Mastadon for example

POSTED: June 10, 2022

Part of a long conversation between Ben Tarnoff, the author of Internet for the People, and somebody from Wired.

But how do you sell somebody on a deprivatized web? How exactly would their world be better?

Here, I turn to experiments in the so-called decentralized web community — in particular, decentralized social media projects like Mastodon. Mastodon has been around for a while. It’s an open source project that enables people to build their own social media instances and federate them together. It’s interesting and promising because it enables people to form social media communities in which critical governance decisions, like content moderation, can be made on a democratic basis and in which a cooperative of users can come together to determine how their social media community should be run.

I agree that the Mastodon example is interesting, but as you say, it has been around for a while, and there’s just not a ton of demand for it. I think that having pluralism and federation and distributed, community-level control makes all the sense in the world. And yet, it’s not what people gravitate toward.

This is where we need to talk about public investment. Mastodon is an open source project. Open source projects always have their challenges in terms of getting enough people to contribute and making sure that they’re maintained properly. It’s also relatively expensive to run your own Mastodon instance because it’s so computationally intensive. And then there are a number of questions, like “Is the UX good enough to draw people from Facebook?” Facebook has a lot more money to play with when it comes to that sort of thing. We can’t scale these alternatives up without public investment — and, I should say, without social movements, because the other point of my book is that if we want to transform the internet, we need to create a social movement capable of demanding that transformation.

You can find the full interview online at