Centralisation of communications media is an extremely powerful force.

The typical remediation for centralization is regulated public utilities is breaking up a monopoly into a cartel of 3-5 local monopolies.

Also not great.

We are participating here at a very rare occurrence of decentralisation.

For everyone who thinks this is important for our lives and for the world, it is incumbent on all of us to build structures now that hold this ground as the federation grows.

I highly recommend the excellent book "The Master Switch" by Tim Wu.

It details the initial decentralization, followed by centralization and monopoly, of various media from telegrams to film, radio, tv, telephones, cable TV, and the Internet.

It's a fascinating read, and well worth your time.

One of the big mistakes people make, over and over again, is relying on technological determinism.

That is, thinking the architecture of the technology will preserve the topology of the network.

Mastodon is Open Source. It's built with open standards.

This is necessary but not sufficient to keep the network decentralized.

We're going to need social and legal structures, plus cultural norms, that counterbalance Metcalfe's law, which pushes the network towards centralization.

@evan here's an hour lecture of Tim Wu talking about it (not familiar with Tim Wu, nor have I watched this yet)

I unfortunately read pretty seldom now, being addicted to multi-media and constant stimulus. I can hardly just watch a video anymore, gotta do two things at once.

@matt @evan FWIW, I've "read" the audiobook for The Master Switch several times.

Audio while doing other tasks like washing dishes or shovelling snow is how I cope with the problem you're describing, in case it helps.

@sean @evan oh absolutely, I'm an avid user of audio for this purpose. I've mostly stuck to podcasts for not particular reason.

@evan I am not sure. Mail for example converged to a handful of big providers and a long tail of smaller ones.
Is not Mastodon heading is this direction?

@ks yes, unless we put in place social and cultural mechanisms to avoid it

@evan What "social or cultural mechanisms" are you considering?

@bobwyman one is just continuing the great tradition in the fediverse of supporting small instances of 1K, 10K, 100K people.

Second is setting up financial structures that make those feasible long-term without bankrupting the admins.

Individual operators with high hosting bills and legal liability are juicy targets for anyone wanting to roll up instances.

@bobwyman another one is emphasizing the equivalence of one domain with one real world group.

For example, company instances, family instances, local city or neighborhood instances, nonprofit or professional membership instances, all emphasize equivalence of a domain with a group.

We know from email and Web that this cultural norm can help a lot to maintain decentralization.

It's not sufficient in and of itself, but nothing is.

@bobwyman I think you've probably thought about this problem more than I have!

What social or cultural practices might help to keep the federation decentralized?

@evan @denise One thing I think we should do is be more explicit about our view of the individual rights that must be protected.

e.g. I'd like to see design decisions that explicitly support Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Rights :

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."


@evan @denise It is important to note that Article 19 goes beyond what many think is protected by, for instance, the US First Amendment in that it explicitly protects the right to "seek" (i.e. search) and "receive" information. It is thus a "Right to Read or Hear," not just a "Right to Speak." That addition is, I think, terribly important.

The rights to "seek" and "receive" may be somewhat abridged when instance admins prevent me from following "undesirable" people on other servers...

@bobwyman @evan @denise @jeffjarvis @atpfm made a convincing case, without meaning to, that the only real hope for Mastodon’s existence beyond a trivial user base is allowing ads. Content moderation is too labor intensive and psychically damaging for volunteers to meet the need. I suspect the main instances will be the ones who put up ads, because they will be the only servers with the resources to keep servers up and hate down.

@evan Equating domain with group is, as you suggest, useful. However, I think we've done less than we could by not making it easier for individuals to maintain multiple, role or interest-based identities. I should be able to switch easily between identities rooted on company, family, city, or interest, while maintaining a persistent context-free identity.

We've known about this problem since at least the late 1970's when I first started building email systems... Is it too late to fix it now?

A #hyperlink can function as a powerful identifier for #identity and #authenticity.
I’ve used it for vendor independent self-sovereign identity for some time now.
For instance, just adding “#id” to the end of the hyperlink that denotes your @Mastodon profile page does the trick 🙂

/cc @evan

@kidehen @Mastodon @evan Yes, I can extend a hyperlink to fabricate a context-specific identity by using a URI fragment (#<id>), but doing so requires that I expose some base, context-independent identity. That is not always desirable or appropriate.

For instance, I might wish to participate in some work-related contexts as "" without revealing my personal identifier. (i.e. I may want to talk to you about work, but I am not your friend...)

A #hyperlink based identifier works fine regarding the entire nyms spectrum. You can mint as many identifiers as your intentions and needs require :)
Note, conditional access to content is a separate matter in a realm where the following are loosely-coupled:
1. #Identity
2. #Identification
3. #Authentication
4. #Authorization
5. #Storage
/cc @Mastodon @evan

@kidehen @bobwyman @Mastodon @evan I don't quite follow this. Are you saying that I could have different accounts on servers for my interests in, say, religion, music, and my locality, yet have them point to some same place?

@jzitt @kidehen @Mastodon @evan Example:
In Gmail I have multiple email addresses that I usually manage from a single inbox. For each message I send, I decide which email "From" address I'll use -- depending on context and intent. By default, my replies are from whatever address was used to deliver the message I'm replying to. I use filters to sort messages into views depending on address. So, I can see all messages together or just those specific to one address.

@bobwyman @kidehen @Mastodon @evan Yup, I have the same in Gmail. I've been asked how to do something like it in Mastodon.

@jzitt @kidehen @Mastodon @evan Unfortunately, when I send using one address, Gmail exposes the "primary" address that I'm sending from. (e.g "From: bob@foo As bob@bar")This is non-optimal. I would prefer that email addresses should not reference each other.

I recognize that there is value in linking multiple addresses to some common identity, but I would prefer that the referenced identity is non-addressable. (i.e. It establishes who I really am, but can't be used to send an email.)

@jzitt @kidehen @Mastodon @evan One significant advantage of the Gmail-like support for multiple addresses is that if I have a role-specific address (e.g., I can pass that address to someone else who replaces me in the role without breaking my email setup, sharing passwords, etc. Ideally, I'd also be able to pass them the history of previous interchanges that used that address.



Fundamentally, I am saying that your #identity should be loosely-coupled to #identification (credentials), #authentication (credentials verification -- using a variety of protocols), #authorization, and storage.

I say that because more often than not these issues are conflated en route to compromising our ability to control vulnerability -- a/k/a #privacy.

/cc @bobwyman @Mastodon @evan

@kidehen @jzitt @bobwyman @Mastodon @evan

I'm not following much of your buzz words and double speek. you might be better writing this stuff up as a whitepaper with some decent diagrams and mapping the flows in some sequence diagrams.

@kidehen @bobwyman @Mastodon @evan That does make sense. I'm also intereted in the idea of using a digital wallet, as has been mentioned (I forget by whom) in this thread, and written about by @dsearls


The notion of "Digital Wallet" can sometimes be confusing, that said: it can be used in this regard too.

Comment Context:

A "Digital Wallet" is a credentials store that manifests in many guises:

1. Local Keychain i.e., Keychain on macOS, Keystore on Windows, and a cross-platform secure PKCS#12 file

2. A credentials store pegged to a #blockchain e.g., Electrum for #bitcoin and Metamask for #ethereum.


/cc @bobwyman @Mastodon @evan @dsearls

@bobwyman @evan it shouldn't be too late, we have an opportunity as we shift to the next phase of the Web to build in cryptographically veritable self sovereign identity, enabled by Verifiable Credentials and Decentralized Identifiers.

@bobwyman @evan having an identity wallets with multiple, but distinct, portable profiles is emerging as a standard practice for SSI.

@evan @bobwyman - To play devil's advocate, I believe that "the equivalence of one domain with one real world group" is a terrible direction for the Fediverse to move.
1) That would encourage people with a particular worldview only talking to each other.
2) Most of us have multiple interests/advocacies. I believe that only general-purpose instances that moderate SOLELY based on written rules can provide the environment we need. Holding a minority opinion should never be cause for suspension.

@evan @ks I think you are exactly right about where this ends up (large, regulated players) in the absence of some counteracting forces - but “social and cultural mechanisms” seems incredibly vague. Is there any precedent that shows communities can self-organize out of network effects rather than fall prey to them?

@markallerton @ks let me flip it: what non-technical things would you do to keep things decentralized?

@evan @markallerton @ks

I do agree that centralization is coming to the fediverse, but not for any of the reasons that most people on here think. That centralization is coming for the exact same reasons that centralization came to email, and it's a reason that many folks that would like things to stay decentralised keep ignoring.

And that is user safety.

A lot of Mastodon fans keep pretending that Mastodon is inclusive. It's not. But it could be.

@evan @markallerton @ks

As a Black person, simply signing up for a Mastodon account can expose you to vile racist slurs and threats of violence. Most Mastodon users are one popular toot away from discovering that their instance mods are either unwilling or completely unprepared to deal with this.

Because a centralized whitelist was abused in a cynical attack years ago, the fediverse kinda gave up on that idea, and has been very resistant to it ever since.

@evan @markallerton @ks

It's entirely possible for decentralized instances to provide safety, but most don't/won't. I'm super happy with for example. ♥️👍🏿

But a larger company is going to integrate with the fediverse, and fulfill the most basic user feature request: "As a user of your product, I would like to know that signing up will not expose me to death threats from nazis" 🤷🏿‍♂️

Then more new users are going to flow there.

@evan @markallerton @ks

The best thing to do to "counter" this coming centralization is super easy to do, but from my short time observing here, it won't happen:

1. There should be stricter criteria for an instance being listed on "join Mastodon." Insufficient moderation gets you de-listed. Handle cynical false reports.

2. It should be easier for a new admin to just check a box and opt-in to a whitelisted federation that excludes the worst instances.

@evan @markallerton @ks

Personally I care a lot more about user safety than decentralization. I care about decentralization as it pertains to user safety, product innovation, and inclusion. Which is why for the day job, I choose jobs where I can make sure that small companies compete and win against the big company I'm at. This creates a healthier world, and works better for everyone.

But I don't value decentralization for decentralization's sake.

@evan @markallerton @ks

There's increasing evidence that good moderation just doesn't scale well. Having a mod to user ratio of under 1 to 1000 seems ideal. There's all the opportunity for decentralized social to be safer than centralized. And we're squandering it.

By funneling marginalized users to big instances like and, letting them experience horrible abuse, and then blocking them for not using CW when they ask for help.

@mekkaokereke @evan @markallerton @ks Very concerning in light of the accelerating growth of membership on Mastodon. I'd be interested in learning more about the evidence you refer to.

@allenpg @mekkaokereke @evan @markallerton @ks it's kind of been happening a lot, a couple of people with very large followings got banned from If you follow Eugen he talks about it quite a bit.

But on this one, probably do your own research. I'll get you started. @triketora is **huge**.

@alexhammy209 @mekkaokereke @evan @markallerton @ks @triketora Thanks - I'm now following Tracy here - I deleted my long beloved Twitter account last week and won't be returning even to see what she had to say there.

@allenpg @alexhammy209 @mekkaokereke @evan @markallerton @ks @triketora this seems a poor example anyway because Tracy Chou wasn't banned, just had a post wrongly blocked by an inexperienced moderator and it was fairly quickly corrected and apologised for.

@peter_ellis @allenpg @alexhammy209 @mekkaokereke @evan @ks @triketora after complaining *on Twitter*, so I wouldn’t be too quick to cite this as a Mastodon moderation success story.

@markallerton @allenpg @alexhammy209 @mekkaokereke @evan @ks @triketora I'm not going to argue that moderation on mastodon is a success or is possible to scale up. Just saying I think this example is a poor one to base a criticism on. Also there's no evidence she complained on more appropriate channels before going public on Twitter.

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@mekkaokereke @markallerton @ks @allenpg @evan

I just left a position where I was working with the teams that manage the software for tens of thousands of manual reviewers.

Even reports scheduled for manual review are ranked according to potential harm, and anything below the threshold isn't handled at all. We're talking millions of potentially actionable events per minute across the network.

It definitely doesn't scale.

And that's before you consider cultural issues. You've got English speakers in India reviewing AAVE conversations in the US. Arabic speakers in Indonesia reviewing Arabic posts in the Middle East. Items being reviewed through translations. ML doesn't handle context well, but neither do people from different cultures. Ask anyone on Facebook and they'll tell you about some friend, or themselves, getting warnings for things which are clearly false positives.

I honestly don't know if it's a solvable problem. Although I do think that ML-assisted reviewing could help.

@nazgul @markallerton @ks @allenpg @evan

Holy interesting bio!

SWE with a BA in anthropology. Yay liberal arts!

Some of our biggest problems are socio-technical. We need more folks with warm hearts that understand both worlds. Or even better, know multiple worlds!

@evan @markallerton @ks It's ironic and sad that we're seeing the biggest spikes in fediverse adoption in history precisely because users are fleeing a centralized network that is becoming less safe... and yet we still don't acknowledge that for social networks, safety is the P0 feature.

Yes, the fediverse is safer for some users than centralized social networks, and I'm truly happy for them. But for other users, it is much less safe.

@evan @markallerton @ks

The analogy that several Black users have said, is "Mastodon is the digital equivalent of fleeing 'regular' racism in the deep South, just to experience 'racism doesn't happen here!' racism in Boston." 🙂🙃

Mastodon has more cultural norms around not talking about racist abuse, than around preventing it from happening. I don't know how to convince y'all that this is bad.

So yeah, this creates an opening for centralizers.

@evan @markallerton @ks

Years from now, someone is going to cry about "Automaticc or Flickr used 'embrace and extend' to bully us! This always happens! They did this to us!"

But the reality is going to be that "At a time when millions of users were desperate for something, anything, other than Twitter... Automaticc and Flickr took the guesswork out of signing up for an Activity Pub based service that would protect you from Nazis. Noone else did."

@mekkaokereke @evan @markallerton @ks 100% Mekka. I've been trying to figure out how to say all this well, but you just absolutely nailed it.

@mekkaokereke @evan Fantastic thoughts and ideas here! Mekka, thanks for being willing to articulate what you and others have seen here. I realize I don’t see it BECAUSE I’m white. I also love your point that decentralization could be great in theory, but it sort of presumes instance admins share the same goals. They do not, so there will always be drift unless there is some kind of coalition of admins. And that’s a move back to centralization (1of2)

@mekkaokereke @evan So, as I think you’re suggesting, it’s a sweet spot we need here. We need for each instance to retain relative agency and independence. But we also need to adopt some norms that admins can opt into. Perhaps like individual countries within the EU retain some autonomy while also opting into certain benefits of a larger union. The hard part will be finding consensus on where that balance lies.
Thanks, all, for this thread! (2of2)

@LeftIsRight @mekkaokereke @evan agreed👍. This is a great thread! So many great points. Without discussions like this, no change can happen.🙏

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