Where have all the Twitter users gone and what is the fediverse?

Twitter seems to be dwindling as more and more users start migrating to the fediverse… What is a “fediverse”? Read on to find out…

go through Ross Shulman and Jon Callas Electronic Frontier Foundation

This article is part of a series on Mastodon and the fediverse.We also post on Mastodon about privacy and security, and Why the fediverse would be great — if we didn’t screw it up, and more on the way. You can follow EFF on Mastodon here.

A group of people announced that they were leaving Twitter to check out something called Mastodon, which left many wondering, what the heck is Mastodon? More importantly, what is “fediverse” and what is “ActivityPub”? This explainer will help you understand this new method of communication and social media.

bustling digital city square

What are Fediverse, Federation, and Mastodon?

Federation is a broad term meaning that there are smaller groups within a group that retain some degree of autonomy over the group as a whole. In Internet terms, the most famous federated system is our old friend e-mail.

No matter how much you love or hate email itself, it’s an effective syndication system that’s been around for over half a century. It doesn’t matter what email server you use, what email client you use, we all use email and the experience for all of us is more or less the same, and that’s a good thing. The web is also syndicated – any website can link, embed, reference content from any other website, generally it doesn’t matter what browser you use. The Internet started out federated and will even continue to be federated.

In 2018 the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, a standards body that provides us with many protocols, especially HTML) created a event barThis makes the federated system similar to a social network.The systems built on ActivityPub are collectively referred to as federal diversity.

One of the most well-known services in the fediverse is Mastodon, a Twitter-like social networking and communication system that many users have turned to after Twitter’s recent turmoil. At its most basic level, Mastodon is a web server (or application) that acts as a social network. Just like services like Twitter or TikTok, you use it by visiting a website or using an app on your smartphone where you post text, images and videos that your followers can see. You can also follow other people and view their posts in your own timeline. In this way, Mastodon is very similar to services you already know and probably use every day. In fact, it’s very much like Twitter itself, which is why people dissatisfied with Twitter are considering Mastodon as an alternative, and why we’re writing this article. What makes Mastodon interesting, though, is that the server (or “instance” — the two terms are used interchangeably) you’re probably using isn’t the only server in the world running Mastodon.

over the garden wall

In the early days of the Internet, there were many contained services. America Online (AOL), Prodigy, and others were available to anyone with access to them before the Internet opened up to everyone. Those old systems had many of the same tools and services we use today—instant messaging, email, shopping, and more. The problem with these is that if you want to send a message to someone on another service, there’s no good way to do it. For example, AOL Mail does not always allow someone to email someone using Prodigy. The term “walled garden” has been used to describe the situation where these services are set against the internet itself.

The walls in these gardens are finally opened, usually through the use of some underlying open, interoperable standard protocol. For example, SMTP is the protocol we still use to send email from one system to another. HTTP itself is an open, interoperable way of fetching web pages, and not every service has a different way of building and displaying pages. Now, in that tradition, some are hoping that ActivityPub will do the same for the walled garden in social media.

An ecosystem built on ActivityPub

Below that, Mastodon is just one of many different services that use ActivityPub to communicate. From one Mastodon server, one can follow and be followed by anyone else on any other Mastodon server anywhere in the world – just like you can send email from one server to anyone else on any server in the world . ActivityPub is also capable of conveying many types of content, including text, images, and video, as well as concepts such as “likes,” replies, and votes.

In fact, ActivityPub is so flexible that it forms the backbone of many different services besides Mastodon: PeerTube, a social video hosting site like YouTube; PixelFed, focused on images; Bookwyrm, a book cataloging and review site similar to Goodreads . There’s even an open source food delivery system using ActivityPub. The power of ActivityPub means you can follow an account on any of these services, and even follow an account from other services.

Each of these different services is part of open source software, so spinning up a new server with the right software will instantly allow you to interact with all the other servers out there. If you don’t have the expertise or inclination to maintain your own server, there are plenty of public servers available where you can create an account for yourself and interact with any user on any other server running any of these services. There are also many hosting sites that will do the heavy lifting on your behalf of running the server and using your domain name so you can control your own ActivityPub service.

The idea that people can interact with each other across servers is usually the hardest part for people to understand, but, as we mentioned before, it works a lot like email. Anyone who has seen an email address before knows that they have two parts: the username before the @ sign and the domain name after the @ sign. The domain name tells you which server a particular account is on. Some people have email accounts with their university or employer, and some have email accounts with public services like Google’s Gmail, Microsoft’s Office365, or Protonmail, but no matter what domain follows the @ sign, you can always send email to your Mom, your family send a message to a friend, or your bank. That’s because all of these servers use the same protocol (called Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) behind the scenes.

There is no limit to the services that can be connected to this ever-growing network. Facebook and Twitter themselves can join the fediverse by implementing the appropriate protocol on top of ActivityPub to send their content to the world of federated ActivityPub servers and users.

Fediverse Roadmap

Accounts in the fediverse (such as those on Mastodon) are similar to email in that instead of everyone being on one server (twitter.com), there are many. Someone’s handle might not be simply @alice, but @[email protected] There are already thousands of different sites that offer free Mastodon accounts, and just like email or web servers, you can run one yourself. There’s even a website to help you choose a Mastodon instance you might like.

This leads to one of the biggest questions people often ask when approaching ActivityPub, especially those switching from Twitter to Mastodon: “Which server??”

Fortunately, there are two good reasons to avoid panicking. First, anyone on (almost) any server can follow, and be followed by, anyone on any other server, so if they end up on a different server, you won’t be with your Friends and family are isolated. Second, fediverse has mechanisms for moving accounts between servers, including ways to export and import your posts, follow and block lists, and redirect your profile from one server to another. So if for some reason you find that you don’t like the first server you land on, you can always move later.

That said, there are reasons to choose one server over another. The biggest one is moderation. The Fediverse service excels at giving individuals the ability to block other accounts or even entire servers they don’t want to see on their timeline. They’re also good at having servers block accounts or entire other servers that don’t comply with their own auditing decisions. For example, an instance could be created that only allows incoming posts containing the word “cat” and permanently blocks anyone using the word “dog”. So it might be a good idea to find a server with a moderation policy that you agree with.

Another reason to choose one server over another is if that server is organized around a common community, perhaps through shared interests or language, so there will be more conversations related to that community. If you’re involved in “Law Twitter” or “Infosec Twitter” or “Historian Twitter” then that might be a reason to choose one server or the other. There are also special interest servers, such as those made for current and former Twitter employees.

How is Fediverse different?

While many people are switching from Twitter to Mastodon, let’s be clear: Mastodon is not the entire fediverse, and the fediverse is not just a Twitter replacement.

fediverse is an example of how we can change the way we Do social media. It’s still going through growing pains — like a small town going through a boom.The influx of newcomers changes the trajectory Social Part of the network, and the point of friction with oneself came.

Twitter as we know it today has been around for 15 years and has seen many changes and emerging features—for example, Twitter hashtags and the at symbol were both user-invented. It also has a dedicated team of professionals to build it. Today’s fediverse service is a labor of love from a group of software communities.

The Fediverse software is not yet as robust as the Twitter software; as one might expect from a decentralized system, there are several common clients with their own idiosyncrasies and problems. For example, support for multiple accounts is still somewhat spotty. The little features that many Twitter users are used to may not have been built yet. On the other hand, these services have many features that Twitter users have been asking for, such as higher character limits, content warnings, and the option to automatically delete old posts.

The fediverse has no central authority, which means some features (such as Twitter’s original blueprint verification) simply don’t exist. The closest thing to “verification” is to prove to your instance that you control an external webpage or resource by including a special hyperlink in your profile.

Since the fediverse is decentralized, there is no single authority to manage posts or delete accounts – this is left to the users and the server itself. Mastodon users will often flag posts with content warnings, not only for truly sensitive content (such as content warnings on war news), but also to minimize the post’s footprint on your timeline. Along with hashtags, they are also used to categorize and moderate insensitive posts (e.g. content warning: “My cat #pets”).

However, with these differences, one can easily ask the question – what should mastodon users know when switching to Twitter? There will always be trade-offs between existing social media and their joint alternatives. This new spark of competition between platforms and alliances has the potential for new innovations and improvements to our online autonomy.

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