Twitter Bluesky, Protocols versus Platforms and the Fediverse

It’s Tiny, but the Fediverse is Growing

Protocols versus Platforms

Network Rivalry

The two big problems in decentralized social

  • Problem 1 — business models: the wild frontier nature of the decentralized efforts has often led to a blanket rejection of business models such as advertising as “evil”. This, in turn, has created a reliance on donations. It’s possible this will work for some services, but it’s unlikely to be a long term solution for everyone. If these services are to be robust for non-technical users, they will need teams of people to maintain them and this takes stable forms of income. In my view, a protocol based world should allow more freedom to experiment with business models not less. In other words, one could easily imagine network servers that charge for access and others that support free services with advertising. This allows users to choose. Without this freedom, it seems likely that the availability of these services to many will stay out of reach.
  • 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”?



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Steven Willmott

Steven Willmott


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