Let's build the fediverse
Reasons why decentralization won’t work far outweigh the reasons it might work, but I think the Fediverse gets it right by putting the power where it belongs: with passionate communities and developers building stuff because it’s cool, because it makes their community stronger, more connected.
TL;DR: I’ve gone from skeptic to fan of Mastodon and the fediverse. To that end, I’ve been part of a small team that’s releasing a new iOS app today: Mammoth, a beautiful Mastodon app for the rest of us. It’s free, it’s high quality, we’re doing some novel things to make the whole experience more friendly and fun for new users, and it’s also a deeply customizable app we think anyone will love. I hope you like it. 🙂
We’ve already had a lot of amazing supporters who believe in the potential of the Fediverse and have been helping us start on our journey. A special mention goes to Mozilla who not only contributed financially but also with expertise and guidance. 🙏🙏
The story so far.
It was back in October, on a rainy weekend, and my daughter and I ended up watching Kris Nova’s Twitch stream as she and her band of merry ops peeps were hacking on the backend infrastructure for a Mastodon site called hachyderm.io. Curious name, we thought! More importantly, we were inspired by watching cool people working on something they loved, building something that mattered to them. A node on new kind of decentralized, community-at-the-core, network-of-social-networks. We created accounts and started exploring.
I’d last looked at Mastodon in 2017 as part of a project at Mozilla to investigate feasibility of new p2p messaging platforms. Frankly, I hastily concluded it could never work: incredibly tricky usability challenges are the hallmark of federated consumer products, a lesson I’d learned trying to bring Persona to market for Mozilla years earlier with Ben Adida, Mike Hanson, and many other talented folks. Yet the more I signed up on different servers, followed more folks, followed more hashtags, I was drawn in as I saw a whole community of people who wanted a place to call their own and just didn’t fucking care federation was never going to work. They needed this thing to exist, so they were building it anyway.
I’ve seen this kind of dynamic first hand a few times now, as I approach 30 years of working with and on open source software. The first time for me was living through the rhetoric about how there was no way Linux on cheap PCs could ever replace the entrenched operating systems and expensive servers from Sun, HP, Digital, SCO. They owned the market! But we needed cheap servers and free operating systems to build the internet, so we worked on Linux and BSD regardless. 2nd time it was: “obviously nothing can beat Internet Explorer. Microsoft won.” Brendan and Ben and whole slew of people didn’t care — they built Firefox anyways because the web needed it. 3rd time it was a belief that there was no way anything could replace PHP as the de facto web development stack! Ryan Dahl didn’t care, and soon neither did a whole team of developers who wound up building Node.JS.
Sometimes, it just needs to be built. And that’s where we are today with “social networks”, I think. Reasons why decentralization won’t work far outweigh the reasons it might work, but I think the Fediverse gets it right by putting the power where it belongs: with passionate communities and developers building stuff because it’s cool, because it makes their community stronger, more connected.
We’re at a point where there’s now enough people who believe decentralization is what’s next for the Internet and are willing to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. The inertia of the current systems will indeed be overcome. My bet is that “the Fediverse” is our best shot at how to do a decentralized internet, here and now.
Today, along with the whole team, I’m excited to introduce the first release of Mammoth, a beautiful Mastodon app for the rest of us. If you’ve already gone down the Mastodon rabbit hole, we think Mammoth is the only mobile app you’ll need — it’s fast, fun, and fully-featured and you can customize it to be just right for you. If you’re new to Mastodon, we take the headaches out of getting started with Mastodon: we’re one of first apps to offer simple, in-app account creation and a quick way to find your first set of hashtags and conversations to follow.
Mastodon is already wildly successful, and quickly becoming the place where many of the best conversations, especially around technology, start.
We want to preserve what makes Mastodon special. The team is all in on the Fediverse, open source, and supporting the tens of thousands of instances and micro-communities. But we think we can help make Mastodon easier to approach for the next 100 million users so they too can enjoy the thrill of finding their place. By combining great client engineering with a backend team that operates our own instance & can build our own backend services (as well as send patches upstream to the core dev team), we think we can help craft a better end-to-end experience.
A big part of how we want to work is by being as completely open and considerate as we possibly can. We’ll be open sourcing our code, of course, but more importantly we want to be part of the conversation around what behaviours are good to reinforce, what the performance implications of a neat feature might be on the network as a whole, what approaches might lead to good or bad outcomes across the system. Let’s get this right.