Twitter Bluesky, Protocols versus Platforms and the Fediverse

It’s Tiny, but the Fediverse is Growing

Hopefully, Twitter’s bluesky team will look at the protocols and services already out there and multiply those efforts, but even if they don’t the good news is their announcement has raised the profile of that existing work.

Protocols versus Platforms

The key point behind these services is that they are based on open protocols that anyone can implement. Once implemented, new nodes can join the global network and enable communication with users on other nodes. Each node can survive independently of the others and (in theory) set its own rules for usage, access etc. This contrasts with the platform model where one company (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) controls all of the servers that make up a particular network.

Network Rivalry

One of the negatives of the reaction to Twitter’s Bluesky announcement was a significant amount of backlash in “we’re already doing it” from some of the Fediverse advocates. It is natural to see some “it’s about time” reactions and some wariness of an organization as large as Twitter potentially not having the same objectives. Despite this, it would genuinely be better if everybody started assuming good intent at the beginning.

The two big problems in decentralized social

Decentralizing social networks removes a key dependency on a key player, but it doesn’t suddenly make the internet a “friendly place”. Nor is it obvious how to support all these decentralized nodes.

  • Problem 2 — reputation and regulation: there has been an enormous amount of criticism of Twitter and Facebook over how they have dealt with hate speech and fake news. Some arguing that they restrict speech. Others arguing that they do not police it enough. This is an extremely tough problem to solve. For a while, decentralized networks like Mastodon were presented as “Twitter without Nazis” but it has quickly become obvious that it is, in fact, even harder to control the use of a platform and open source technology for hate speech than it is a single provider platform. The whole ethos of the protocol approach is that anyone can run a set of nodes and be free of controls. So when the hard-right social network Gab migrated to Mastodon this caused the Mastodon communities to have to think hard about their policies. Ultimately the solution taken is the only reasonable one given the network structure: to allow individual nodes to set policies about which networks they accept messages from and then set policies on types of speech. This means they cannot stop Gab from operating, but they don’t have to accept messages from the network. This solves the problem to some extent (and maybe it’s the best that can ever be done) but it really underscores the second key decentralized network problem: it is decentralized reputation which is really hard, not decentralized communication.

Will the Fediverse “Kill the Platforms”?

If we protocols and decentralized services grow will the large platform players be displaced and cease to be relevant? Or in more bombastic terms “will Mastodon kill Twitter”?

Recovering ex-CEO. Thoughts are my own and don't represent my employer.

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