First publication in the category “Think it”, and one of the most interesting topics to present first is undoubtedly: Mastodon and more broadly Fediverse, i.e. decentralized social networks. But before starting anything, two words :
The purpose of the article is not to give a detailed presentation of the Fediverse and its technology (I have neither the knowledge nor the skills), but to popularize its operation. So there will be shortcuts and omissions, sorry.
Mastodon, the unchained Twitter
If you have already taken a look at this blog, you may have already noticed the icon on the left. This is Mastodon, which could be described as a decentralized Twitter. In fact, Mastodon is a free alternative to Twitter: code accessible in one click, transparency and the ability to create your own server with your own rules and community.
Maybe I’m a bit fast, so let me clarify this : When you’re using Twitter or an other micro-blogging tool, you can post a message, share other people’s messages, create hashtags, chat with a particular person, actually do micro-blogging. However, you can interact only with people from Twitter. Here is the most important difference with Mastodon.
Mastodon is decentralized, which means that the social network is not managed by a single server… but by several. These last ones are created by the users of the platform and have for each of them their own rules, themes, languages (potentially)… These servers are called instances and imagine them as “tiny Twitter”. These little Twitter are connected as a federated social network which means they are connected between themselves, allowing their users to interact with publications or users from another instance. Well, maybe a presentation video will clarify everything :
To summarize: Mastodon is a social network, operating not around one server but several servers. These servers, called instances, can be created and hosted by any user, with their rules, their theme, in short their identity. Depending on their interests, other users can join the instance of their choice and interact with any other instance. The instances can also follow each other (sharing their news feeds and creating a node of instances).
If the technology seems revolutionary, it’s not. In fact, it’s mainly a return to the origins: those of Arpanet. Although things have changed, the network of networks was designed to work with machines that were interconnected with each other.
Fediverse or more flexible social interactions
Although the world has changed, there is nothing stopping us from returning to the good old peer-to-peer system. That’s where Fediverse comes in. If Mastodon is a micro-blogging tool, divided into instances; at the Fediverse level, see it as one of the interconnected services offered by it
Fediverse, a portmanteau of federation and universe, is the name of the federated (or interconnected servers using for web publishing (the first one being micro-blogging). Their users are able to communicate over the boundaries of the instances because the software running on the servers support one or more communication protocols which follow the open standard (Thanks Wikipedia).
A representation may be clearer : So, imagine you are using Facebook and with it, you can also interact with people or publications of Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat ; similarly, you can comment a Youtube video, directly with the account of one of all these social media. This is what Fediverse can offer you.
There are many alternatives to the most popular social networks, such as for Facebook : Diaspora ; Twitter : Mastodon, Friendica ; Instagram : PixelFed ; Youtube : Peertube ; Reddit : Lemmy… Because they are using at least one of the same communication protocol (language) : ActivityPub ; all of them can (normally) interact between each others. You can view Fediverse as the Esperanto of social networks… By the way, there is a Fediverse application (be careful, it has become paid for) that can be used with its Mastodon, Diaspora or Peertube account (probably the others too, but I haven’t tried).
As for the number of users, it is clearly lower than these centralized models… but is that really a bad thing ?
I will talk more about Mastodon than Fediverse (but it’s the same logical for it too). Mastodon isn’t a start up (french publication) and so doesn’t need more money or users to expanse itself or simply, be a success. It’s the same (empty) debate than for the Esperanto language, so three things:
- The value of the network is not proportional to its number of users.
- It does not need to overtake or equal Twitter to be a success.
- If you don’t join it (Subscribe ! Subscribe ! Subscribe ! All this bullshit), it will not disappear.
Mastodon offers a different experience than Twitter, more intimate and dedicated to peer interaction. A federated social network is built around its communities, which can be very large or, on the contrast, very specialized, like around a language or a specific subject. We can decide with more freedom what we want and so we don’t need all our friends and family to be on the social network to meet “interesting people” or to have access to interesting content. We prefer quality to quantity (which is actually opposed to the model we know).
Personnally, I prefer to follow the thread of my conversations (and those of others) calmly without being constantly attacked by an army of retweets, reactions and comments. However, if for you, your “influence” is very important, even vital ; well in this case, Mastodon or the Fediverse will not be interesting.
That’s why if I ever had to create videos, it would be posted on Peertube (first). Well, actually that’s what I’d like to do, so it’s mostly a matter of time.
Now, using only the Fediverse is a bit… limited… for now. In fact, I will not use only Fediverse and alternatives tools, firstly for questions of visibility and contact, secondly for reasons of practicality. And I don’t give a shit if for some people don’t be a 100% “free-content player” is like doing nothing. Well, no for this kind of reaction this is my answer : Bullshit. You can’t just be your budding Richard Stallman and consider that the only way to get away from GAFA is to stop using their services overnight. It’s just going to make people want to do nothing.
In my case, I mix the two worlds and if you don’t like it, well, not my problem.
Oh, there is of course an Mastodon Esperantist instance. There are more than 300 people on it which can interact with others instances and services of the Fediverse 😉 If I had to synthesize all this : with Mastodon or Fediverse and co, you have some ammunitions to regain control over your digital life and use social networks more peacefully.