The Extra Dimension

The Extra Dimension features deep discussions on exciting topics with your favorite hosts and guests.

Distributed Social Networks

Episode #21The Fringe #425

Almost all of the social networks that we use are centralized, meaning that one company owns everything. Ian, Brandon, and Brian explore what a social network would look like if it were distributed, meaning that there are many servers owned by different people that still communicate with each other.


  • Distributed social network - Wikipedia
    • A system where there are servers run by different entities, and users on the various servers can interact with each other
    • Think of it like email, which is a distributed messaging system
    • Different from a social media aggregator, which helps users manage accounts from several different social media platforms
    • 00:04:37 | Pros
      • In theory, it helps bring control back to the users rather than a single corporate entity that owns the entire stack
      • Much harder for oppressive regimes to block access, since content could be coming from any server
      • Total service outages are much less likely, as content is spread among many servers
      • If a particular server goes offline, users on other servers won’t see content from users on that server until it comes back; they will still see content from users on all other servers though
    • 00:07:41 | Cons
      • Potentially more confusing for the user
      • Some features are infeasible, like verified accounts (except with emoji hacks ✅ ✅ ✅ 💯💯💯👌)
      • Is adding new features harder, since each instance admin would have to update their server?
        • Establish a base protocol, and then extra optional features that can be implemented in order to get more users? Maybe something like IMAP for email?
    • 00:14:30 | Since it’s like email, and email is ubiquitous, does that mean it is inevitable that we will have widespread adoption of distributed social networks?
      • Not really
      • Email is ubiquitous because it has been around for forever, and back when email was created everything was distributed; now the norm is centralized services
      • An email address is required to sign up for most other online accounts, and that won’t be the case for social networks
  • Comparison of software and protocols for distributed social networking - Wikipedia
  • 00:18:42 | GNU Social
  • 00:23:24 | Mastodon
    • Intended as an alternative to Twitter, so it shares many similarities
    • Increases character limit to 500
    • Privacy and harassment prevention were a focus from the start
      • Individual posts have several levels of privacy you can choose from
      • Blocking a user prevents anything from them from showing up, even if boosted by accounts you follow
      • Content can be hidden behind a content warning, often used for spoilers, NSFW content, or trigger warnings
      • Different instances can have different content rules
      • The idea is that smaller communities can police themselves more effectively than a small team at a corporation
    • Instances (servers)
      • The administrator of a particular instance can choose whether or not it will be federated with other instances
      • Some instances are set up as communities of their own around a particular theme
      • Mastodon allows you to view a timeline of accounts you follow, accounts in your instance, or accounts from any federated instance
  • Mastodon (software) - Wikipedia
    • GNU Social compatible
  • A beginner’s guide to Mastodon, the hot new open-source Twitter clone - The Verge
  • is an open-source Twitter competitor that’s growing like crazy - The Verge
  • Welcome to Mastodon – Hacker Noon
  • Learning from Twitter’s mistakes – Eugen Rochko – Medium
  • What would Twitter be if it adopted Wikipedia’s politics? | openDemocracy
  • Mastodon Bridge
    • A tool for finding your Twitter followees on Mastodon
  • Latest update on the status of Mastodon April post-mortem – Eugen Rochko – Medium
  • BunsenLabs Linux