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A Different Vision for a Healthy Fediverse

This is from a recent thread I wrote on mastodon. Reproduced with only light editing.

Hm. I feel like I wanted to like this more than I actually do. I definitely think the fediverse needs to continue to grow more capabilities. But this doesn’t feel like the energy I was looking for. Half of it feels like a laundry list of ways to commodify things. Dragging a lot of things people hate about corporate social media into the fediverse.

I’ve only just started to engage with the fediverse as a concept and a movement. And mastodon is only one part of a wide ecosystem. I think what has been surprising to me is it at least within mastodon, it doesn’t feel like the culture is centered around enabling people to build and experiment.

Maybe this is only how I think about it. But there are only a few good reasons to do all of this work. We want to reclaim our online experiences. So they aren’t fully captured by corporate interests. But after that? I think the goal should be to enable greater diversity of experience. People can have what they want by running it on their own servers. It doesn’t have to be something that we wait for someone else to build and ship.

It feels like we’re still trying to over-design corporate solutions that work for “everybody”. And that feels like constrained thinking. I feel like the fediverse should be on the other end of the spectrum. There should be an explosion of solutions. Most of them will probably be crap. But the ones who keep refining and improving will rise to the top and gain more adoption.

Honestly I don’t think “gaining adoption” is that important in a truly diverse ecosystem.

The reason concepts like adoption become useful is when it drives compatibility. We do want different servers to be able to participate in the larger society. But I think compatibility emerges because people want to participate. You have to add the value first. Then people will do the work to be compatible so they can get to the value.

If I was stating what I think is important in the fediverse right now, it would be describing what it takes to be “compatible”. I think the “core” groups around fediverse technologies should be hyper focused on describing and documenting how their foundational protocols behave. And their measure of success should be seeing other groups building compatible servers entirely independent of them. That is a healthy fediverse imo.

I don’t want to start too much trouble here. But I’m already on record with my criticisms of the open source community. I hope we can acknowledge that the community of devs, who is doing much of this work for free, has some serious cultural issues to contend with if they’re going to serve the wider set of users who want and need this stuff.

We know that corporate interests want to own and capture our experiences for the purposes of profit and control. But open source devs often want to own and capture the work. So that it can only happen the way they say. And as a result, anything we want to see happen is bottlenecked on a small set of humans who have set themselves up as gatekeepers.

I’m not suggesting this is always a malicious dynamic. A lot of times people have legitimate concerns for gatekeeping. Like protecting the security and privacy of users. Or preventing data corruption. Some elements of software do need to be scrutinized by experts so that people don’t get hurt. But I believe that’s a smaller area than people seem to think.

I’m not that interested in debating the reasons for some of the more frustrating elements of open source culture. All I’m saying today is that I believe that open source culture will need to evolve pretty quickly if it’s going to rise to this moment of enabling a healthy and vibrant fediverse.