Escaping ruling class and corporate domination is one of the reasons some people choose to migrate to the Fediverse. Even some of the other reasons, like ads, engagement obsession, political censorship, content sorting algorithms, can all be traced back to corporate control.

While corporations don’t have much control of the Fediverse today, could they in the future?

One might think that Fediverse is designed to make this impossible. In my opinion, it is only designed to somewhat resist this, but it is still vulnerable to ruling class takeover. The ruling class doesn’t need that now, as they already control all major social networks, and Fediverse remains a niche. But shall that change, they might be out to try to control it. Can they succeed?

I’ll admit and say I am very far from an expert, so I hope someone will correct me if I make any mistakes due to misunderstanding the Fediverse.

Instead of centralizing a social network in a single instance controlled by a single entity, the Fediverse can be federated into multiple instances. However, to host an instance, requires some investment, and although it can be small for some services, it is a barrier that many people choose not to cross.

Hence, as we have already seen, instances are controlled by either organizations or groups who pooled funds for their instance, or individuals who incurred the initial investment themselves. Not bad, so far. However, this does present an issue. If the Fediverse were to grow more instances, people who have money are more capable of starting new instances. It also favors people who don’t live in countries where salaries and cost of living are lower, which would make renting VPS even more expensive to them. This gap is closed as the software gets better and more lightweight, but as it stands, this is how it works.

The other problem is that many Fediverse networks are already sort of centralized, in the sense that there is one (sometimes a handful) of instances that are biggest. This means If someone were to take over just those, they may already have enough control. This is less of a problem for platforms that matured more and have more instances.

If someone like Elon Musk were to go after the biggest instances and either offer money to buy them (which is very likely to work) or somehow pursue censoring the instances that don’t, although that is not as easy as buying a single company (ignoring the cost difference), it is still quite easy. We haven’t seen it because they haven’t sought it yet, but I fear that the Fediverse is not as resistant to this as it should.

smallcircles
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Yes, it can. I’ve posted a lot about that over time. There’s a kind of complacency that “we’ve made it” but in reality the fediverse is incredibly fragile. Now I advocate mostly on the development / technology side of things. The fediverse with its 3-5 million fedizens is supported on software side by 100-200 active developers. The average project has a single developer. Mastodon has 2 maintainers. That is an incredibly tiny base. One small corporate jumping on the hype train basically. I sometimes say that fediverse manages to be interesting… for exploitation. But not strong to withstand a corporate onslaught.

Things get worse when we look at the evolution of the (technical) ecosystem as a whole. After the open interoperability standards became final, they didn’t evolve any further. Extensions were made mostly on individual app level and not made readilly accessible to others. New app developers have a very hard time onboarding and integrating with other apps involves reverse-engineering from code bases on an app-by-app basis. Overall interoperability deteriorates over time, if there’s not more collaborative attention for fedi’s ecosystem evolution.

The potential of the Fediverse is much bigger than what we have now. Currently Microblogging dominates. But there are so many different app types that have social aspects that could lend themselves to be federated. If that would happen and integrations between different app types become more seamless and deeper, a real “social fabric” would appear that walled garden corporates would find hard to compete with. In that situation the fediverse as a whole will start generating its own network effects. If have - for me personally - defined a vision of the Peopleverse for the fedi future, which is more social-oriented, than the current tech-oriented fediverse. Fediverse (technical) --> Peopleverse (social).

Of course after a corporate takeover there will always be a niche where the ‘old fedi’ can still be found, just like on the corporate web you can still find delightful personal blogs, bulletin boards. But it won’t be the same, and it will likely be harder to find. If Twitter would embrace ActivityPub - what many fedizens hope for - then fediverse will be sorely disrupted, I am afraid.

PS. I wrote more on this in Fediverse Futures community, and recently took some notes on fixing the technology adoption lifecycle and having a shared technology vision.

Dessalines
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@humanetech@lemmy.ml hit the nail on the head, that the biggest danger is convincing current fediverse devs to sell out, which due to our small number, and tiny amount of current funding ( most of us get less funding than youtubers ), would be incredibly easy.

Throw a few fediverse devs some high salaries or payoffs, and you could easily tank the fediverse.

The only way to fight this, and to grow the fediverse, is provide more open funding so that we can add more developers and grow these projects.

smallcircles
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When it comes to funding I also think that we need more of that to happen beyond the individual app level as contributions to - what I call - ‘substrate formation’, i.e. the people, processes and specs on which all apps rely. Focus on the health of the ecosystem as a whole. If we look at grants that are available, for instance, all of them offer funding for very specific research, often resulting in apps being built.

But afterwards these apps start to bring their own extensions and variations to the specs to the ecosystem and have to spend a metric ton of time to figure out how to integrate well enough with the next app. This happens haphazardly as I mentioned above. In order to have the specs and ‘official’ extensions be properly documented and to get them broadly adopted a whole lot of community effort and collaboration needs to take place. And this isn’t happening. The work that this involves is too much to ask of sole individual volunteers, plus they are the boring and unthankful chores.

Though how this is best set up is another matter altogether. We don’t want a committee or a NGO or other formal structure with authority. Our organization where this collaboration takes place needs to take the fediverse culture and grassroots nature into account.

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PS. @dessalines@lemmy.ml that issue you mentioned with masto dot social federation, is that also why this branch of the thread doesn’t show up when looking from masto UI, while others do appear?

Amicese
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comfy
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If someone like Elon Musk were to go after the biggest instances and either offer money to buy them (which is very likely to work)

Is it?

Consider Lemmy. Of the 4 largest instances, 3 are explicitly political. The two anti-capitalist ones won’t sell to a billionaire by principle, and I honestly think wolfballs’ admin would be the kind who understands how corporations and the mega-rich are against their beliefs.

Consider Mastodon. I don’t have much experience with it but the second biggest instance is run by an anti-capitalist, and most of the big instances I suspect were made by ‘left’ users, with the notable corporate exception of pawoo. I honestly think many or most would block an instance openly controlled by Musk or similar, although that is admittedly a naïve guess.

People who started those instances are here because they are not there. That’s important. Like someone else said, subversion is a bigger threat I think.

Cyclohexane
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A couple of things:

  • just because they have anti capitalist views doesn’t mean they won’t sell. I agree, it’s way less likely, but it’s not like no socialist has sold off before.
  • this is speaking about the current state of the Fediverse, as a niche space. Many of its users are highly political. This wouldn’t be the case if the Fediverse became more mainstream.

Member when half the fedi decided to block mastodon.social because they didn’t moderate their users?

comfy
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I wasn’t there, so I don’t. Any blogs about it?

Whelp, I can’t find it. I remember the metaposts but searching doesn’t bring up anything. 😖

comfy
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That’s alright, I believe it. I just assumed it would be moderated somewhat tightly due to the main dev’s political openness and separation from “alt-tech” instances like Gab.

Although I did find this little gem from reddit 9 months ago ;)

It’s possible they fixed it since then. I remember there was controversy around the most active mod leaving and the whole instance becoming a cesspit. I knew a few people who left for smaller instances. But Eugen seems to be trying to make the platform more palatable to new people (plus his silly official app that doesn’t have all the features), so I guess he found replacement mods.

Which second Mastodon instance you’re talking about? I’m trying to find suitable Mastodon instances

comfy
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It’s the one run by the founder which is being overwhelmed with new users. Just go to the joinmastodon official site to find one big and stable, and compatible with your interests!

You are talking about mastodon.online right?

comfy
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I was talking about mastodon.social, they’re both run by Eugen.

@Tomat0
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I think this mentality is far too narrow and can lead to problems down the road. And it’s a dangerously common one among leftists. The bigger threat right now isn’t some sort of shadowy cabal of elites, it’s market-based logic, which can manifest through the little guy just as much as the big guy.

For example, I’m already seeing discussions of “ethical advertising” or “paying influencers” but this only raises more questions. How will we keep funding this model? What happens when we’re outcompeted by other sites like Twitter for ad revenue? After all why wouldn’t an advertiser pick the method which is more effective. Natural selection and administrative costs will slowly chip away at what distinguishes us.

The foundations you lay now play a role in determining your future. By refusing any form of commercialization, it forces us to innovate to cut costs. This could be cutting technological overhead as with PeerTube’s WebTorrent, it could be setting a foundation for promoting/getting content on the Fediverse which isn’t dependent on constantly having to pay people to switch over.

The blockchain-based and "free speech"platforms do exactly this and it’s why they all die so quickly. They may be little guys but they lack the patience/imagination to approach the issue in an organic fashion, end up trying to ape the big players, and never build a foundation strong enough to last. The market doesn’t think in moralistic terms, it doesn’t care how big or little you are, the only way out isn’t to compete on revenue-based grounds.

This is why I think it’s important that in these early discussions we continue to oppose all forms of monetization/strategies reliant on large and continuous spending. It sets up a vicious cycle that’s impossible to escape.

@TheConquestOfBed
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The thing that keeps people around on Mastodon is decreased alienation. When you try to sell people something they turn off. But masto’s longevity I think is attributable to the way small servers make people feel when making internet friends. That’s something you can’t replicate on a big platform because it’s not profitable. But twitter users will spend so much of their own resources chasing that feeling when Masto just gives it to you for free.

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Nice, and I mostly agree with it. I also translated that ‘fedi speak’ about “ruling class” to market dynamics in my reply. Basically the forces of hypercapitalism taking, first a foothold, and then control. I am very much in favor of de-emphasizing the role of money in our society, but at the same time don’t reject the notion that we have an economy where money is a natural part, a necessary tool, to make it work at scale. I am not against forms of monetization in the free software community, but they should be oriented towards establishing sustainable business and have a different set of values that are safeguarded in this new environment. By extension I see that for the future of the fediverse too. But it is tricky, of course. Solving the decades old stuggle of FOSS and ‘tragedy of the commons’ basically. Though some people have negative outlooks of how that struggle is progressing (with the log4j security event, for instance) I feel a very positive vibe emerging. There are a lot initiatives moving into the proper direction. And many of those can be found on the fediverse.

If someone like Elon Musk were to go after the biggest instances and either offer money to buy them (which is very likely to work)

I 100% expect this will happen. It would still be not too bad for the fediverse compared to twitter currently. Lets say elon buys mastodon.social, I can still move to mstdn.social and continue from there and federate with mastodon.social. Currently, if i want to partake on twitter, I have to have a twitter account.

There is also the xmpp problem:

How google killed xmpp: How google killed xmpp; the short version was that it was an up-and-coming federated protocol, with people working on clients and stuff, and trying to attract users. then everyone got really excited when Google decided to start using XMPP in their Google Talk product, because it would mean instant adoption by a ton of people! except now everyone just used Google Talk as their client, because it was ahead of the existing XMPP clients in terms of usability/UX, and UX work on other clients kinda died. but over time, Google being Google, they got distracted and started neglecting Google Talk, failing to enable TLS support while the rest of the XMPP ecosystem started making it mandatory, essentially cutting off all Google Talk users from the rest of the XMPP network. so now you had a Google Talk network that everyone was using with a decent-ish client, and an XMPP network that a bunch of people were using with clients that sucked, and they couldn’t talk, and all the momentum in developing a strong stand-alone network was lost due to people letting Google control the whole thing

Trump social might already be doing a variation via mastodon.

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On a side note: XMPP has recovered from this blow and is thriving again with some nice modern clients as well.

Jama
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Meh, on android the major clients are conversation and conversation’s forks. Those are OK, but not modern or feauture rich by any mean

Totally agree. Those are good clients but not modern by any means

Side note, since you seem to be new to this topic: even most VPS are controlled by a very small number of providers.

But that’s not as much of a problem as it might first seem.

Appliances can be made. For example, an easy to install package running on raspberry pi or similar platform. YUNoHost delves into this specific niche of the problem set landscape. But in short, self hosting actually needn’t be a economic hurdle either.

Then there’s dependency on DNS. This too has free as in beer solutions across the world.

Ultimately federation can and should be peer to peer. They are not mutually exclusive.

Federation can be thought of as an agreement between entities, and each entity can be sovereign, and composed of a single human at the same time.

The benefit and advantage of federation, vs p2p alone, is that people, such as a family or group of friends or community, CAN pool resources, and actually lessen the economic burden on each individual on the process.

You are focusing on control. That isn’t yet and probably won’t be an issue. I could go into that, but…

What you should be focusing on is subversion. This is a more immediate, current, and also historical problem for fediverse developers. As mentioned elsewhere in this thread there is few developers and almost no funding. This isn’t an accident. Capitalists control… Capital. Far more fundamental than controlling an individual business or even sector.

There is a reason the fediverse isn’t the dominant form of tech used by the populace and it isn’t a technology one. There’s a reason that the most popular tech is lacking and stagnant.

Status quo and economics and social pressures dominate. They starve innovation, intentionally.

If you want to fight the fight, you have to understand the nature of the enemy.

@juh
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Mail was decentralized. Then came Gmail. Code alone ist not the solution. We need cooperative operations.

comfy
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Absolutely. A company coming in, getting popular and pulling an EEE is a real threat to a protocol like ActivityPub unless the most valuable users/communities/instances aren’t there.

Cyclohexane
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I think mail suffers from the same issues as Fediverse (maybe mail was a bit worse).

comfy
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What do you mean by this?

Of course it can. If they sense profit or power, they will be spinning instances like you would not believe. Just look at what happened to bitcoin and crypto.

@projjalm
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@0x6b
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To add to this, instances could just choose to not federate either the problematic instances.

I’m into free speech, but some stuff needs to get shut down.

Make racists afraid again.

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