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Redecentralize Digest — April 2022

In this issue:

Twitter’s indecency

Twitter got bought up by an erratic entrepreneur, but we will ignore much of the buzz around this and stick to our mission: “Where others might debate how a powerful platform should be kept accountable, we question why it even has this power — and show the alternatives.”

For many people, Twitter is the platform that hosts the intellectual exchange of news and ideas. And exactly because it is important to them, users should not accept that its future depends on one person’s whims.

If your host turns hostile, you should be able to go to another, without losing your content or contacts. Any platform should be decent enough to support data portability and federation. Any platform that refuses this is locking its users in. The fact that Twitter created and maintains a network lock-in is sufficient reason to reject it.

To be fair: for some platform features, federation may be infeasible. But wherever a centralised platform might be justified, it should be accountable to its users, governed by its users. Twitter users cannot move elsewhere without missing out, and have no say in how the platform operates.

Note that this possible justfication for centralisation does not even apply in Twitter’s case: social media can be decentralised just fine, as the Fediverse demonstrates (and, unsurprisingly, Mastodon saw a sudden influx of new users in the past weeks).

To bluntly summarise: we don’t care who owns Twitter. It’s indecent anyway.

Bluesky opens up

Having said all the above, one praiseworthy initiative coming from Twitter is Bluesky: its internal exploration to decentralise itself, and social media more generally.

Conceived by then-CEO Jack Dorsey in 2019 (see our digest), Bluesky recently formed a separate company (with initial funding from Twitter), hired a team, and started publishing their rough plan and a first form of their Authenticated Data eXperiment (ADX):

“Bluesky is building a protocol for large-scale distributed social applications. We want public discourse to occur on open infrastructure which gives users a choice in their experience, creators control over their relationships with their audience, and developers freedom to innovate without permission from a platform.”

Aiming for portability, scalability, and trust/auditability, it mixes and matches several protocols and concepts to create a hybrid of federated and peer-to-peer: social media using service providers, but with portable data and identities enabled by ‘self-authenticating protocols’:

“ADX demonstrates two core components of self-authentication: cryptographic identifiers and content-addressed data. We’ve built ADX using existing tools and standards when possible, including IPLD, DIDs, and UCANs.

While these components are common to peer-to-peer networks, ADX uses a federated networking model. Federation was chosen to ensure the network is convenient to use and reliably available. Using self-authenticating data, we’re able to create portability between ADX services, including the ability to change hosting providers without losing your identity or social graph.”

Somewhat similar to how search engines crawl and index the web, Bluesky also separates content hosting from discovery, thereby allowing multiple aggregators to create their own views; providing scalability and choice, and enabling a pluralistic approach to content moderation:

“Our model is that speech and reach should be two separate layers, built to work with each other. The “speech” layer should remain neutral, distributing authority and designed to ensure everyone has a voice. The “reach” layer lives on top, built for flexibility and designed to scale.

Separating speech and reach gives indexing services more freedom to moderate. Moderation action by an indexing service doesn’t remove a user’s identity or destroy their social graph – it only affects the services’ own indexes. Users choose their indexers, and so can choose a different service or to supplement with additional services if they’re unhappy with the policies of any particular service.”

All this sounds like a decent social media architecture, without blocking or chaining people into some speculatory scam. It rather reminds of the Spritely project, the ambitious exploration by the editors of the ActivityPub protocols that connect the Fediverse.

Although it originated at Twitter, I would not count on Twitter adopting this architecture itself (though it might become easier without shareholders to please). However, Bluesky looks like a promising research project for what could become the next generation Fediverse.

EU’s voice and video on the Fediverse

Public instutions most of all should not keep their audience captive on corporate social media. In the EU, more outspoken data protection authorities will also point out that this is not legally possible either, and especially in Germany we find governments slowly taking to the Fediverse (e.g. social.bund.de, bawü.social).

Now with a great sense of timing (coincidence, I’ve been assured), also the European Union started a pilot project to get its institutions news feeds available for those not on Twitter and the like. It now runs its own Fediverse instances: EU Voice (Mastodon) and EU Video (PeerTube). Several EU institutions and officials already started publishing content there.

Such Fediverse accounts usually just mirror the content of the institutions’ Twitter feeds and YouTube channels; but that is a great step in the right direction already. Moving off the corporate platforms is hard, and I’d consider it more important to not only be available on those platforms, so the audience has at least one acceptable option.

Hopefully the next step for the institutions is Fediverse-first publishing (switching from PESOS to POSSE), and then ideally leaving the corporate platforms altogether (along with the rest of society).

A Declaration for the Future of the Internet

Roughly sixty governments signed A Declaration for the Future of the Internet, two pages of laudable intentions for an internet that is “open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure”, to “protect and respect human rights”, “reinforce our democratic systems”, and so forth.

While the declaration and its commitments are expectedly vague, it might be a valuable reiteration of ideals, especially now that various countries and companies are pulling the internet in different directions.

Remarkably, much of the declaration resembles the narrative of Redecentralize:

“Reclaiming the Promise of the Internet

The immense promise that accompanied the development of the Internet stemmed from its design: it is an open “network of networks”, a single interconnected communications system for all of humanity. …

Over the last two decades, however, we have witnessed serious challenges to this vision emerge. Access to the open Internet is limited by some authoritarian governments and online platforms and digital tools are increasingly used to repress freedom of expression and deny other human rights and fundamental freedoms. … Moreover, the once decentralized Internet economy has become highly concentrated and many people have legitimate concerns about their privacy and the quantity and security of personal data collected and stored online.”


“The Internet should operate as a single, decentralized network of networks”



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About this digest

The Redecentralize Digest is a monthly publication about internet (re)decentralisation. It covers progress and thoughts relating technology and politics, without ties to a particular project nor to one definition of decentralisation — figuring out its meanings and relations is part of the mission.

This digest was written by Gerben, with thanks for all tips & suggestions.

The digest’s format and content are not set in stone. Feedback, corrections and suggestions for next editions are welcome at hello@redecentralize.org. We don’t spy on our readers, so please do tell us what you think!