My last article about killing off Facebook may have been a bit harsh to some who rely on the social network, and respect the technology Silicon Valley has built. But since I wrote this article I have been enlightened to some of the technical means which could retake the internet back to its idealist phase. These fall under the rubric of the Fediverse and importantly the W3C Recommendation called ActivityPub.
There is a lot to go over to understand what could be the implications of the burgeoning Fediverse and its backbone ActivityPub, but as in most of my posts I will try to keep it rather simple although the technical and social aspirations of these are enormous: nothing less than the transformation of the web to a (more or less) corporate free, equal footing, zone of unimpeded communication.
The Fediverse refers to a parallel network to that run by corporations like Facebook and YouTube composed of a multitude of separate servers run by individual independent admins or groups that work in tandem to provide the services to a particular app. Apps include the popular social networking app Mastodon, and an alternative to YouTube called PeerTube. Indeed, I always wondered why the web seemed to have turned its back on peer-to-peer technology: I guess the copyright wars could hint at the answer. But in the Fediverse there is no central power, each node/server in the system is on mostly equal footing and operates according to its own standards. These federated networked apps use ActivityPub as the means to integrate all of these disparate server instances into one network, where, for example, writing a blog post on Write Freely will show up in someone’s Mastodon feed. It is the antidote to the walled gardens of Facebook and Twitter which are built to keep the user individualized within these respective platforms.
With ActivityPub and the Fediverse one can once again glimpse the vision of the utopian internet pioneers like Tim Berners-Lee who envisioned a rather commercialess zone of free expression for purposes such as academic research, socializing as opposed to what he calls “the commercialization of friendship”, and really a slew of interlocking purposes now closed off by the surveillance capitalistic approach of the current internet sovereigns.
The Fediverse does not close off the possibility to entrepreneurship. For example, I tried setting up my own Mastodon instance on a DigitalOcean droplet but after a couple of days was stagnating. Along comes Hugo Gameiro who runs a service called Masto.host where he will set up and host the instance for you but give you admin controls, so you are fact in control of your (federated) network without having to be a Linux genius.
I also now write short blog posts on a great Fediverse app called Write Freely which is a stripped down blogging platform that provides just the basics one needs to well, express themselves freely.
Working in the Fediverse is a truly liberating experience, freeing you from the surveillance capitalism of Facebook, Twitter, Google and their ilk, where there is little to no corporate influence, where ads are essentially non-existent, and where one is free to choose and switch platforms as they like and maintain a lot of the content and followers as they interact and produce new content.
The Fediverse, as its name implies, is a really ambitious project, or rather set of projects, that could offer the way forward on a stagnating internet more caught up in scandal than in providing the utility and freedom it once promised.
I encourage you dear reader to research concepts like the Fediverse and ActivityPub and the individual apps these make possible and hopefully go ahead and spin up instances of your own. This can only strengthen the Fediverse and make it into a real alternative to the increasingly commercial surveillance oriented machinations of Silicon Valley and Beijing Big Tech.