I've recently jumped ship from Twitter to Mastodon/the Fediverse after one too many blunders from our new Mars-obsessed overlord.

With this jump, I've become much more curious about the inner workings of ActivityPub, the protocol enabling isolated social media servers to share content. Mastodon, Pleroma, and PixelFed, among many others cropping up, implement this protocol.

Honestly, I love the idea of the Fediverse and I do believe it's likely that this strategy of allowing online identities & followers to move around between services will be the future. My mind has been abuzz with ideas of what the future might hold here - I've also been looking for little gaps in the current offerings (it's Christmas holidays and I'm bored, any excuse to code up a new web-service...!)

While I haven't built anything within the Fediverse yet, I have been watching as others have the same idea and the community response has surprised me.

The Chasm

We are still very much sitting on the 'early market' side of the chasm (above), and many active members are enthusiasts with strong opinions around how this platform should evolve.

Discussions already abound about whether some features should/shouldn't be implemented. For example: 'quote tweeting'. Eugen Rochko, The lead developer of Mastodon has said

I've made a deliberate choice against a quoting feature because it inevitably adds toxicity to people's behaviours. You are tempted to quote when you should be replying, and so you speak at your audience instead of with the person you are talking to. It becomes performative. Even when doing it for "good" like ridiculing awful comments, you are giving awful comments more eyeballs that way. No quote toots.

Whilst this is totally reasonable, it's his software and this reasoning is fair - the inevitable reality is that someone will create an ActivityPub compliant server that does support quote posts, and the existing protocol will either have to adapt to support this formally or extensions will be used to represent quote posts.

This is where the community response has surprised me. Half the benefit of this protocol-based social media system is no vendor lock in; anyone can create a better Twitter/Instagram/YouTube and users can decide to switch or not, without losing their followers & flow of content.

That said: the idea of someone coming along and creating an anonymous follow service or a fediverse search engine has seemed to make people a bit angry, with the introduction of the likes of #FediBlock and other community dependent mass-blocking solutions. Frankly, these attempts are not a scalable solution to keeping the Fediverse from evolving.

These systems can be built, and they will be built as time goes on. Fortunately I haven't seen many, if any, bad faith actors building malicious services on ActivityPub, but that too will happen, and we need to be ready.

If you post it on the Fediverse, it's public content. There is no concept of private. Even 'followers only' and private messages are being sent to servers outside of your control.

Public content will, with time, become indexed searchable content. And with time, there will be big players in the Fedi search space, most significantly advertisers, which I would hope & expect will respect the community as existing search/advertising players do (more or less). But there is very little we can do with an open, public-first protocol, to prevent posts being viewed by external services.

If this is unacceptable to you, maybe a fully-federated, public social network isn't what you want. It's possible to run Mastodon with federation completely disabled to create a private network.

I hope with time we become more accepting of experimental Fediverse related projects. Eventually search is going to exist, some platforms may support quote posting, others may not. This is a huge opportunity for new ways of communicating to be trialled. The barrier to entry for alternate players is much lower now that users can exist on all platforms simultaneously, let's not squash that opportunity by piling hate on every new project created because it's different to the way we would traditionally like things run.

Anyway, if I haven't offended you follow me at @jyelewis@fosstodon.org.