The Fediverse Saga: How Shall We Conquer Our Challenges?

(source: imgflip)


I was inspired to write this topic by the discussion of Fediverse needs: More developers started by @weex:

The reason why I started a separate thread is because the other topic doesn’t cover the full problem, imho. It is not just about the developers, but about all fedizens (you might call them stakeholders) that participate in and are passionate for the Fediverse.

The Good News

I help maintain the app watchlist for litlle over a year now, and added the developer watchlist. Since then a ton of projects have been added. From that perspective one could say that the Fediverse is growing, though not all of these projects have picked up steam.

Also the diversity of the apps have increased. Different app types are being created, and devs are slowly venturing beyond the narrow scope of Microblogging to tap more of the full potential that is in the ActivityPub-related open standards.

There is very exciting research going on, which - though not directly ActivityPub related - might help us go next-level, and also attract more technologists to help extend our common foundations.

Also there’s a lot of interest from the European Commission and EU and local government institutions in what the Fediverse has to offer. At SocialHub we organized a 3-part event (video recordings available) to stimulate that. From the EU and their new Horizon Europe programs a lot of funding may come forth.

As an uplifting vision of how we can collaboratively strengthen the Fediverse I wrote the Spiral Island analogy:

Our challenge is to be able to wheather the storms that will surely come as we move into the future. That is…

The Fediverse Challenge

Previously I wrote this on SocialHub:

Tragedy of the Commons

Just like FOSS the fedi suffers from The Tragedy of The Commons. Some human/social characteristics on the Problem side:

  • Complacency. “Hurray, we have arrived. The fedi is strong and will continue to exist”
  • Anarchy. “We don’t need to organize, just relax and enjoy. Things move by themself and go as they go”
  • Individualism. “I’ll just do my thing, run my project, and have no time or willingness to look beyond that”
  • Division. “I am holier than thou, and I don’t like some things you do. Hence I’ll ignore or fight you”
  • Self-interest. “I’ll choose the fun bits, if they are handed on a platter. Someone else do the chores”

These are generalisations, of course. There are many fine people around, helping fedi forwards (They create forums, like this one, for instance :slight_smile: ). But we also lose a lot of them again, because they become disillusioned, or just burn out after a while.

United in Diversity

We have something unique on the Fediverse in terms of culture and diversity. Sure, there are many problems and reasons to complain, but doing so without providing solutions or helping to improve (which I see a lot of fedizens do) is contra-productive.

For our Fediverse Futures we must evolve, not devolve. Evolution, not revolution. People talking about Fediverse catching up and beating the traditional social networkin platforms sorely miss the broader perspective: the weaknesses outlined above. They must be tackled first, or we’ll burn from within.

After the EU event at SocialHub we adopted two inspiring slogans, or rallying cries:

  • United in Diversity: Let’s benefit from the unique position we have, safeguard it, and build further upon these strengths.
  • Social Networking Reimagined: Jump on the opportunity to do things differently this time. Truly social and for real people.

Let’s make them more meaningful!

The Way Forward?

The wikipedia page on Tragedy of The Commons offers little in way of solutions, as it has a different perspective. Except in the small paragraph “The Mid-Way Solution”. I highlighted important keywords:

One of the significant actions areas which can dwell as potential solution is to have co-shared communities that have partial ownership from governmental side and partial ownership from the community.[151] By ownership, here it is referred to planning, sharing, using, benefiting and supervision of the resources which ensure that the power is not held in one or two hands only.[152] Since, involvement of multiple stakeholders is necessary responsibilities can be shared across them based on their abilities and capacities in terms of human resources, infrastructure development ability, and legal aspects, etc.

All the elements we need for a healthy future are already there. But they are fragmented and dispersed. There’s little empowerment and joining of forces. There’s opportunities in tighter collaboration in terms of reciprocity and synergy.

The difficulty is that in most cases we require volunteers “willing to do the chores” and have a persistent group of them at it. I am convinced that solutions lie in these three fields:

  • Advocacy: Storytelling, awareness, rallying people to the cause, community-building, finding contributors, encouragement
  • Community work: Communication, planning, organizing, events, documentation, relationships, cross-pollination, co-creation
  • Governance: Strategy, steering, direction, overview, co-ownership, participation, democratic influence, unison, shared vision

Social Networking Reimagined

The Fediverse is not individual apps, loosely tied together here and there. It is one organism, a true social network. With its diversity in people and application types, and decentralized nature, it is more complex than traditional social network. At least it will be, if we want to tap into its full potential.

We have a unique opportunity now. To reinvent what “social” means in the the digital space. The Fediverse can be a field lab, a staging ground and playground of groundbreaking and innovative humane technologies.

To achieve this, we MUST see it as this organism, not focus on individual cells. We MUST dedicate on uniting people behind its cause, using advocacy, community work and governance.

Besides my own advocacy (of which this topic is part) I do community work at SocialHub, not just on technical side of things, but trying to appeal to a broader audience of technologists and other fedizens / stakeholders to join our member base. It is often unthankful and very time-consuming work.

In many aspects SocialHub is still ‘just-a-forum’ and not a true community. Something more is needed that ties things together. Hence I created a first draft of:

Federated Diversity Foundation

In the fediverse organization on Codeberg I drafted this site:

I kept its aims modest till now, to avoid the divisiveness that invariably comes with more ambitious plans. The word “foundation” has nothing to do with non-profits or NGO’s or other incorporations. It means “ground to stand upon”, just like the floating base of Spiral Island.

What is Fedi Foundation’s purpose?

Community empowerment • Cooperation • Healthy growth • Advocacy

From the About page:

  • We empower community. Strong communities build strong ecosystems. We are dedicated to the success of the SocialHub, our community, and we support our fellow members. Together we ensure that Activitypub rocks.
  • We foster cooperation. Creating a solid technology foundation is a collective effort. We streamline organization and processes to make that easier. Encouraging member interaction, and extending relationships across the web.
  • We facilitate healthy growth. We want more technologists to join the fray. To make Fediverse stronger, evolve our open standards, and facilitate a vibrant ecosystem of free software projects that interoperate.
  • We advocate our work. More people should know what we do, and why we do it. Our vision is one of “Social Networking Reimagined”. We spread the message of Humane Technology and the promise of being United in Diversity.

I view the Fediverse in layers, where each one builds upon the next. I represented this as a lightbulb, where the current flows from the anode upwards, to eventually shine its brilliant light (and illuminate the world :wink: )

The fediverse lightbulb goes from Foundation, to SocialHub, to Ecosystem and finally to Fediverse

Please participate. Act!

If you want to know more about Fedi Foundation, then comment to Presenting Fedi Foundation: Empowerment for SocialHub community - Community - SocialHub

If you want to discuss how Fediverse Town might fit into all of this, then comment to Positioning and purpose of Fediverse Town community forum

Or just add your comments below.

SocialHub community

Help cross-pollinate between Fediverse Town and SocialHub. We are not just for techies. We need feedback from the broader community.

Join SocialHub and Let's Reimagine Social Networking


I’m not sure Tragedy of the Commons is a useful analogy for us.
First of all, it seems the reasoning behind that idea first put forth five decades ago had no scientific evidence behind it (see: The Myth of the Tragedy of the Commons | Climate & Capitalism). The Tragedy of the Commons is perhaps not even factually true according to popular understanding of it.
Second, it was used initially to back up eugenics rhetoric. Not something we want to perpetuate.

But going deeper, in developing these ideas Hardin talks about a jointly owned community resource being over exploited. What jointly owned resource are we examining here? And since we are talking about a socially created resource, can it possibly be over exploited?

I think the most important foundation we need to foster is community. And not just a community of developers and code. We need to work with real tangible communities that already exist in the world. If we aren’t building things that serve the needs of people today, we will never build a future where communities are thriving.

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Maybe that is so. At least both the Wikipedia page, as well as your link apply to a different perspective. I refer to the frequent use to refer to problems faced by the (F)OSS community, where everyone is thriving on open-source, while FOSS maintainers are unable to eek out a living if they want to, and keep burning out.

This definition refers to work by Elinor Ostrom. Quoting from Wikipedia (highlight mine):

Ostrom is probably best known for revisiting the so-called “tragedy of the commons" – a theory proposed by biologist Garrett Hardin in 1968. [19][23]

“In an article by the same name published in the journal Science, Hardin theorized that if each herdsman sharing a piece of common grazing land made the individually rational economic decision of increasing the number of cattle he keeps on the land, the collective effect would deplete or destroy the commons. In other words, multiple individuals—acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest—will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen. Ostrom believes that the “tragedy” in such situations isn’t inevitable, as Hardin thought. Instead, if the herders decide to cooperate with one another, monitoring each other’s use of the land and enforcing rules for managing it, they can avoid the tragedy.[19]

More joint collaboration is the plea in my post.

The Fediverse, of course, where everyone is using it, but hardly anyone builds and much fewer still do the chores and volunteer to bring builders and other representives together to collectively improve and extend its technological foundation upon which all fedizens stand.

In the analogy of Spiral Island, the base is hardly floating, we know that storms and hurricanes will come, yet we hardly add more bottles to make it stronger.

Ha ha, but this is exactly what I am arguing for, so we are in agreement. I probably expressed myself badly, or have too many links to other resources to convey that :smile:

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Ah! I don’t think you expressed it badly! Rather I did, a little bit of me being too excited and expressing badly :stuck_out_tongue:.

I think really all I wanted to emphasize was that I think a key concrete action step on with respect to the community building aspect is for people to connect with local organizations and see how fedi tools can help fufill their needs. But I don’t think we can just be fediverse evangelicals about it. It’s not useful when strangers come in and tell you that this new doodad has the solution to all your problems.

Something to do here on forums for that end might be organizing resources of people who have done some of that in order to help folks figure out how they might best work with their local orgs. I’m in the process of volunteering at a couple local orgs with the hopes of working on these things, but I don’t have anything to offer resource wise yet as far as how to best go about this.

I know we’ve interacted on Mastodon/SocialHub about this topic before. I’m not really saying anything new. I’ve been attempting to communicate with a local mutual aid group and pride org about these kinds of things. Just bringing this stuff up again for more eyeballs really.