Taking Back the Web with Decentralization: 2023 in Review

Deeplinks 2023-12-31


When a system becomes too tightly-controlled and centralized, the people being squeezed tend to push back to reclaim their lost autonomy. The internet is no exception. While the internet began as a loose affiliation of universities and government bodies, that emergent digital commons has been increasingly privatized and consolidated into a handful of walled gardens. Their names are too often made synonymous with the internet, as they fight for the data and eyeballs of their users.

In the past few years, there's been an accelerating swing back toward decentralization. Users are fed up with the concentration of power, and the prevalence of privacy and free expression violations, and many users are fleeing to smaller, independently operated projects.

This momentum wasn’t only seen in the growth of new social media projects. Other exciting projects have emerged this year, and public policy is adapting.  

Major gains for the Federated Social Web

After Elon Musk acquired Twitter (now X) at the end of 2022,  many people moved to various corners of the “IndieWeb” at an unprecedented rate. It turns out those were just the cracks before the dam burst this year. 2023 was defined as much by the ascent of federated microblogging as it was by the descent of X as a platform. These users didn't just want a drop-in replacement for twitter, they wanted to break the major social media platform model for good by forcing hosts to compete on service and respect.

The other major development in the fediverse came from a seemingly unlikely source—Meta.

This momentum at the start of the year was principally seen in the fediverse, with Mastodon. This software project filled the microblogging niche for users leaving Twitter, while conveniently being one of the most mature projects using the ActivityPub protocol, the basic building block at the heart of interoperability in the many fediverse services.

Filling a similar niche, but built on the privately developed Authenticated Transfer (AT) Protocol, Bluesky also saw rapid growth despite remaining invite-only and not-yet being open to interoperating until next year. Projects like Bridgy Fed are already working to connect Bluesky to the broader federated ecosystem, and show some promise of a future where we don’t have to choose between using the tools and sites we prefer and connecting to friends, family, and many others. 

The other major development in the fediverse came from a seemingly unlikely source—Meta.  Meta owns Facebook and Instagram, which have gone to great lengths to control user data—even invoking privacy-washing claims to maintain their walled gardens. So Meta’s launch of Threads in July, a new microblogging site using the fediverse’s ActivityPub protocol, was surprising. After an initial break-out success, thanks to bringing Instagram users into the new service, Threads is already many times larger than the fediverse and Bluesky combined. While such a large site could mean federated microblogging joins federated direct messages (email) in the mainstream, Threads has not yet interoperated, and may create a rift among hosts and users wary of Meta’s poor track record in protecting user privacy and



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blockchain social networks competition


Ross Schulman, Rory Mir

Date tagged:

12/31/2023, 18:33

Date published:

12/31/2023, 09:12