The Extra Dimension

The Extra Dimension features deep discussions on how technology intersects with other parts of our lives. Welcome to the heart of the technological convergence.

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