Corporate vs Foss Fediverse Ecosystems

A small history lesson

Over the past year, we've had some discussions about Threads Federation, Bluesky Bridges and corporate making inroads into the Fediverse. [1-2]

What does it mean? Have we a head start this time? Can we win?

It kinda depends on your goals. What counts as a win for you, may not be a win for others. Sometimes the house always wins.

I've been here before years ago with the exchange versus free software stuff[3].

It's the same kinda mix of people, the same arguments.

What I found in my time supporting mixed networks in Small to Medium Business Enterprises, is that people use what works for them. [4]

If they are entrenched in what's effectively a large corporate ecosystem and that's what they built their coms on, you aren't getting them off it.

But people who build from the beginning on Free Software don't move off it. They are committed to it for different reasons. [5] I've worked with a variety of mixed networks from Windows desktops and a Linux server to an entire network of Ubuntu desktops and only 2 Windows PCs for the accounting software. The Ubuntu network was bound in with a very specific application written for Ubuntu Linux specifically. That network was not moving any time soon. Elsewhere you have Windows desktops but the folks use Thunderbird and other FOSS software.

People build their businesses and communities around what tools they can use right now. It's why we see some Long Covid Advocacy groups on Facebook and Slack. It's why we see Mastodon channels on Discord. The majority will choose what works and it tends to be the person setting up those initial communications channels on what is available and easy to use. Very often it also tends to be very low cost initially. This is how you end up with community capture on platforms like Facebook and Discord. There's inertia.

In many circles in FOSS, although more on the free software side we tend to be very vocal about what we think a community should be run on. We aren't always helpful and can come across as hostile. Which is understandable, it's our passion.

But we need to be better about managing our communities both inside and outside our bubbles. Folks aren't going to listen to your one-off comment where you criticise their choices. Even if you are correct. You have to nurture connection. Not just complain and talk about Free Software. You have to build relationships within the communities you are in. Then be prepared to shoulder that responsibility.

It is very easy to criticise a thing. It's a lot harder to rebuild community tools and structures that have grown around the particular platform a community has formed on. This is why you end up with a "product but federated!".

As much as communities shape platforms. Platforms shape communities. Developers create the tools they want to see. It's rare when you see a community shape and continue to shape a platform. It is rarer still when you see the power of communities choosing how they want to interact together. To associate together.

To some extent, this is what we are seeing with the pro threads folks and the fedipact folks. These are separate types of communities here. Those communities were formed for different reasons, each community has specific needs and values. Their values dictate what kind of community they want to build together.

You build communities and cross-community alliances by being open about what your community needs and values are.

That's what the fedipact and aligned servers are doing. They are choosing a path and letting others know it's okay to do so. They aren't trying to "force you to join the pact, otherwise it's a shunning for you."

They want to make clear who they want to let into their communities. This isn't censorship. It's exercising their right to freedom of association.

I understand why Fediverse devs do want to federate with threads. They have families using those networks and want to communicate with them, without logging on those networks.

Just like when folks still had to do business with organisations running Windows. Some people still do have to do this. Windows is not going away anytime soon. You can even ssh to Windows now. Our ecosystem is a complex beast.

The fediverse evolved. It's going to continue to do so and some of our communities may well diverge.

So if you want to communicate with someone who needs the boundary, you will need to create an account on an instance that blocks threads. I can see why Indyweb folks would find it frustrating. I don't think it's going to break that many connections. People find a way to each other if they want to.

This has been coming since last year.

But it's not about you.

The Fediverse also needs better moderation tooling and I appreciate the efforts that various projects and fedi devs are trying to do.

I don't agree with the reasoning for threads federation. I decided to not engage at all with those networks. I have chopped myself off from friends and family. But if folks need to find me, there are ways. Those are my needs, the community I want to mainly interact with. But if there's a reason to connect with a threads instance (very unlikely) I will create an account. Much like I have an account on Discord for the community I interact with on there.

It's about folks boundaries.

But you aren't going to necessarily get everyone's feedback on those tools if they don't feel they can trust you. How you react, right now on the fediverse debate of threads v fedipact will affect that trust.

Folks will notice, and they will take notes.