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The free fediverses should emphasize networked communities

Part 3 of Strategies for the free fediverses

A network diagram showing nodes connected by lines in multiple colors

Part 3 of Strategies for the free fediverses.  As the first post in the series discusses, the "free fediverses" are regions of the fediverse that reject Meta and surveillance capitalism, and these strategies position the free fediverses as an alternative to Threads and "Meta's fediverses".

Join the discussion in the fediverse:
on Mastodon and on Lemmy!

L. Rhodes' Just Nodes and Networked Communities and's  The Two Camps of Mastodon discuss different views of decentralization on the fediverse.  Here's how Rhodes describes the Networked Communities view:

"instances are valuable for the relations and interactions they facilitate locally AND for their ability to connect you to other parts of the network."  

By contrast, Evan Prodromou notes that "Big Fedi" advocates typically see the instance as "mostly a dumb pipe," as opposed to a community. Rochko's November 2022 comments that the "ideal system" is one where "it doesn’t matter which server you use" make it clear which camp he's in (as so does his opposition to functionality like local-only posts that help make stronger local communities). And it's a perspective that 's likely to be the norm in Meta's fediverses, because of the prevailing "bigger is better" worldview.

But "bigger is better" is a worldview that inherently favors gigantic surveillance capitalism companies, so it's not the right model for the free fediverses. The Networked Communities view aligns much better with the free fediverses' values – as does the "Social Archipelago" view Leonora Tindall sketches in The Fediverse is Already Dead (originally written February 2023)

"Speak instead about communities, and prioritize the strength of those communities. Speak about the way those communities interact, and don’t; the way they form strands and islands and gulfs."

And not only are these views a good match for the free fediverses' values, they're a good strategy.  People who want the flat view without local communities have plenty of other options; and at least in the short term the free fediverse's network is almost certain to be smaller than Threads' and Meta's fediverses'. So strategically it makes a lot more sense to differentiate and focus on providing a different kind of value.1

How to execute on this strategy? Tindall's got several good suggestions, including

  • Take inspiration from communities like Merveilles Town that define a unique and cohesive local culture.
  • Accept the Archipelago. Don’t try to connect to every server there is; some of them definitely contain content you and your users don’t want to see, and many of them probably don’t want your users interacting with theirs. Have a set of policies about who you federate with, and stick to them.
  • If you don’t see a space in the Archipelago that looks good to you, consider making one. There’s some great starting advice at RunYourOwn.Social.

Other strategies I discuss in this series – especially consent-based federation and supporting concentric federations of instances – also align well with this strategy.

Don't forget cross-instance communities!

It's unfortunate that instances are currently the only community mechanism for Mastodon.  Fortunately, other fediverse software has the concept of cross-instance groups (and it's on the Mastodon roadmap as well) which are also a good basis for communities. Lemmy even calls these "communities" (although they currently only have public communities), and an emerging fediverse standard already allow some communications with Mastodon – and almost all Lemmy instances are blocking Threads. Mobilizon and Streams groups go farther, including private discussions

Outside the fediverse, subreddits, the broad adoption of Facebook Groups (and before that, MySpace groups), and the ongoing strength of forums highlights the potential. Forum software is starting integrate with the fediverse – Discourse has released an initial plugin, and nodebb recently got a grant from NLNet – so this is an intriguing area to build on going forward.

Networked communities could be a thing in the ATmosphere too

"Bluesky's vision for the future is at least aiming for a world where communities can own different parts of the stack without needing to be isolated. So for me, the next question is "what would it really take to get there?" For Blacksky, I think it means at least owning a custom feed, block/mutelist, moderation service, PDS, and client."

– Rudy Fraser, The Moderation article

It's not how most people are used to thinking of Bluesiy, and the community mechanisms based on the AT Protocol are still developing, still nascent, but it's really worth highligtint there's definitely potential for similar networked communitie in the ATmosphere. While Bluesky's mission is to focus on public conversations, AT Protocol-based systems could also find ways to limit visibility and provoudaries (just as today's fediverse has on top of ActivityPub).  AppViews and Relays, along with the other components Fraser lists, could even be used to create concentric federations I'll discuss in the next series.  And muliprotocol software like Bridgy Fed and Hubzilla potentially allows communities and federations that spanning today's fediverse and the ATmospehere.

Stay tuned for more!

The next installment in Strategies for the free fediverses will discuss the idea of concentric federations of instances, which fit in well with the Networked Communities view and addressing the challenge of scaling consent-based federation. And there's a long way to go after that!

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Image credit

Originally from Internet Map 1024, via Wikipedia


1 Meta's fediverses probably also won't be able to compete with Threads on this. Threads plan to make federation opt-in is the right thing to do from a privacy and safety perspective, but also means that people in Meta's fediverses won't be able to communiate with most of the people on Threads. And Meta has the option of adding communication between Threads and the billions of people on other networks like Instagram (which already shares the same infrastructure), Facebook, and WhatsApp. Longer-term, it seems to me that this is likely to be a huge challenge for Meta's fediverses, but fediverse influencers supporting federating with Meta have various arguments why it doesn't matter.