What exactly is the Fediverse? (2024)

What exactly is the Fediverse? (2024)

I’ll level with you here; When I first heard about the Fediverse, I thought my boss was saying “Feta-Verse” (and as an aside, that’s a really good name for a futuristic-themed Greek restaurant. Just saying).

I quickly realized that Greek cheese had nothing to do with the magic of the Fediverse. And so I dove straight into learning more about it.

What is it?

On the internet, the Fediverse is a group of social media websites that can all talk to each other, even though they are different. So, if you have an account on one website, you can still send messages and share things with friends on other websites.

Why’s it called Fedi?

You’ve probably heard of the Metaverse. But the term “fediverse” is a combination of the words “federation” and “universe”. A federation is defined as “a group of states with a central government but independence in internal affairs.” But instead of different states with a central government, it’s different servers with a centralized protocol. More on that later.

Okay… huh? Can you give an example?

No, I know. It’s a lot to take in. Bear with me here:

The internet is like a big community center where everyone can join different clubs and activities. Imagine there are many clubs, like a drawing club, a singing club, a cooking club, and a sports club. In most community centers, if you’re in the drawing club, you can only hang out with other people in the drawing club. If you’re in the singing club, you can only talk to other singers. You get the idea.

But in the Fediverse community center, it doesn’t matter which club you’re in—you can talk to and share things with people in all the other clubs. So, if you love drawing but your friend loves cooking, you can still share your drawings with your friend and they can share their recipes with you, even though you’re in different clubs.

How does that even work?

The Fediverse is a collection of interconnected, decentralized social media platforms that use common protocols to allow communication between them. Here’s how it works:

1. Decentralization

Unlike traditional social networks that are controlled by a single company, the Fediverse is made up of many independent servers, often called instances, run by different individuals or organizations. Each instance can have its own rules and policies, but they all communicate using the same protocol.

2. Common Protocols

The primary protocol that connects these instances is called ActivityPub. ActivityPub allows different platforms to share content, follow each other, and interact seamlessly. This protocol standardizes the way information is exchanged, making it possible for users on one instance to interact with users on another.

A lot of times, the Fediverse is compared to sending an email. You might be on Gmail and your recipient might be on Outlook. Even though you use different servers (with different features), you’re able to communicate seamlessly.

3. Interoperability

When you join an instance on the Fediverse, you can create an account just like you would on any social network. However, because all instances speak the same “language” (protocol), you can follow and communicate with users on other instances. For example, you could have an account on Mastodon (a Twitter-like service) and follow someone on PeerTube (a YouTube-like service).

4. Content Sharing

Users can post content, share updates, like, comment, and share posts across instances. For example, a post made on Mastodon can be viewed and interacted with by someone on a different Mastodon instance or even on a different platform like Friendica or Pleroma.

5. Customization and Control

Each instance in the Fediverse can be customized by its administrators to suit the needs and preferences of its community. This includes setting moderation policies, interface design, and even community guidelines. Users can choose instances that align with their values or interests.

6. Privacy and Security

Since the Fediverse is decentralized, no single entity owns or controls all the data. This can enhance privacy and security, as users are not subject to the data collection practices of large corporations. Users can choose instances with strict privacy policies and better control over their personal information.

7. Challenges

The decentralized nature of the Fediverse also presents challenges, such as varying levels of moderation across instances and potential compatibility issues. However, the community-driven approach allows for flexibility and innovation in addressing these challenges.

Oh sweet! So if I post on Facebook, my post can go right to LinkedIn, TikTok, and beyond?

Not quite. As an aside, a similar idea of cross-platform exists within some of these larger brands. An example being you can share Instagram posts to Facebook, since they’re both under Meta. But immediately the similarities end because those are now two separate posts, one for each platform.

So if I commented on the Instagram photo dump you also shared as a Facebook post, my comment would only live on Instagram. And your grandma’s comment would only live on Facebook.

In the Fediverse, the post and engagement all live on the same post, no matter the platform it’s being interacted with on.

When you think of “social media platforms” the big ones come to mind. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter X, TikTok… the list goes on. And most likely, these platforms you’re naming aren’t a part of the Fediverse (yet).

Okay but why do larger social networks not want to join the Fediverse?

I had the same question. Larger social networks like Facebook and Twitter (for example) generally don’t want to join the Fediverse for several reasons:

  1. Control and Monetization: Large social networks prefer to maintain control over their platforms to maximize their revenue through advertising and data collection. By staying within their own ecosystems, they can better control user experience, serve targeted ads, and collect user data for monetization purposes
  2. Brand Identity: These platforms have built strong brand identities and user bases. Integrating with the Fediverse could dilute their brand and make it harder to maintain a consistent user experience across different platforms
  3. Security and Moderation: Joining the Fediverse means sharing responsibility for content moderation and security with other platforms. This can complicate efforts to maintain a safe and secure environment for users. Large networks prefer to manage these aspects internally to better control what appears on their platforms and how issues are handled
  4. Technical and Operational Challenges: Integrating with the Fediverse involves technical complexities and operational challenges. It requires adapting to decentralized protocols and ensuring compatibility with a wide range of platforms, which can be resource-intensive.
  5. User Engagement and Retention: Large social networks aim to keep users engaged within their platforms as long as possible. Allowing easy interaction with other networks might reduce user retention and engagement on their own platforms, potentially impacting their business models which thrive off of maximizing the amount of time users spend with their product. 

Overall, the desire to maintain control, ensure security, protect brand identity, and maximize user engagement and monetization are key reasons why larger social networks typically avoid joining the Fediverse.

So, who’s in the Fediverse currently?

A few examples are:

  • Mastodon: A microblogging platform very similar to Twitter.
  • PeerTube: A video-sharing platform similar to YouTube.
  • Friendica: A social network that can connect with other Fediverse platforms and even some traditional social networks.
  • Pleroma: Another microblogging platform that is lightweight and customizable

Wait, what’s ActivityPub again?

I get it, it’s a lot.

ActivityPub is the glue of the Fediverse, essentially enabling the different social media platforms to communicate and interact with each other through a standardized protocol. This protocol allows for decentralized networking, where multiple independent servers (instances) can connect, creating a network where no single entity has control over all the data. This decentralization enhances privacy and prevents data monopolies by large corporations.

The main strength of ActivityPub lies in its ability to make different platforms interoperable. Users on various platforms, such as Mastodon for microblogging or PeerTube for video sharing, can follow and interact with each other seamlessly. ActivityPub uses standardized activity streams to log activities like posting updates, following users, and liking posts, ensuring these actions can be understood across different platforms.

By enabling federated timelines (the ones I mentioned at the beginning of this post), ActivityPub allows activities to be broadcast to followers across different instances, creating a cohesive timeline for users. This interoperability and flexibility make the Fediverse a diverse and innovative social media ecosystem, allowing for a wide range of applications and services to be built on top of the protocol.

This is pretty cool… right?

It is but…… it brings up some tougher questions. I know— another can of worms in the world of the Internet and ethics. Sigh.

As I mentioned earlier, security, safety, and moderation are different than your typical social networks.

Instances get to pick and choose which sites they want to federate with and block. The owners of these instances set their own moderation and federation policies, giving you the freedom to join any instance where you feel safe and comfortable.

Because the fediverse is federated and distributed, there’s no centralized moderation. You can always check an instance’s info page to see if you like their moderation policy. 

For example, instances on JoinMastodon.org agree to specific rules, ensuring active moderation against racism, sexism, and transphobia. There are other moderation rules out there too, so you can find an instance that suits your needs.

But without a central moderation, it does cause more security and safety issues across the Fediverse.

What’s The Future of Fediverse?

The good news is that the CEO of Meta Mark Zuckerberg is “pro” Fediverse. Or at least claims to be.

The Instagram version of Twitter, called Threads, is in the Fediverse (call it the Threadiverse… boo, I know). Their website states “Our vision is that Threads enables communication between you and people on other servers we don’t own or control. This means that your Threads profile can be followed by people using different servers on the fediverse, and eventually, you’ll be able to follow them from Threads.”

So I guess potential integration into the fediverse isn’t far off for top social networks? We’ll see.

But it does beg the question of why? Is Meta just throwing the fediverse a bone or will they really give up their monopoly for the potential future of the internet?

In the meantime, I’ll be patting myself on the back for not using any Feta puns in this blog (would have been pretty cheesy if I had–).

What do you think of the Fediverse? The way of the future or too much hassle for too little payoff?