The “fediverse”

The term “fediverse” derives from a crasis of the words “federated” and “universe” and is the set of federated servers through which publish content on the web.

Each server is an instance where users can create their profile.

In recent years there has been an increase in federated, decentralized, and open-source systems. The fediverse is currently the primary solution chosen by users compared to centralized ones (e.g., Facebook - now Meta - Twitter or Instagram).

Examples of federated systems, although each with different structure and protocols is already quite well known and widespread, are:

  1. Matrix;
  2. XMPP;
  3. Nextcloud;
  4. Mastodon;
  5. Peertube;
  6. Lemmy;
  7. WriteFreely

The fediverse has been particularly popular, especially for social media and microblogging platforms (WriteFreely being one of them), and is getting wider and wider.

Moreover, we should add that the exponential diffusion of blockchain technology has contributed to the choice of decentralization principles for many social media platforms to protect themselves from censorship and for the characteristics of the blockchain itself.

However, in our opinion, it is limiting and somehow also not correct to connote the fediverse solely for reasons related to protection from censorship, given that federated systems provide undeniable additional advantages.

Federated and decentralized systems

A federated system is composed of individual servers (instances) that can communicate with each other based on a specific protocol (for Mastodon, the protocol is ActivityPub, the subject of the W3C recommendation on January 23, 2018).

The result is that each user can communicate with others, even if they are present on different servers, precisely based on the protocol that underlies the federated system.

On decentralization, we refer to our contribution entitled “Aware digital communication respecting privacy and the apps or services you choose”, in which the infographic clarifying the differences between centralized, federated, decentralized systems is eloquent.

Mastodon

In our Digital Notepad, there are already some contributions to federated systems.
We have already described Matrix with the article titled “Matrix: the protocol for secure communication that respects privacy” and XMPP with the one titled “XMPP: the secure communication protocol that respects privacy”.

Today we deal with Mastodon, also in the light of the current choice of the European institutions that have opted for this solution, announcing their decision via Twitter, namely:


Commissione europea


European Data Protection Supervisor - EDPS


Incidentally, the EDPS published a post announcing the launch of the pilot phase of two social media platforms that are EU Voice and EU Video.

That is not particularly surprising but consistent with the European Commission’s adoption on 21/10/2020 of the Open Source Software Strategy 2020-2023.

Mastodon: what is it?

On GitHub, we read:

Mastodon is a free, open-source social network server based on ActivityPub where users can follow friends and discover new ones. On Mastodon, users can publish anything they want: links, pictures, text, video. All Mastodon servers are interoperable as a federated network (users on one server can seamlessly communicate with users from another, including non-Mastodon software that implements ActivityPub)!

There was an increase in Mastodon installations and related account registrations after the news that Elon Musk had acquired Twitter.

The most significant concern of users focused on the risks that Musk could use their personal data, as emerges from the Tweet from WIRED below:



From our perspective, Mastodon cannot be considered a real alternative to Twitter, although its functioning is very similar to the well-known social network.

Also, Mashable Italia has the same opinion, so we read the post (in Italian) “A day on Mastodon: why it is not the anti-Twitter”, explains the reasons of this impossible comparison.

Undoubtedly, Mastodon is an excellent open-source federated social network with microblogging features, where each user has 500 characters for each “toot” (as they call the posts). Mastodon uses the following terminology:

  • toot (corresponds to Twitter tweet);
  • boost (corresponds to Twitter RT);

To use Mastodon, you need to create an account by choosing an existing instance or installing one on your server following the instructions on this page.

The Mastodon account will be similar to an email account with a username and a domain (for example, ours is @nicfab@mastodon.nicfab.it).

Although we already had Mastodon accounts on some instances, we decided to install an instance on our server (https://mastodon.nicfab.it), which is currently closed to registrations from outside.

We thus continue to be present in the Fediverse, but with complete control of our instance.

Mastodon: why?

We read on GitHub:

Features
No vendor lock-in: Fully interoperable with any conforming platform
It doesn’t have to be Mastodon; whatever implements ActivityPub is part of the social network! Learn more

Real-time, chronological timeline updates
Updates of people you’re following appear in real-time in the UI via WebSockets. There’s a firehose view as well!

Media attachments like images and short videos
Upload and view images and WebM/MP4 videos attached to the updates. Videos with no audio track are treated like GIFs; normal videos loop continuously!

Safety and moderation tools
Mastodon includes private posts, locked accounts, phrase filtering, muting, blocking and all sorts of other features, along with a reporting and moderation system. Learn more

OAuth2 and a straightforward REST API
Mastodon acts as an OAuth2 provider, so 3rd party apps can use the REST and Streaming APIs. This results in a rich app ecosystem with a lot of choices!

All these reasons are probably enough to induce users to choose Mastodon, even as a replacement for Twitter (should the two resources be considered similar).

There are, however, other very articulated reasons that we do not want to present here.

Undoubtedly, further arguments are fundamentally related to privacy and personal data protection.

Very often, even for Mastodon, it is believed that privacy should be addressed through the implementation of security measures, even strong ones.

The basic mistake is considering security as one (if not the primary) solution to personal data protection and privacy. This approach, as repeatedly stated, is wrong because the following equation applies:

Privacy / Data Protection ≠ Security

These are two different concepts: privacy and data protection are different from security.
A secure system is not said to be compliant with data protection and privacy regulations.

The opposite is true; the legislation in force on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data includes the security of the treatment according to Article 32 of the GDPR.

Mastodon and interaction with other platforms

Users who would like to use Mastodon and Twitter simultaneously would have no problems since - at the moment - there are at least two solutions that allow crossposting, i.e., posting the same content both on Twitter and Mastodon.

In this regard, we mention Mastodon Twitter Crossposter through which it can automatically toot from a tweet and vice versa.

Another similar resource is MOA.

We tried both of them with positive results.

In conclusion, Mastodon is another solution for the fediverse that contributes to attesting the evolution of the Internet and its use through decentralized, federated, and open-source solutions. The challenge will be that of Web 3.0 both in terms of technology and privacy profiles and aspects of the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data.


Stay tuned!