If you’ve been paying attention to the latest social media news, you’ll know that platforms like Twitter and Facebook are hitting all-time lows. Millions of members are searching for other social networks now, with apps Mastodon becoming quite popular for its federations of interconnected servers. That’s where the Fediverse comes in.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what the Fediverse is and why it’s quickly becoming an alternative to Twitter and Mastodon. You’ll also see what the issues are with federated servers, giving you some idea if it’s a good move to these apps.
What is the Fediverse?
The Fediverse is a portmanteau of two terms; federated and universe. Essentially the Fediverse refers to the idea of decentralized networks of all kinds that can communicate with each other. For example, Mastodon is just one arm of the Fediverse. However, within Mastodon, you can interact with other arms of the Fediverse and vice versa. Think of the Fediverse as a web of interconnected services, servers, apps, and platforms.
The rest of the Fediverse works very similarly to Mastodon, in that servers are called instances and that anyone can create a brand-new instance. Also like Mastodon, users who don’t want to create a brand-new instance can opt to simply create a profile within an existing instance. The subsequent profile will not limit the user to interacting exclusively with other profiles in the selected instance, but instead lets the user interact with any instance, associated application, or part of the Fediverse.
On paper, the Fediverse sounds like the social media innovation we’ve needed. With it, users can:
- Communicate only with their chosen grouping, whether this be friends, family, or other users with shared interests or proclivities.
- Gain access to an entire suite of social networking apps and services all connected to the federated network.
- Use social networking sites without the fear that their data is being harvested and used for profit.
Unfortunately, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows where the Fediverse is concerned. There are significant drawbacks.
The issue with federated social networks
With any fairly novel innovation, there are bound to be a few drawbacks. Some of these will be mere kinks in the fabric of the system that need to be ironed out, but others may be a little more serious and detrimental to the longevity of the system. Here are the drawbacks of federated networks.
Connecting with others
It’s significantly more difficult to connect with other people when using a federated social network. If you don’t already know people who use the network, there’s little to no point in making the move to a service like Mastodon. In order for connection to be easy, you need to either have people interested in joining an instance you create, or you need to know people in the instance you want to join.
Making connections within the federated social network ecosystem is difficult because you cannot import connections or lists of contacts from other services. You also can’t check your timeline for posts from distantly connected accounts, like friends of friends. You also cannot initiate searches for hashtags or posts as decentralized instances don’t have any posts saved in their local database. Additionally, not all instances are on the public web, and so cannot be found without considerable effort.
Fragility within the Fediverse
Because the Fediverse is composed of a network of software services and instances that are run from users’ phones, computers, and other devices, there’s little clarity on who ‘maintains’ the servers. In actuality, due to the use of the word ‘server’ as a precursor for the term ‘instance,’ it’s difficult to nail down how the servers are operated in the first place. Therefore, I don’t know where they are based or whose laws and jurisdiction they fall under. This is something that is incredibly important when a company or individual claims that a network is safe or secure.
Many publications fall back on how people are ‘flocking’ to Mastodon as a way to try and convince more people to join. However, according to Mastodon’s official website, the platform currently hosts 1.8 million users. While this means that between the beginning of November and now, the platform has gained approximately 1 million new users, it also means that Mastodon is far from popular. Just to put that number into perspective, New York, literally just the city of New York, is home to almost 9 million people. Mastodon has 1.8 million users. In fact, the entire Mastodon population can fit into Manhattan, with room to spare.
With these few users scattered across the globe, what are the chances of you being able to find an instance within which you’d feel at home? Slim at best.
Is the Fediverse the future of social networking?
No. I refer to an extended comment by Davide Aversa, concerning the future of the Fediverse and Mastodon.
‘I tried to jump on the Mastodon train several times; however, I was never really convinced by it. To be honest, I was never really interested in any open-source clone of popular commercial social networks. And like me, 99% of the non-technical people I know.’
‘At first, I thought the cause of this was that open source clones have the impossible task of breaking the inertia and attraction power of the “original” platform. After all, clones are built after the original platform became successful, and, therefore, they always start with a certain level of disadvantage. More importantly, though, they do not add anything to the user experience. So why should someone choose to go to some less populated and more inconvenient place to do the same things they already happily do?’
I am in complete agreement here. If the Fediverse and Mastodon are the future of social network, both utilities would need to be vastly different. Why are these novel platforms so concerned with cloning the existing model upon which social media is run?
Social media, at present, is a collection of personally curated echo chambers that limit access to contrary opinions and the people that hold them unless you expressly search for them as I do. The entire business model of a modern social network is to fill your feed with the content that you’re most likely to interact with so that you keep using the app for longer. Endless scrolling. That’s what social media overlords want most of the time. This isn’t even a conspiracy.
Numerous psychologists and neuroscientists have weighed in on the damage that social media can do, and how effective the scrolling function is at essentially holding your attention for as long as possible. The more you use social media, the more ads you are shown, the more data you serve up on a silver platform, the more predisposed you become to using social media even more. It is an addiction, one that has taken lives, destroyed relationships, and led to untold instances of violence.
If we want a truly open and free social networking experience, we need to create it from the ground up, not base it directly on the toxic systems currently in place.
On the topic of toxic systems, if a group of people want you to leave a social network because its new owner introduces free speech, there’s a problem with that group of people. If this same group of people tries to encourage you to join a network that actively seeks to prevent the presence of law enforcement, you need to ask yourself why. And, lastly, if proponents of a particular movement, stance, or ideology refer to anyone with mildly dissenting opinions as a Nazi, why should they be considered a credible source or a voice of reason.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and every other social media platform currently available, won’t last forever. But, they aren’t likely to be replaced by the Fediverse, at least not in its current iteration. The future of social networking may be open-source, but it likely won’t be the modern echo chamber extreme known as Mastodon. Heck, social media may even be dying.
If you’re not sure about this app, you can check some alternatives to Twitter and Mastadon.