set of applications using the ActivityPub API design to be able to talk with eachother. It is a decentralized ecosystem. ↩︎

  2. RSS feeds, mailists, newsletters, IRC channels and topics, forums… ↩︎

  3. In a sense. Check the section Privacy within the Fediverse↩︎

  4. As a monetization method to keep things running. ↩︎