Photo by Edgar Moran / Unsplash

Something rather interesting happened last night. Something I want to write about so I might reminisce in the future about “the day Elon Musk bought Twitter”.

I’m not quite sure why it happened, but a lot of people left Twitter last night – or rather, they cleared their exit route. I’m not entirely sure why so many people are so polarised by Elon Musk, but their apparently imminent exodus seems to have brought the potential future of the social internet into focus.

For many, the fediverse arrived last night. Of course it was already here, but it took a billionaire re-factoring the internet landscape to wake a lot of people up.

Somebody asked me yesterday what the “Federated Internet” means – wondering if it meant some kind of federal control. No. Not at all. Quite the opposite in fact.

If you look up “federation” in the dictionary, it describes a whole being made up of many parts (think countries in the world). Each part operates autonomously, and can communicate freely with the others. You might think of the world wide web as a federation – each website is autonomous, but connects to the wider world by agreeing on common communication protocols. Email works the same way.

Several years ago open source developers started looking at the tent-pole social internet platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and wondered if they might improve upon them. Given that the direction of an internet where intentionally incompatible social platforms can be steered by commercial decisions, the idea of a federated social internet gained traction.

Mastodon is one of the first federated social internet platforms to gain attention – a twitter-like collective of independent yet connected communities – run by the people, for the people, with no central ownership or control.

It’s perhaps wrong to talk about Mastodon as a thing. It’s not the thing – as the famous saying goes – “it’s the thing that takes us to the thing” – to the communities – to the people.

This video explains it far better than I can:

I’ll stop lecturing now.

After tinkering with Mastodon for the last several years, I registered with one of the servers last night, and began reading, following, and watching a platform that had been a quiet backwater of the internet explode into life.

It’s been fun. It continues to be fun. The marketers haven’t arrived yet. A new social network has been born, and is filled with wide eyed people stepping through Joe MacMillan’s Holland Tunnel, taking in the city for the first time.