Liveblog: FediForum, September 2023October, 2023
Recently, the second FediForum brought together (virtually) a diverse group of attendees to discuss the current state and future direction of the Fediverse. The Fediverse is a decentralized network of social media platforms and servers that all interoperate using the ActivityPub protocol, with the most popular platform currently being Mastodon. Attendees included content moderators, software developers, site administrators, and funders. The unconference included demos, parallel sessions, and closing discussion. This live blog covers the Wednesday demos and each day’s closing summary and discussion.
Full notes are available for most sessions.
Kaliya Young (“Identity Woman”) opens the conference. Her background is in digital identity, with about 20 years experience. Kaliya reviews the concept of an unconference, and encourages participants to be flexible in session scope and agenda, and to move between spaces and topics as needed.
Johannes Ernst opens the demo session. Johannes describes how the Fediverse is different from other platforms. Anyone can connect using any software they like, or write their own if they’d like, with no “gazillionaires” doing gatekeeping.
Firefish demo by Kainoa Kanter. Forked from the Misskey platform. Focused on being highly customizable, including multiple columns. The developer team is working on changing back end from PostgreSQL to ScyllaDB for improved scalability and reduced server maintenance costs. They are also porting from node.js to ElysiaJS. Firefish is compatible with both Misskey and Mastodon APIs.
WriteFreely demo by Matt Baer. WriteFreely is a blogging platform focused just on writing. It is simpler than content management systems like WordPress. It can be installed either as a single-author blog or a multi-author community. Posts are formatting using markdown and text is autosaved. It supports multiple blogs under the same account as well as public and private blogs. WriteFreely is written in Go and works with either MySQL or SQLite.
Bonfire demo by van Minutillo. Developed with Mayel de Borniol. Bonfire is a modular social media platform based on the philosophy of “composition, not accumulation,” inspired by Donna Haraway. Bonfire is composed of multiple modules that can be configured from the main Bonfire app. Modules currently exist for most social media functions. It supports multiple styles of content ordering and reply ordering. The 1.0 release candidate is expected to be available within the next week.
WordPress ActivityPub demo by Mattias Pfefferle. The Activity Pub plugin for WordPress version 1.0 is officially released. Originally, each author was an ActivityPub actor who could be followed individually. Based on feedback, a blog-wide user can be enabled so the entire blog can be followed by following that user.
Wednesday Session Recap
Adding semantics to social networks (i.e. Linked Data in ActivityPub). Participants discussed linked data, and specifically taking less of a “firewall” approach. More detailed data allows more precise moderation. One possible application is sharing moderator notes across different fediverse sites. An FEP (Fediverse enhancement proposal) in being written.
Social.BBC, ask BBC R&D anything. The BBC approaches their role as a public service provider. They are particularly interested in content verification. In addition to providing public services, the BBC also uses some Fediverse tools like Pixelfed internally.
From Fediverse to the Pluriverse of the Future. Participants discussed the future of interconnected discourse online. Topics included the “pluriverse” (as described by the Gobo project) and “hyper-communities” in which individuals are part of many different communities, and reputation systems. How can technology support these ideas?
Can we do better than shared blocklists?
Portability of content in the Fediverse. Participants discussed the many challenges of portability in decentralized systems. When a new user imports large amounts of data from their previous server, how can moderators review all of it? Participants discussed user stories for importing/exporting content.
Diving more into WriteFreely and long-form content in the Fediverse. Participants discussed features unique to WriteFreely, focused on long-form content. How can long-form content (or any content) display properly in contexts designed for other types of content?
Federated contact book / identity Participants discussed existing solutions. Nothing perfect exists. The problem isn’t new, at least 20-40 years old. Some current approaches are heading in a promising direction.
Fediseer – crowdsourced block/allow lists, information and admin coordination
IFTAS moderator needs assessment findings. Jaz-Michael King, Executive Director of IFTAS, described a needs assessment of Fediverse moderators and the resulting findings. Specific findings were not recorded in the notes, but the report will be public in 3-4 weeks.
How can white people and guys improve the race and gender situation in the Fediverse? Participants discussed what to do when tensions arise between conflicting values. There’s a need for best practices for bystander intervention. Individual action is only so effective, moderation can be more effective. Technical ideas included limiting replies. Participants also discussion the of lack of diversity at FediForum: possibly due to timing (during weekday) and tech focus. The topic deserves a broad discussion and more time.
Make de-centralized personal data storage the new normal. Participants discussed previous and current projects including privact.org. Participants also discussed how personal data storage relates to the Fediverse.
Plugin architecture / interoperability / compositing ecosystem for Fediverse communities. Participants discussed both technical and social aspects of building a plugin architecture. The developers of the Bonfire project discussed some of their approaches.
Project goals, milestones, and motivation – what works/doesn’t?
Wednesday Closing Discussion
Emilia Smith heard mentions in IFTAS session about a lack of accessibility of moderation tooling. Interested in feedback on Mastodon and PixelFed and can champion specific issues at those projects.
Johannes observes that similar people are coming together as 15 years ago. The ideas from those conversations didn’t become a reality. Things are different now. The Fediverse is addressing real problems that have widespread attention and support from legal frameworks like the Digital Markets Act.
Jim White wants to know the easiest way to run a personal ActivityPub service? Learned about ActivityPods, Vocata, and ubos.net.
Emilia adds that Spacehost and Mastohost are also offering managed hosting.
db0 brings up that FediForum participation is mostly from US. Interested in discussing Lemmy and projects popular outside the US.
Jeremiah Lee found the discussion in the Write Freely session interesting. The Fediverse makes it possible to have tools for many different kinds of content that can talk to each other. But it’s challenging to display exact same data across different tools. Need a way to track when things don’t work.
Emilia would like to know how large companies like Meta are thinking about handling moderation reports if and when they federate. How can other servers block/mute sets of users without blocking the entire site?
By_Caballero responds, there was some discussion of moderator reports at TPAC and W3C Social Web Incubator Community Group (SocialCG).
Jonathan Pincus says now is the moment that the conditions are right to do something transformational with the Fediverse. Encourages participants to broaden attention beyond just technical to include social. Also encourages participants to include people who have been excluded from these discussions in the past.
Web monetization (micropayments spec) for the Social Web. W3C has proposed a spec for streaming micropayments. Participants discussed two possible models for extending to micropayments to the Fediverse. Discussed how to make the current spec work when content from different sources is aggregated. Also discussed using a global payment network to do non-streaming payments.
Physical location in Fediverse data model. Activity Streams 2 vocabularies already includes location data. Also activity types. Not a lot of apps are leveraging these vocabularies. Next steps are pushing existing vocabularies to existing apps.
Elevator pitch for skeptics – Fediverse mythbusting. Discussed how to explain the Fediverse. What roadblocks do new users run into? Debunking myths about social media.
Funding Fediverse development. Gerben from the NLNet Foundation answered tons of questions about NLNet. They are hackers who like to fund other hackers, and are based in the EU. One of the very few organizations that funds Fediverse work, and have funded dozens of Fediverse projects over the years.. They have funding cycle every two months
Mastodon search & discovery in 4.2.0 and beyond
Private groups on the Fediverse
IFTAS activity review: child safety; automated denylist subscription service; moderator safety. IFTAS is currently working with Thorn to do hash-and-match type service to provide CSAM matching. Also in talks with CDNs and recommending Cloudflare’s CSAM filter. SocialCG has a resource list. There is also a new denylist tool coming from IFTAS. They are looking to source consent to share denylists from individual instances. Tall Poppy provides education about protecting moderators from harassment. Interested moderators can fill out a request for interest form.
“Visionary” revenue models for the Fediverse – and baby steps! Discussed revenue based on relationships instead of transactions. Philosophy can be win-win instead of zero sum. How to reduce the average price while increasing total revenue.
Implications of TikTok for the Fediverse. If Threads/Instagram has adopted TikTok technology, we will see this in the fediverse if/when they federate. TikTok has a lot that isn’t currently present in the Fediverse. Different cultural form based on continuous scroll. Also has negative affordances of capturing attention, which can be bad for people with ADHD. On TikTok, it’s easy to rapidly deploy video, but moderation is heavy and opaque. TikTok commodifies the audience and we don’t necessarily want that for the Fediverse.
Testing the Fediverse / Fediverse test suite. Really difficult but important problem. Difficulties are both technical and organizational. Participants are currently working on it and we’ll figure it out one day.
Fedi-safety: AI-driven real-time anti-CSAM tooling
Automatically opening Fediverse links in the right app, so that I can interact with it.
Reporting on Fediverse development. Provides news on what’s happening on the fediverse both technically and culturally. Some focus on running a volunteer organization. It takes substantial research to provide quality content. Quickly increasing scale and scope. How to write for an audience and specialize. Big publications miss a lot of important nuances about the Fediverse.
Blocklists from a social science perspective; tension field between federation and safe spaces. Participants discussed the tension between blocking and federation. The discussion was framed around a presentation by Nathalie Van Raemdonck. The Fediverse allows a plurality of norms. De-federation can be a response to norm conflicts. Prioritizing federation as a principle leads to a homogeneous majority norm. One person’s harassment is another person’s norm correction. Polarization isn’t always toxic. The Fediverse is currently a community of early adopters, how will this scale? Discussion of moderators vs individual users blocking. Also discussion of context collapse. In physical space we can see who we’re in a room with, but on the Fediverse we’re all in different rooms and we don’t know which rooms our roommates are in.
Linked Data content in ActivityPub (and anything else semantic). What is linked data? Linked data is controversial in ActivityPub metadata. How to use linked data within the content itself (vs. metadata). Conversation and documentation. Discussion of linked data and decentralization.
Fediverse Developer Network / developer experience. How WordPress got a developer community built. Defined some next steps to serve needs of new and existing developers.
Thursday Closing Discussion
Cubicgarden really enjoyed attending. Fantastic discussion and respectful participants.
narF asks why the main developers from every platform aren’t present? Discussions would be more useful if they were in the room.
Emilia responds. Mastodon is in the middle of a big release, timing didn’t work. For other platforms, maintainers have full-time jobs and timezone issues.
Johannes says it has been difficult for organizers to get attention of main developers and maintainers.
Emilia suggests: if you’re working on moderation tooling and are interested in collaborating with like-minded people, please join the IFTAS matrix server.
Jaz suggests free ticket option would help draw in more people, especially those who are not as outgoing or overwhelmed by code. Compared to last FediForum, projects have matured a lot from concepts to concrete implementations.
Johannes says organizers are open to feedback and suggestions on format for future FediForums.
Sean Tilley says too many good sessions at once, don’t make me choose! Weekends would be helpful for people with unrelated day jobs.
Dmitri Zagidulin invites participants to join the W3C Social Web Community Group (SocialCG). Possibly starting a new W3C Working Group.
db0 suggests reaching out to the Lemmy community.
Darius Dunlap compares FediForum to the Internet Identity Workshop. If we carry out of the conference more work and make progress and start telling people about the great ideas and actual work, that will start to attract more people.