Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, has been vocal lately about breaking up the giant Facebook social network monopoly. He wrote a New York Times article about it, and that’s certainly worth a look. Hughes suggests that the Federal Trade Commission’s expected punishment of a $5 billion fine is not enough. Hughes goes on to talk about America’s history of keeping monopolies in check and preventing monarchies to rise up and take over everything. Facebook seems to be way ahead of that though. The combination of Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram makes up for about 6.2 billion monthly active users, which is more than all of the other popular social networks combined.
We all love the convenience of being able to share our lives with our friends via such a wide-spread social network on the internet, but the problem is that it is all controlled by one person. It’s absolutely a monarch, and a corrupt one at that.
What’s the solution to a corrupt monarch? Well, we already know that democratic republics are pretty good at combining the will of the people with a set of laws to follow in order to keep things safe.
The Federated Universe
Luckily a lot of people out there have already been working on a social network (or rather a network of social networks) that encourages innovation, privacy, and security while maintaining interoperability. The Federated Universe or Fediverse is a collection of server applications, hosted services, protocols, and application programming interfaces that all work together. There are dozens of these federated social networks out there right now and anyone can make their own whole new social network that can join the Federation.
It’s kind of like how each State in the United States of America has their own area and their own set of rules, but still follow the rules of the country as a whole.
In the Fediverse, I can have an account on Mastodon, follow accounts on Peertube, PixelFed, WriteFreely, Plume, Friendica, etc., and all of those post updates from completely separate social networks will show up in my Mastodon feed. If I make a comment on a Peertube post in Mastodon, it will show up on that post in Peertube. This is how a decentralized democratic social network should work!
By the way, Peertube is web hosting software that you can use to make your own YouTube-style video sharing network. Mastodon is web hosting software that’s similar to Twitter. PixelFed is similar to Instagram. Friendica is kind of like Facebook. Matrix is kind of like a chat/IRC/Slack style messaging protocol. And there are dozens of other projects in the Federation.
Right now there are about 5,000 Federated nodes and most of them allow you to create your own account on them. You can also make your own node with your own web server or via a hosting provider. Depending on the protocols used, many of those nodes can easily communicate with each other thus giving their users freedom to be a member of whichever node they want to while still being able to see content and communicate with other nodes. That’s a pretty big deal and very awesome.
Facebook should be Federated
If Facebook is forced to join and contribute to the Federated Universe, they’re no longer a monopoly with users locked-in as slaves to Facebook’s advertising sales and algorithms. I could join a Friendica node and still follow all of my friends on Facebook & Instagram. I could make my own Peertube server and everyone could still follow my video updates on whatever social network app or service they felt like using. I could join an ad-supported node, or pay to be part of a privacy-oriented node. This kind of decentralized open federated network opens up many possibilities for the good of social networking as a whole.