The Fediverse: a new era for social media or just a fad?

Ever wished you could send messages from your Reddit platform to your Mastodon? Or share a meme from your Facebook profile so that it also shows up on your X? Perhaps the idea never occurred to you. But for some years now, people in tech have been floating it.

Welcome to the Fediverse. Or the prospective Fediverse – the concept of interoperable social media platforms that create a decentralized web culture and stop our digital town squares from being monopolized by the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.

I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of the idea until recently when a friend of a friend mentioned it to me on a night out. Curious to learn more, I decided to canvass some experts for their opinions on it – whether it’s desirable or even achievable.

“I have to say that the emergence of the Fediverse is quite a random but interesting development,” says Rasa Urbonaite, chief marketing officer at Los Angeles-based event planning company Breezit. “Basically, it challenges the current dominance of centralized platforms like Meta and X, trying to suggest a more open and user-controlled social media experience.”

Deriving from an amalgamation of “federated” and “universe,” the idea should not be confused with the Metaverse – although interoperability on Web3 has also been a key talking point in the latter industry.

"Sadly, I think we can expect resistance from established platforms to open their ecosystems."

Rasa Urbonaite, of event planning company Breezit, does not expect the likes of Meta and X will welcome the Fediverse

One thing the two projects do share is the magnitude of the undertaking they represent: just as the Metaverse has a long way to go before it can offer a widely uptaken alternative to Web2, so the Fediverse has some heights to scale before it can expect to become a viable alternative to the current, fragmented, social media landscape.

“If I'd have to point out the key obstacles to making these social media platforms a reality, I'd think about technological standardization and user adoption the most,” continues Urbonaite. “Sadly, I think we can expect resistance from established platforms to open their ecosystems.”

Of course, it’s not hard to see why established players like Meta wouldn’t want to see the Fediverse happen – but even leaving aside potential opposition from big social media players like Facebook, the technical challenges posed by creating a porous patchwork of platforms are enormous.

“Achieving interoperability requires a unified set of protocols that all platforms agree to use, which is challenging given the diversity of existing social media technologies,” says Urbonaite. “Furthermore, convincing users to switch from well-entrenched platforms to newer, decentralized ones is no small feat, especially when network effects favor the status quo. So, realistically speaking, we could be looking at a timeframe of several years, if not a decade, for significant progress to be made.”

Julie Lamb, head of events at Web3 consultancy CryptoOracle, thinks the only way to convince users to do this will be to do, in effect, what their predecessors did with their own platforms: make the Fediverse easy.

“There are several issues that decentralized social media must resolve before it can achieve its full potential,” she says. “It must prioritize making itself really easy to use before anything else. Second, it must be able to process large amounts of data and users effortlessly.”

Of course, the problem is that the journey to making the Fediverse this easy will be anything but.

"It's quite clear the industry is becoming increasingly aware of how important it is for the sector to come together and update our technologies so they are primed for the next wave of new users who will join Web3."

Social media start up Calaxy boss Solo Ceesay believes the future of both Fediverse and Metaverse will be intertwined

That said, Solo Ceesay, CEO and founder of social media app start-up Calaxy, thinks it can be done – but warns that inherent tribalism that persists in social media today will have to be overcome.

“I think there's a lot of great signaling that points to the industry becoming much more collaborative than it has been in the past,” he says. “A good example of this is the Decentralized Recovery (DeRec) Alliance that's being championed by Hedera’s Dr. Leemon Baird and Algorand's John Woods.”

Founded by Barid and Woods to develop a safety net for blockchain-based cryptocurrencies, DeRec purports to be an endeavor that straddles platforms and apps. Seesay seems to think this bodes well for a parallel cooperative movement in social media and that a successful Fediverse will be inextricably linked with the Metaverse.

“It's quite clear that the industry is becoming increasingly aware of how important it is for the sector to come together and update our technologies so they are primed for the next wave of new users who will join Web3 during this next market cycle,” he says. “The onboarding needs to be seamless and familiar and add value to our lives to retain users in the long term.”

Lamb agrees: “Blockchain and decentralized networks are the backbone of decentralized social media applications, such as enabling users to decide what happens to their data, monetizing their contributions, and allowing a voice in policymaking.”

Because make no mistake: the Fediverse has political and economic ramifications for internet users all over the world. Seesay believes it will be a response to “growing distrust in the government accompanied by the threat of losing control over how we deal with and handle money and currencies creates direct incentives to thwart this technology.”

Seesay adds: “Meta and X have the entirety of our online social experience in a chokehold. Web3 technologies, and what they could enable us to do, are a sharp departure from the world we live in today.”

This threat, he says, has scared the “legacy social platforms into making every effort to stop their users from leaving their platforms to explore other new and better technologies through content suppression and shadowbanning.”

"Centralized systems like X or Facebook will actually be able to offer value. Because it you've got a bunch of islands of data, you still need boats to go between those islands."

Tether stablecoin founder Craig Sellars is more optimistic that the 'old guard' of social media can be persuaded to cooperate with the Fediverse project and serve an essential purpose within it

On the other hand, stablecoin Tether founder Craig Sellars, who now runs data privacy company SELF ID, thinks that the social media giants of today could end up playing a pivotal role in the interoperable, decentralized landscape of the future.

“Centralized systems like X or Facebook will actually be able to offer value,” he says. “Because if you've got a bunch of islands of data, you still need boats to go between those islands. Providers like X can really leverage those networks and provide additional functionality on top of those decentralized connections. So I think there's always a place for these companies to exist in the eventual world that we get to, because there are specializations that they can provide that aren’t just inherent to these decentralized networks.”

Sellars is coming from the blockchain world, where there are literally thousands of competing cryptocurrencies – presumably, he doesn’t see this kind of proliferation being replicated in the Fediverse.

He concurs but still thinks that the eventual number of established social media platforms could be much higher than it is today. “I do see a large number of entrants into the space,” he says. “Dozens, hundreds, who knows the actual number? As consumers, we can't have user accounts on thousands of places at the same time.”

More than likely, he thinks the numbers will dwindle over time as we “sort of funnel ourselves into a small handful.” If that sounds ominously like the social media status quo as it stands, Sellars seems to believe the increased competition will still breed a better result for users.

“That small handful will inherit the successes of the smaller ones that are out there,” he says. “Because when consumers learn what is best for them, the features that they appreciate, those platforms that inherit those innovations are the ones that will succeed. A small handful that we all use, but there will be dozens to hundreds of attempts out there. That’s a good thing.”

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