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Hannah Aubry for Fastly

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Mastodon has 10 million users! 🎉

Here’s what it will take to get to 20 million.

Let me start by saying that I’m a relative newcomer to the Fediverse, as you can see on my profile. Many people (and institutions, NGOs, governments, and more) have been thinking about the space—and the technologies underpinning it—for much longer than I have. Most of what I’ll be doing here is pointing to and surfacing their fantastic work.

What I know really well is community and communal effort. Through my work managing Fastly’s open source program, Fast Forward, I spend most of my time learning about and supporting some of the world's most successful and long-standing communities. They work together, often across time zones and languages, sometimes with no incentive besides their passion and determination to improve the world or solve problems.

The Mastodon and Fediverse community is incredible. (I’ve tipped my hat to Mastodon's community before.) I mean the people who gather in these spaces to talk, share, laugh, and learn together, and of course, those who build and run the servers, platforms, and software we use to navigate the Fediverse.

But open source technologies and communities fragment. They’re supposed to. It’s the direct result of the freedom open source represents. Someone decides they don’t like the direction of a project, so they fork it and set off in a different direction. It’s wonderful, but fragmentation is a pitfall too. It can hamper progress and reduce impact.

The technology and protocols of the Fediverse are decentralized — our efforts to build and improve them don’t have to be.

As the community and user base continue to grow, we must be deliberate in staying organized and working together. We need to share ideas, solutions, and resources. Not to stave off fragmentation completely but to use resources efficiently and to make our work better. There are brilliant minds in this community and many passionate people who want to fix existing technical and policy issues. If we work together, we can solve them.

Now to cover what needs to be improved and fixed.

A few days ago, I posted on Mastodon asking my friends there to share what they thought needed to improve to grow the Fediverse. It was a great thread; I have really smart friends! Before I get into their thoughts and share some of my own, I want to address a comment I got a couple of times because it’s a valid point, and I want to be clear about my intentions.

Ben H-R @tinlids@mefi.social: @haubles @mastodonusercount counterpoint: why do you assume growth is good and desirable in itself?

I don’t have an agenda here except to be helpful however I can. My agenda is not growth for growth’s sake. I don’t think that’s good or desirable. I’m excited by the idea of more people finding the community and kindness I've found on the Fediverse too. (I haven’t felt so at home in an online space since I got my start in community posting on the old Ctrl+Alt+Del webcomic forums.) I think the community-first and welcoming nature of the Fediverse can be maintained, even at a greater scale, if growth occurs thoughtfully and intentionally.

To me, that’s why we need to make changes and improve — to build systems and spaces that are safe, trustworthy, and delightful by default, so scale isn’t scary.

Here’s what my fellow fediversizens (let’s workshop that…) thought about growing the Fediverse, along with some of my thoughts and links to great work that is in process, and tangential or related work that could inform the Fediverse’s future.

Think beyond Mastodon

Yodan @yodan@pleroma.yodan.ninja: @haubles @mastodonusercount We need to make the Fediverse more diverse and not centered around Mastodon. More and more services are Mastodon compatible and not ActivityPub compatible. We need to refocus the Fediverse on the common protocol and not on the Mastodon API.

Rather fitting this was shared by someone posting on Pleroma 😂— it’s so true! Mastodon is the most popular software for navigating the Fediverse, but it’s not the only one, and it’s not based on the only federated web protocol (ActivityPub) either. You can check out some of the other software and platforms on Fediverse.party. (And if you don’t know how the Fediverse works, you can learn about it on JoinFediverse.wiki, or check out this post from our company blog (there’s info about really neat projects being forked and built on top of Mastodon itself in there, too).

Actually, one of my favorite things about the Fediverse (did you know RSS & email are part of the Fediverse too?) is Webmentions. You can see it in action over on the Open Source Initiative’s blog, Voices of Open Source, here.

Verification

Jeffrey T. Davis @jtds@sandiegourbanists.com: @haubles @mastodonusercount@mastodon.social Not necessarily the most important, but most clear cut to me: better verification. The existing "trustless" verification scheme has numerous problems we don't need to rehash here. Verification should be understood as a service to readers, with things like civic alerts a good test case. And that inevitably comes down to a proactive and resourced trusted third party saying "yes, it's they". I don't think there's any way around that. Don't you agree @mastodonusercount@bitcoinhackers.org?

I think this is crucial for the Fediverse to become a “trusted news source” in the same way Twitter was, or for journalists, politicians, and other people in the public eye to feel safe on it. They need to be able to prove that they are who they say they are, to give their followers reassurance that they’re authentic, and to disavow impersonators. And what’s more, we all need to trust that system for it to work.

I’m unaware of any work being done specifically in this space for the Fediverse (if you are, I’d love to hear about it!). My teammate Keith Kurson told me about a new project happening in California right now called the Digital Identity Project. There’s a broader effort, supported by many key players in the tech space, ID2020, to promote the use of digital IDs too. For those who want their Fediverse identity to be tied to their IRL identity, linking their digital ID could be an option. But this option might be years out before it’s feasible to implement. What can be done now?

Community Moderation

jaz @jaz@toot.wales: @haubles @mastodonusercount I'm working with a group of folks to build a moderation at scale support system, including moderation as a service. This will need some tooling to allow for federated actions.

The moderation issue is crucial to any public digital and social space. And the capacity for the community to moderate must keep pace with the size of the community. My mind immediately goes to Facebook’s (now Meta’s) failure to moderate their communities at scale. In some countries, they don’t have enough, if any, human moderators that speak the local language or understand local customs or idioms. We can’t let that happen here.

I’m really excited to learn more about what Jaz is working on. (Reach out if you’re interested too — and let’s support the work as we can!) Education for moderators and instance admins will be crucial. A wonderful aspect of the Fediverse is that moderation scales alongside the community because each instance admin takes on the responsibility of moderating their community. And users can switch instances if the moderation policies don’t suit them.(That being said, I know the recent explosive user growth of users has been challenging for many admins. If you can, donate to your instance or volunteer as a mod!)

Izzie @IzzieIslandheart@me.dm: @haubles @mastodonusercount  The biggest and most important thing that comes to mind for me is finding ways to ensure that actual humans maintain, moderate, and make changes to their instances across the fediverse. There is the option for bot accounts on at least some of them now. Bots in and of themselves aren't a bad thing, but using them for EVERYTHING is a guaranteed way to send the service down the enshittification spiral social media is in. Humans have to put in the bulk of the work.

And I wanted to mention Izzie’s comment here because it’s a key failure of Meta’s scaling too fast without intention. We can’t trust AI (yet, if ever) to do this work for us. AI reflects the dataset it was trained on, and therefore our systemic and societal biases. We must have human controls for moderation that are based in local communities and have knowledge of local languages, customs, and events.

Trust and Community

Boris Mann @bmann@social.coop: @haubles normalize organizations, governments, cities and more to run their own servers — just like running your own website. Tooling and systems from managed hosting and more to support many more long tail organizations to do this safely and securely.

Nacho @nacho@social.tchncs.de: @haubles @bmann Here an interesting project to provide university students with mastodon accounts from the Netherlands:

It will be interesting to see how local and national governments, educational institutions, NGOs, and companies continue to show up in the Fediverse. Many examples of those types of organizations are already spinning up Mastodon instances. I will list them here (let me know if I missed any!)

The presence of governments and such organizations on Mastodon further legitimize the platform. They represent a trusted communication channel for their citizens, constituents, and fans by linking their web and social presence. And they help build trust in representatives of those institutions by tying the individual’s Mastodon presence to the organization’s instance.

What’s more, these instances serve as community gathering points. I’m imagining a future where city governments (or beyond!) could offer community groups, in addition to civil services, a profile on their instance so that the instance’s local timeline becomes a gathering place for the community to share resources, events, and more — a true, digital town square.

Discoverability & Growth

Danilo @danilo@hachyderm.io: @haubles We need more experts and activists to join and maintain a baseline for what is real and important, building a backbone for meaningful pursuit of consensus. This was part of what gave twitter power, and made it such a productive commons for discussion and community. If only for a moment.

Eric Gilmour @erictgilmour@mstdn.ca: @haubles @mastodonusercount We need the main content creators to make the switch. I still check out Twitter because there's people on there creating unique content I can't get elsewhere. Also, discoverability needs to be improved, make it easier to find people you might like

I heard from several people that they’re having difficulty finding people and content that interests them. And some people they’d really like to see on the Fediverse aren’t there yet. As Danilo points out further down in the thread, there are some growth-hack tactics that could be used to help bring entire communities over to the space. “If you want specialized groups to stick it helps to give them a shared onboarding experience, I think. Then they know they’re in it with other people, they can compare notes, etc.” (It’s been really cool to see some communities migrate en masse, like infosec.exchange and hachyderm.io.)

I think one answer to getting people and communities to join is simply the passing of time. As the platform grows and stabilizes, more people will join. In the meantime, there are things we can do to make the Fediverse even more welcoming and help keep people coming back. If you see someone who’s just joined or is confused, say hi and offer your help! It only takes a moment and it just might make their day. 😊

Here are resources or tips I keep suggesting when I do so:

  • I think Fedi.Tips is the best crash course out there, and you can follow them here: @feditips@mstdn.social
  • Follow, and use, hashtags for content that’s relevant to your interests.
  • Go check out the blogs of your friends, favorite news sources, etc. Maybe they’re already here!
  • If your local timeline isn’t interesting to you, find a different one and migrate. There are instructions to do so on Mastodon’s site. Joinmastodon.org has a directory too, and fedi.garden keeps track of well-moderated instances.
  • Ask your friends who they follow, and boost people and content you find that you like.

It’s a fraught issue due to privacy concerns, but search is one way we could address the discoverability issue. My colleague Anil Dash wrote a blog post about how we could build a search that the Fediverse would welcome. There’s an existing opt-in search option called Tootfinder.ch too.

Features

BatManitou @ManitouRyan@mstdn.social: @haubles I think a couple functional (Twitter-like) changes would help lure more people: 1.) Quote RT like on Twitter.  Making it easier to share an existing post, while also being able to add your perspective, would add a lot of value for people. 2.) True, secure private messaging.  The direct messaging on here isn't really true private messaging at all; it's just posting a toot with limited audience.  A lot of people use that functionality heavily on other platforms.

There are features that are missing that will make people feel more comfortable, and help give them a more delightful experience. BatManitou covers two I’ve heard frequently from many people: quote posts and secure messaging. There are inelegant workarounds for now (like linking to the post you're commenting on in a new post, and moving private messages to an encrypted platform.)

On the other hand, the fact these features aren't included, or the way they are presented (like with private messaging), are deliberate choices. And to me, they are wise ones. I don't want the Fediverse, or my home on Mastodon, to become a place where dunking on people is systemically and technically incentivized or encouraged. And the way private messaging is presented serves to remind you that your messages are not encrypted. Platforms don't need to do or be everything to everyone, which is what makes the Fediverse great. Mastodon may not have quote posts, but there is a protocol for it in ActivityPub! Which Pleroma and Misskey have implemented.

Beyond functionality features like the ones above, there are so many great and fun things being built for the Fediverse. Shameless plug because I'm on the Glitch team, but there are a lot of things being built on Glitch.com that are very useful and delightful. You can check out a round-up here.


I’ve probably missed some areas we could grow and improve here — what do you think?

By the way, in this post, I’ve focused mainly on the more user-oriented priorities and growth opportunities for the Fediverse. In a future post, I’m planning to address some priorities that we need to address further down the stack, like DDoS mitigation and resource pooling with an eye towards sustainability, and reducing strain and stress for instance admins and their servers. I'd love to hear your thoughts about that!

Finally, I’m really excited to be participating in FediForum March 29-30, where we’ll discuss all of these topics and more. Hopefully, I’ll see you there!

Chat me know in the comments here or message me on Fedi: fosstodon.org/@haubles

Top comments (3)

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bleonard252 profile image
Blake Leonard

Here’s what my fellow fediversizens (let’s workshop that…)

The term that I've seen catch on is "fedizen"!

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haubles profile image
Hannah Aubry

Oh that is much better! xD ty

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anze3db profile image
Anže Pečar

@haubles thanks for the article a lot of great resources linked!

I heard from several people that they’re having difficulty finding people and content that interests them.

I've personally had the same issue and I've built fedidevs.com to try to help solve it. Let me know if you find it useful or have ideas on how to improve it (also let me know if you think it's inappropriate to pitch my project here, I'll remove this comment if that's the case!)