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The free fediverses should support concentric federations of instances

Part 4 of Strategies for the free fediverses

Concentric circles, each made up of multiple circles, in multiple bright colors

Part 4 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!
"To lighten the load of potentially having to federate with small instances one-by-one, I propose a system called "caracoles": you essentially ask to join concentric federations of instances ... with smaller caracoles able to vote to federate with entire other caracoles."

– Kat Marchán, on
"The fedifam would be a family or alliance of instances. Communities could align into fedifams based on whatever conditions of identity, philosophy or interest are relevant to them. Instances allied into fedifams could share resources and mutually support each other in many ways"

– ophiocephalic, on

Some kind of federation between instances is a natural extension of the Networked Communities and Social Archipelago models.  The idea of alliances or groupings has been floating around the fediverse for a long time (I first heard it from's original admins at the Federating with the Trouble presentation at Open Source Bridge in 2017) but unfortunately, the highest-profile federation of instances to date was largely seen as an attempt by instances that tolerate harassment to trick other instances into supporting them. Oh well.  Still, the underlying idea's a good one – and a natural match for a community-focused, anti-surveillance capitalism free fediverses.

Terminology note: coalition, block, alliance, union, league, and collective are also used to refer to this concept

As both Marchán and ophiocephaic highlight, caracoles or fedifams help deal with the scalability of consent-based federation.  For example, ophiocephalic suggests that

"Fedifams could form treaties of trust with each other, easing the introduction of new instances into the broader network. This would become especially important if, as some are suggesting, a complete block of Facebook and its collaborator instances requires a switch from blocklists to allow-lists."

An initial implementation of concentric federations could be build on top of today's fediverse platforms that have some support for consent-based federation – including Mastodon.

This approach has many other potential benefits as well. ophiocephalic notes that fedifams could also share a common charter of moderation principles, blocklists or allow-lists, resources (such as video and podcast hosting and an opt-in search engine), and hosting infrastructure.  Several of these ideas don't even require additional software support at the platform level. Going farther, in Threat modeling Meta, the fediverse, and privacy I note that fedifams and caracoles "could also be potential post visibility boundaries, providing more alternatives to fully public posts." This would require more changes to the underlying software, although Akkoma's "bubble" already has some of these characteristics.

Update, February 22: The Chuckya fork of GlitchSoc (which is in turn a fork of Mastodon) is working on a bubble implementation!  

Once you start to think about it, there are a lot of other potential benefits. For example, concentric federations could also be a useful framework for dealing with conflicts between instances, a long-standing challenge for the fediverse. And the "missing replies" problem (where quirks of ActivityPub's federation model means that people frequently don't see an entire conversation) seems like it's much more tractable at the fedifam/caracol level than globally.

What about federated cross-instance communities?

As discussed above, cross-instance communities are a useful complement to instanced-based communities, so it's also worth looking at how cross-instance communities fit into concentric federation. Reddit's multireddits (a combined feed from multiple reddits) are a small step in this direction on a centralized social network, and there have already been requests for similar Lemmy functionality ("supercommunities"). That said, it's still an open question how cross-instance communities fit into concentric federations, so this is more an interesting area to consider than a specific short-term recommendation.

If I can just get political here for a second ...

It's worth highlighting that both Marchán's and ophiocephalic's suggestions have explicitly political overtones. Marchán's highlights that name caracol "comes from the system of federations that make up the Zapatista MAREZ", and ophiocephalic similarly notes that "critical to the understanding and acceptance of this model is the horizontal distribution of power ... consistent with both the Zapatista and Rojava programs."

By contrast, companies like Meta, and surveillance capitalism in general, centralize power.  So an organization emphazing a more horizontal distribution of power is a good match for the free fediverses' values – and aligns well with the positioning of opposing Meta and surveillance capitalism.

Stay tuned for more!

The next installments in Strategies for the free fediverses will discuss moving between instances, working with people in Meta's fediverse and other social networks who share the free fediverses' value – and "transitive defederation": defederating instances that federate with Threads as well as threads.  Transitive defederation's a controversial topic and I'm not necessarily recommending it – but I am recommending considering it, so I expect . And there's a long way to go after that, so stay tuned!

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