inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #0 of 89: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Sun 5 Nov 23 05:33
For the next two weeks, Inkwell hosts a panel of experts explaining
and discussing the Fediverse. We'll also be discussing the
independent web (IndieWeb).

"The fediverse (a portmanteau of "federation" and "universe") is an
ensemble of social networks, which, while independently hosted, can
communicate with each other. ActivityPub, a W3C standard, is the
most widely used protocol that powers the fediverse. Users on
different websites can send and receive updates from others across
the network. Noted fediverse platforms include Mastodon, Lemmy,
PeerTube, and Pixelfed." <>

"IndieWeb is a community of people building software to enable
personal, independently hosted websites to independently maintain
their social data on their own web domains rather than on large,
centralized social networking services."

The two are related in that they both present alternatives to
centralized corporate platforms such as Facebook, wherein a
corporation takes ownership of user data and presentation. As Cory
Doctorow says, corporate platforms like Facebook and X have business
models that are based on holding users hostage and leveraging their
attention and their data for profit. IndieWeb and the Fediverse
present an alternative that allows users and independent
administrators independence: ownership of their own data and more
control over how it's shared. These approaches don't exploit the
value of user attention.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #1 of 89: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Sun 5 Nov 23 05:33
Our panel:

Tom Brown (,
<>) is a software developer and
beer league hockey player.

Manton Reece (, <>) is the
founder of, a blog hosting platform and social network
that follows IndieWeb principles and connects with the fediverse.
He's also the author of the book Indie Microblogging.

Evan Prodromou (, <>) is a software
developer and open source advocate. He is a co-editor of
ActivityPub, the W3C standard for decentralized social networking
used by platforms such as Mastodon.

Johannes Ernst (, <>)is a
technologist, entrepreneur and community organizer. At Dazzle, he
works on technology and governance enabling people to get back
control over their on-line lives including their identity and their
personal data. He is also co-organizer of the Fediverse Developer
Network and FediForum, a twice-yearly unconference for the people
who move the Fediverse forward. 

Kevin Marks (, <>) is
on the Advisory Council of the Open Rights Group, a UK-based Digital
Rights campaigning organization and is an Open Web Advocate. He is
one of the founders of Microformats. isted at #13 in The Daily
Telegraph's 50 most influential Britons in Technology.

Jon Lebkowsky, <jonl> on the WELL, is host.
(, <>)
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #2 of 89: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Sun 5 Nov 23 05:34
We have definitions of the Fediverse and IndieWeb in the
introduction above. What more can we say about the two and how
they're related?
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #3 of 89: Tom Brown (tombrown) Sun 5 Nov 23 09:06
Thanks Jon for having me!  Looking forward to the discussions.  For
starters, both the fediverse and indieweb allow me to decide who to
trust to provide services.  I like the fediverse definition
"community-owned independent social media sites" from Darius Kazemi:
"I find myself saying "community-owned independent social media
sites" rather than "fediverse" in mixed company because it gets a
much better reaction (active interest rather than blank stares)"
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #4 of 89: Johannes Ernst (jernst) Sun 5 Nov 23 14:52
To get this started, I want to tell my version of the history of
computing and where we are now.

In the beginning, there was the mainframe. It was good and mighty,
and centrally controlled by the mainframe priesthood. As a user, you
could do amazing things, but only exactly what the (unaccountable)
priesthood let you do under the exact terms they set and nothing

Then computing got much cheaper, so a bunch of geeks could solder
some chips together and the personal computer was born. It was
crappy compared to the mainframe, but anybody could buy one, and if
you did, it was Yours, and you could do what you wanted without
asking for permission from anybody. So we got an incredible boost of
innovation that improved computing rapidly and soon made the
mainframe and its priesthood irrelevant.

Enter the internet. Now we could connect these computers, and soon,
these networked computers started replacing all other forms of
communications. But due to the economics of scale and network
effects, we ended up with a new version of the mainframe -- now
called "internet platforms" in the "cloud" -- and a new priesthood
-- their unaccountable gazillionaire owners and the masses they
recruited to work unquestioningly for them as employees, app
developers and so forth. These new platforms compete fiercely with
each other, and as a user, while you got lots of cool features,
ultimately you became an unimportant sharecropper in a
gazillionaire's battle against other gazillionaires, being
completely under the unilaterally-set terms of the overlord.

I want to suggest that by now, these centralizing trends towards
ever-larger platforms controlled by warring, quasi-feudal overlords
are nearing their logical conclusion, for several reasons:

* The big platforms can't grow much more. For example, Facebook has
about half of the world's population as regular users. It simply
cannot double its users again, there aren't enough people on the
planet. Also, some feeds now contain more than 30% ads. I don't know
where the maximum is that people will tolerate, but it's not far
off. It's similar for other platforms.

* Unlike 10 years ago, the general public today understands that the
big platforms have many problems, from privacy to addiction and even
occasionally enabling genocide.

* Technology has become much cheaper again, and the economic case
for centralizing social computing is far less compelling than it was
in the early days of cloud computing. Some people run websites on
their 64bit $15 Raspberry Pi Zero 2! Just like when we got the PC,
this suddenly allows an explosion of innovation that is not possible
if any central priesthood controls what may happen.

* Regulators in the EU, and elsewhere, are really starting to crack
down, initially on the lamentable privacy practices of the
overlords, but now also requiring interoperability (e.g. in the EU's
Digital Markets Act). They are coming with a big hammer in the form
of potential fines in the billion dollars range.

So what's next?

I believe the next phase of computing will reflect these trends.
What we end up with is this:

* More servers, operated by all sorts of people, from individuals
for their families, companies for their customers, to communities
and cooperatives, running the software that works best for them! No
more one-exact-same-Facebook-fits-all-people-on-the-planet! We can
see early forms of this explosion of innovation and
software-fit-for-purpose already in the Fediverse, accelerating over
the last year.

* These servers will be communicating with each other as peers. The
overriding strategic imperative of creating walled gardens is being
undermined, user needs are being prioritized again over platform
overlord strategies, and users want to communicate, not be locked
in. The regulators have shown no sign of letting up either.

Today's Fediverse is an early form of this next phase of computing:
the Fediverse already has tens of thousands of independently
operated servers, running a wide variety of software picked (and
sometimes developed) by the communities for what best meets their
needs. Mastodon is best-known, but there are many dozens of other
software packages. These independently operated servers communicate
with each other as peers, using protocols such as ActivityPub and
the IndieWeb stack, today mostly to enable decentralized social

Decentralized social media in itself has great promise in being able
to deliver much more value to users -- individuals, communities and
businesses -- than centralized social media, because it allows
innovation and fit-for-local-purpose that cannot occur in the
presence of a controlling priesthood.

But ultimately this new peer computing architecture will go much
further, by connecting independently operated computing systems in
much tighter meshes than we have today, in pretty much all
application domains, not just social media. Ever run into a problem
where your friend, or your data was on one website, but you didn't
want to go there? In the future, you will be able to connect to them
with the software and from the instance you want, and protocol magic
will make it happen automatically. That's the future the Fediverse
is pioneering.

So this is an incredible time to be around, as the Fediverse, in my
view, heralds an entire new (technical, social, economic)
architecture of computing that is much more innovative, has far
fewer downsides than the current one and delivers much more value to
its users.

So glad the Well is hosting this timely discussion, and to have the
opportunity to be part of it!
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #5 of 89: Evan Prodromou (evanp) Mon 6 Nov 23 08:52
Jon, I think the IndieWeb and the Fediverse have a long history

There are probably two big differences. First is technical; the Indy
Web stack is built primarily on microformats as the main data
interchange structure, and the Fediverse uses Activity Streams 2.0.

The other is organizational. The IndyWeb is primarily individual
developers, working on their own Web sites, and sharing patterns and
software with others. The Fediverse tends to be Open Source social
network software with hundreds or thousands of users on a single
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #6 of 89: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Mon 6 Nov 23 09:24
Given those differences, would you call them complementary?
Conceptually I think both have the same end in mind, but
technically, how well can they potentiate each other?
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #7 of 89: Kevin Marks (kjmarks) Mon 6 Nov 23 12:27
I do think they're complementary, yes. 

IndieWeb is about encouraging people to have their own websites, and
making the web individual and fun again. Part of that is adopting
protocols that are simple enough to be implemented by small
websites, but can work across the web generally.

Fediverse is more centred on promoting discussions, and centred on
following and reading people - Indieweb has protocol suggestions for
this, but fediverse is primarily about the flow of information, and
as Tom says, "community owned independent social media sites".

There are various ways to connect the two worldviews, with being one important one, but they are both part of a
long heritage of individual publishing on the web, starting with
hand made websites, and growing through blogs and the ways of
reading them that later got truncated by the Procrustean frames of
the social media silos.

I am disappointed by the frequent framing in paid media that "the
internet is bad now" - the internet and the web are still capable of
all the fun things we liked 20, 30 or 40 years ago, you just have to
look past the obvious a bit.

Earlier today I saw a link to this site on the fediverse that
celebrates handmade sites withe whimsy included. That's in the
spirit of both.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #8 of 89: Kevin Marks (kjmarks) Mon 6 Nov 23 12:46
… and the site I mentioned was

The shared feeling of Indieweb and Fediverse is "the web is fun
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #9 of 89: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Mon 6 Nov 23 15:25
I recall hearing some people say that Mastodon is difficult, and
learning that what made it feel difficult to them was having to pick
a server for their Mastodon account. But it does raise a good
question - what's the learning curve for effectively using IndieWeb
and Fediverse applications? 
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #10 of 89: Tom Brown (tombrown) Mon 6 Nov 23 23:39
I remember picking a server was a significant issue before Mastodon
changed the onboarding experience earlier this year:

I see some people give up initially but then give it another try
later and figure it out.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #11 of 89: Administrivia (jonl) Tue 7 Nov 23 06:37
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inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #12 of 89: Mary Mazzocco (mazz) Tue 7 Nov 23 08:16
The more I putter around on Mastodon, the more I think about Cliff
Figallo’s 1993 essay about the Well, “A Small Town on the
Information Highway.” We certainly have our conflicts and
dysfunction, but our focus on creating real community, rather than
selling merchandise, helped us persist long past the point where we
could be seen as a gold mine for investors.

The thing that frustrates new immigrants from Twitter or Facebook —
that Mastodon is a constellation of small communities that may or
may not talk to each other — seems to me to be one of its sources of
fascination. For the first time in 30 years, I see people arguing
about what is needed to create and sustain a healthy online
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #13 of 89: Manton Reece (manton) Tue 7 Nov 23 08:33
Hi everyone! On the topic of usability, I think this is something
the Mastodon community will keep working to improve. How to pick a
server, how to follow someone when you're viewing their profile on a
different server… This should get easier if the "cost" of switching
servers is lower, for example being able to easily migrate old

On the IndieWeb side, one of the core principles is identity through
domain names. You aren't one user on someone else's server; your
blog and fediverse identity are all wrapped together. This is great
for owning your content and moving between platforms without
breaking URLs, but with the extra hurdle of getting your own domain

I know we can make this more approachable to non-technical users.
Bluesky is an interesting mix across these two worlds… They aren't
currently federated, so there's no need to pick a server, but they
do a great job of guiding people to use a domain name for their
username so that it's portable later.

Also love Kevin's point that the open web can still be fun and
personal. People want to make their web site their own with design
themes and little tweaks. This creativity isn't possible with the
bland uniformity of millions of Facebook profile pages.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #14 of 89: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Tue 7 Nov 23 09:33
Manton, you've created - how does it fit into the
Fediverse/IndieWeb infosphere? How is it evolving in that context?
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #15 of 89: Evan Prodromou (evanp) Tue 7 Nov 23 10:08
So, for picking a server, I think we go about it really badly. We
throw a thousand domain names at people and say, pick whatever seems
the closest to you.

I think instead we should be working on natural affinity groups like
families, neighbourhoods, work teams, friend groups, social clubs.
Starting with people's actual social connections.

Our ideas of onboarding are shaped by the structure of siloed social
networks -- here is a brand, you should have a relationship with it.
The brands in the Fediverse are weak; it's the interpersonal
relationships that should guide our initial onboarding.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #16 of 89: (jet) Tue 7 Nov 23 11:13
(going to show my age as an introduction :-)

Going back in time a bit, in USENET, the server usually picked you.
Where you worked, where you went to school, or if you were lucky (and
nerdy) you set up your own UUCP node and found a feed.

I'm not saying that's a good idea but it was an interesting limitation
-- your server (node) was also physically co-located to your life.

When I signed up for my first masto account I forget how I picked a
node.  When I signed up for my first work-related masto account, I
went to DEFCON as an obvious (for me) choice.

Looking at my various email inboxes, many of my favorite USENET groups
from 20 years ago are replaced by focused mailing lists.  I guess I
should go look at USENET and see if it's still the Eternal September.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #17 of 89: Johannes Ernst (jernst) Tue 7 Nov 23 13:41
How servers should best relate to people is still a bit unclear.
Unlike the early days of Usenet/UUCP where long-distance connections
were slow and expensive, there's not much of a reason to use a
"close" server.

* The IndieWeb generally assumes that you have your own server
(well, domain name) and there is no other top-level user like you on
that server (there might be secondary users like people commenting).

* ActivityPub, the protocol underneath the Fediverse, doesn't really
have the concept of a server at all. It's built around an abstract
concept of Actors, which we can think of as account or user. It has
nothing to say on how many actors there should and should not be on
a server/domain name.

* Most Fediverse software, on the other hand, assumes that there
will be at least several Actors/accounts/users on the same server.
But not exclusively: Mastodon has a single-user mode, although it
isn't widely used.

* Also, in the real world, the behavior you experience when
interacting with another user on the same server is not identical to
when you interact with another user on a different server. For
example, you may not see the same comments or likes on a post. And
of course what goes into a "Local" feed is scoped by server.

So some people have multiple Fediverse accounts on multiple servers
(which IMHO is not ideal). But then, some Fediverse software (like
Misskey, Firefish) have the concept of an "Antenna" which lets you
listen to subjects on different servers without needing an account

Ultimately I think the question will be settled through a
combination of software features, and "distribution" of servers by
whom to which audience. E.g. IMHO it would be really cool if
schools, or libraries, ran their own federated communities with
their own local rules.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #18 of 89: J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Tue 7 Nov 23 16:14
In what ways do the federated approaches mitigate the modern threats of
groups/people "flooding the zone with shit" ?
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #19 of 89: Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Tue 7 Nov 23 18:00
There are lots of separate zones that have to be flooded. At least
some of them are moderated either by someone who controls the zone
or by someone who imports posts form another zone and can cut off
the shitty ones.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #20 of 89: Johannes Ernst (jernst) Tue 7 Nov 23 20:13
Two big differences IMHO:

1. Nobody is trying to optimize "engagement" in order to serve more
ads. So spammy / annoying content / people are, on balance, blocked
/ removed earlier.

2. Moderation decisions are made locally to a server. Many servers
have quite different moderation policies. As a user, you pick a
server whose moderation policies are to your liking, so there is no
need for a single consistent global moderation policy.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #21 of 89: Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 8 Nov 23 10:11
this all still sounds too messy and complicated for mass market
appeal. That may be a feature, more than a bug, but most people
don't want to even know there is a question about which server to
use, or about antennae, or whatever.

Maybe it's okay to be focusing on people who take the time to figure
this stuff out, the way some of us congregate towards other
gardeners or musicians or whatever.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #22 of 89: Johannes Ernst (jernst) Wed 8 Nov 23 11:41
Keep in mind this is all optional. Nobody needs to do antennae or
compare moderation policies if they don't want to. Simply go to the
server that your friends are using (a likely adoption route), or (the default server) or, if/when Threads implements
ActivityPub as they said they would, use the Threads mobile app like
any other social mobile app.

But then, once you have used it for a while, and if you realize that
you don't like certain things, like moderation, or ads (presumably
Threads will do that at some point), or the UI of your mobile app,
you can use another server or mobile app. That optionality is a big
feature -- in case of a centralized platform, if some gazillionaire
comes in and changes trust and safety, there is nothing you can do
other than complain and leave.
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #23 of 89: Administrivia (jonl) Wed 8 Nov 23 14:51
I posted this before, but want to be sure readers who are not
members of the WELL know that they can participate by sending
comments or questions to this email address:  inkwell at
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #24 of 89: David Gans (tnf) Thu 9 Nov 23 07:24


What will happen to the Internet if it does not decentralize?
What will be the response of the overlords if decentralization starts to gain
Will the browser, html, http still be the lingua-franca of a decentralized
In a decentralized world it seems important to have a decentralized identity
- not owned by a central overlord - how will this be arranged?
To be producers (and consumers) of information won't everyone need to run
server(s) - how do you see this coming about?
What's your time estimate for these changes? What will be the significant
Does this need worldwide governance? Where should it come from?

Best Adrian
inkwell.vue.538 : The Fediverse and IndieWeb
permalink #25 of 89: Tom Brown (tombrown) Thu 9 Nov 23 11:01
my first memory of appreciating Indieweb ideas was at a Federated
Social Web Summit when Tantek Çelik said something like most people
don't care much about decentralization - they just want something
easy to use.  That really resonated with me.  I care about it and
think it should somehow be defined.  I often refer to this post
(formerly known as a tweet):
Decentralization rests on a single question: How is the power within
the system distributed?

I don't think we need to run our own servers but some applications
may require it.


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