The future of social media is the fediverse, but we have to want it first
Imagine if the only way we could exchange emails was to go to the same platform everyone else uses. And if we weren’t on that platform, we couldn’t communicate with each other. That’s the current state of social media, right now. Everything is centralized.
Take Messenger as an example. It’s a centralized system where you’re either in and subject to everything that entails or out. Ever since I deleted all of my Meta accounts (Facebook and Instagram), I can no longer exchange messages with friends that use Messenger.
Imagine if you could message people from Twitter to Facebook or from Facebook to an open-source messaging app. The ability to do that would require decentralized open standard protocols similar to what email servers use.
Now imagine being socially connected with anyone on any platform. You could view and engage with posts and follow them without needing an account on their service. That exists today, and it’s called the fediverse, and it’s powered by a scrappy open standard called ActivityPub.
Seeking an inflection point
We are inherently lazy about our technology and how we communicate online. We have a herd mentality when it comes to social media; we go where we believe everyone else is. We skip over the fine-print, ignore the hidden data aggregation, tracking, and fingerprinting, and use the tools provided to us to share, like, amplify, and debate what pops up in an algorithmically controlled feed that’s forced upon us. Most of all, we don’t question it. It is what it is, and it makes us feel more connected to our family, friends, and acquaintances.
Sometimes our social media trance is broken from self-reflection, while other times, something happens that’s existential to the platform. The latter recently happened for many people when Elon Musk announced a hostile takeover of Twitter. As a result, many people like me began to consider Twitter alternatives, and where we landed was on Mastodon.
I’ve looked at the fediverse and Mastodon in the past, but the technology and UX weren’t quite there yet. So my experience with it, like I assume it has been for most people looking for alternatives, was testing it out and then going back to Twitter. However, this time around, it was different. The UX has vastly improved, more people are actively using Mastodon, and they’ve made it easier to discover people and content.
Decentralizing social connections
There’s something very cool about hosting your social presence, as I’m doing at coywolf.social, and being able to follow and engage with other people on different servers worldwide. The fediverse becomes even more impressive when you realize you can follow people on different kinds of social networks. For example, PixelFed is an Instagram alternative that supports ActivityPub, and I can follow any PixelFed profile from Mastodon and get their image posts in my feed. It’s the equivalent of getting native Instagram posts in your Twitter feed. It’s as incredible as it sounds.
Still, though, ActivityPub and the fediverse is a grassroots effort. When you look closely at the people driving these technologies, it’s just people trying to make a better web. Corporations have yet to get behind the fediverse because there’s no profit incentive. If anything, it’s the antithesis of their entire revenue model.
Even so, Twitter announced an initiative in late 2019 called bluesky. It has had a slow start but has recently started to gain momentum again. Bluesky is attempting to create a protocol that accomplishes what ActivityPub does but does so with Web3 principles. They see ActivityPub as broken, whereas I, and many others, do not.
ActivityPub works, and the fediverse is real, but like all new technologies, it needs more resources to evolve into something more stable, secure, and scalable. It also needs momentum and users. ActivityPub now has that.
Participate in the future you want
The fediverse is diverse, weird, and interesting. It also reminds me of the early web, and I like it.
If you are curious to see what it’s like, go create an account at mastodon.social. Explore users and posts on the server and check out other servers. Follow me at coywolf.social and test messaging and engaging in posts. Check out PixelFed and try following profiles from your Mastodon account.
I think you’ll start to see the potential of the fediverse, and it’s the “aha” moment that will make you want it and be a part of the community that makes the fediverse a replacement for what we have settled for today.