The word Fediverse comes from the joining of the words “Federated” and “Universe”. It encompasses web-based social software that is inter-operable through open protocols1 and gives each person full control over their own website and data.
(of a country or organization) set up as a single centralized unit within which each state or division keeps some internal autonomy.federated, from Oxford living Dictionaries
Where are we now?
Modern social technology, for the most part, revolves around huge central areas of power. Places like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google have become household names. But these sorts of companies are not conducive to a free and open world.
These central powers monopolise much of the communication between people and fully own and control the data that they collect from said communications.
Not only do they own that data, but it is their core business models to learn as much as possible about us and monetise that data for their actual customers – their investors2.
Not only is this dangerous to a free and open world, and along with it freedom of speech, but it also strips people of their control over a huge portion of what it means to be a human being on the planet Earth today – their personal data.
Data about people, is people.Aral Balkan, Cyborg Rights Activist
Huge leaps in the right direction
The Fediverse tips the current digital social system on its head, by enabling people to take back ownership over their digital selves. With certain services that are available, you3 have the ability to choose alternatives to mainstream technology – you have the ability to take back control, as these federated services have decentralisation built into their core.
This decentralisation removes the giant centres we’re used to seeing, leveling the playing field and giving each person an equal place from which to speak.
Yes, you would need to set up your own installation, or have somebody with the know-how you trust do it for you. But once you have that freedom with your very own digital home – that you truly own and control – it’s very liberating.
Let’s use a service called “Mastodon” as an example here. Mastodon is often described as being a federated Twitter, which it is, but I think it’s important to really hammer home what that actually means. And the principles I will describe here apply to many other types of federated social sites. For example: Peertube – a federated youtube contender; and Pixelfed – a federated Instagram clone.
It’s also worth saying that when we say something is a federated version of a current site, that current site has zero to do with them – it is just a way for people to grasp what the given federated site offers by way of general features.
Mastodon, for example
Mastodon is not just a single website. It is an open source project that can power anybody’s website.Me trying to explain mastodon in a single line.
If I have my own installation of Mastodon (each installation is known as an Instance, by the way), then I have my very own Twitter-like website where I can share my thoughts and images with anybody who would care to read them. And if you had your own instance of it, you could do the same.
For example, if:
- I have mine at https://mastodon.davidpeach.co.uk (I do, by the way. Come and say hello. :))
- You have yours at https://mastodon.rickgrimes.co.uk
We would be at completely different web addresses. However, we would still be able to communicate with one another, thanks to the way that mastodon works. (In comparision, everyone who uses Twitter goes through https://twitter.com. So talking to one another there takes place in Twitter’s house, as it were). With federation, the communication is done so between the people involved; from their own homes.
What makes the Fediverse federated, is its ability to enable people to have their own self-controlled instance of a service and still be able to connect with other people as we have come to love4 about Twitter et al. And imagine that, but with thousands and thousands of instances – all able to talk to one another.
It’s going to be a long hard road out of our current situation, but it all starts here – in the Fediverse.
And it doesn’t stop there.
A big tennet of federated services, is that there are no lock-ins to any particular one.
Earlier on I mentioned some other federated services – Peertube (for video sharing) and Pixelfed (a federated version of Instagram). Let’s suppose that I have a friend who has an instance of Peertube, where they share video reviews on, let’s say the Australian soap “Neighbours”. And let’s suppose I wanted to get updates from that friend, but I only have my own Mastodon site. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could follow his Peertube site, but from my Mastodon?
You already know what’s coming doing you? 😀
For example, I can follow a content creator from their own instance of Peertube, and have their messages come through in my mastodon feed. This is the exact opposite of how we are currently used to seeing online services. The big social networks have lock-ins to their own walled gardens – the Fediverse is a huge open park where people can choose to travel through it any way they wish.
The beauty, and extra special powers, of the fediverse is that it isn’t limited to a single service. The underlying protocols (ways that the sites communicate) are designed in such a way that they can be used by any service that wishes to implement them. And those messages still go from person to person – there is no central authority to trust and / or fear.
Joining the Fediverse
Right now, it is hard for none-tech people to get up and running with their very own instance of a chosen service. This is the fediverse’s biggest hurdle right now in my opinion, but it is still early days and hopefully things will get easier with time.
That being said, there are numerous community-driven instances of services that allow you to register on. This does go against that idea of self-control and ownership that I have been talking about somewhat. However, we all have to start somewhere and joining a popular community instance is a great way to try it out and even discover new friends. Plus, once you are comfortable in the Fediverse, there is nothing stopping you from starting your own instance later on down the road, should you have the technical knowledge or someone to help you do so.
If you would like advice, I’d be happy to help where I can. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you, after reading this, will give the fediverse a try for yourself. This is freedom of speech at its best on the web right now, and I encourage you to give it a go for yourself. And if / when you do, come and say hello: https://mastodon.davidpeach.co.uk
The fediverse is an agreement that the people who use social services online, indeed the entire web, should be in full control and ownership of 100% of their data. They should be free to be who they want to be, without being beholden to huge conglomerates whose only bar for success is profit for renting access to peoples private data.
Come on over and say hello.
- A protocol is an agreed method of communication between multiple players. For example: https in web addresses stands for HyperText Transport Protocol Secure [return]
- People who invest in Silicon Valley “Start Ups”, spits on floor in disgust, are actually investing in the eventual sale of the business. This often, if not always, involves the monetisation of innocent people’s data. [return]
- The majority of people out there are not tech-loving web developers who enjoy messing with server configurations for fun. Just because it’s technically possible to host your own instance of a federated social network, does not mean you have the know-how, time or inclanation to do so. Moving forwards, these sorts of services need to be made super simple to get up and running, which I know is a priority of the maintainers of some of these projects. [return]
- The only thing I can love about some of these services, is how it has enabled closer collaboration and greater connection between people who may never have even met. It’s just a shame that it had to be done first with such toxic business models. [return]