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      I love all the talk about security, encryption etc we can do in regards to the Fediverse (I really do want it to, wish it could work), but without some kind of ranking system around it’s full-text search, it’s practically useless as a Twitter competitor. That’s why it markets itself as “microblogs”, which is something nobody really wants. If you want a ranking system, Twitter is very strong evidence that basically you need need to pipe all of your data to GCP.

      Ignoring the lack of ranking, we have a network that has demonstrated it fragments and disintegrates given time, where admins can grep your DMs if they want, and anyone with enough users and/or domains will spam you as much as they please without any kind of access restriction; a large part of the product of Twitter is the content and user moderation, something which they struggled with as a $44bn company - I don’t see a couple German nonprofits and guys on basement Raspberry Pi LAMP stacks coming up with an adequate solution to this problem that doesn’t require centralisation.

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        Actually the standard search and ranking system on commercial social media is one of their flaws, and the lack of it is one of the key advantages the fediverse has over them. Globally searchable content makes it possible for behaviour modification. Governments and advertising agencies just need to find ways to optimise the search results and they can get global reach, not based on quality of content but on quantity of capital. Good content on the fediverse gradually spreads to users that are interested in it but in a way that can’t easily be manipulated for profit and power.

        I know this is not a popular position. I know people coming from other platforms expect to have world-wide reach from the word go, but we need to examine this desire and have a real debate about whether it is necessary or desirable to have instant world-wide reach in a social network. Social networks are not news platforms, so instant spread of information is less important than the ability to communicate easily with a specific group of personal contacts. The very definitions of the words ‘social’ and ‘network’ strongly imply not having a system of mega-influencers with millions of followers and legions of unwashed nobodies that follow them.

        I feel like the social aspect of social networks has been lost in the churn somehow. Even if what you really want is a new twitter, shouldn’t there be a place for people like me that just want to share information and news with friends and family? To keep in touch and communicate without being bombarded with advertising and attempted behaviour modification?

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          I’m not saying you shouldn’t or can’t have a fediverse, or microblogs, but I’m saying they’re not a competitor to Twitter et. al because the apparent similarities are mostly surface-level, user-facing. The value Twitter had over everyone just blogging or texting eachother is lost in the migration to federation.

          The search and ranking features are only “flaws” because you don’t like them. Great. I don’t care, I find utility in these features and millions of other people do too, with centralisation being one of the few things that can coordinate defense against malicious actors wrt these features.

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            Right but you are suggesting we change something into something else. I just think it is fair to point out that maybe not everyone wants it changed. Making mastodon just like twitter might be attractive to some people, but a lot of the people that have used the fediverse and supported and developed it for years might not want that. It is easy enough to just make a new twitter exactly as it was and leave the fediverse alone.

            …only “flaws” because you don’t like them

            I think you might be misreading the opinion of most fediverse users towards commercialisation and centralisation. Maybe I am wrong, time will tell. It should be interesting to see how things develop.

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              I’m not at all suggesting Mastodon should become Twitter. All I’m saying is it’s not the competitor to Twitter people want it to be, and it won’t have the migration of users people pray it’ll have, because it’s not what people want.

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        without some kind of ranking system around it’s full-text search, it’s practically useless as a Twitter competitor.

        Maybe that’s a personal preference? I have never once thought “gee, I’d like to search all the text on this social network.” Because 99.9% of that text will be crap written by stupid people I don’t know. Part of the usefulness of a social network is that you find stuff (and people) through the people you already follow. But then, I’ve never understood the appeal of Twitter.

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          You’ve never used the search function on Twitter to find new things, or people? I used to find so many smart or funny accounts to follow by searching “sentence fragment that’s interesting”.

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            I’ve used search on Twitter to see reactions to a current event or meme, but I’ve never followed someone as a result. By definition, search is randos.

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            I find utility in Twitter, but I very rarely use search, especially so for discovery.

            To me, Twitter stuff is ephemeral and if I didn’t see it “there and then” I probably don’t need it now. I very rarely ever used the “trending” stuff.

            This requires aggressive pruning, you constantly have to modify who you follow, though. The “algorithm” had made this difficult; instead of managed and moderated stuff, I see a ton of content from people I don’t know about, on topics I don’t care about. E.g. I follow a tech person, I like their blog posts and tweet threads. But, they liked (not responded to!) someone’s political update. Now my timeline is polluted with this political situation.

            Plus now everybody there is treating it as an outreach platform. Not honest discussions and daily sharing of thoughts.

            I think that is why Twitter lost it’s apeal to me. It’s still interesting sometimes, but signal to noise is quite bad, I open it once or twice a week, or when I wanna announce the next angular meetup.

            For the last few years, I’ve liked fediverse much more, for “social” part of my internet needs. All this is to say, I don’t think search is that important.

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          I’d guess 95% of my searches on Twitter were “I know person X posted something about Y” but of course I didn’t bookmark it and even if I had faved it I wouldn’t find it easily.

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        I mean they already created a high-quality platform that is good enough to warrant something like 7 million users (estimated), ~550,000 of those having joined in the last week.[0] Pretty sure they’ll figure out something suitable for search. Regarding content & user moderation, a couple German nonprofits and randos with basement RPi’s aren’t the ones doing the moderation. Each instance is responsible for moderating properly. It’s not up to some outsourced below-minimum-wage team. Further, the actual design of content moderation in mastodon makes it substantially easier to deal with. Any user on an instance can report content (or a user) and if the admins/moderators block a user (or instance), all members of the instance benefit from that action immediately. Thus, the entire community works together to keep things running smoothly. Who knows, we’ll see how it goes, but so far the platform has been working extremely well, even despite adding another ~million users over the past handful of months.

        [0] https://bitcoinhackers.org/@mastodonusercount

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          Each instance

          These are the nonprofits and raspis.

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      I believe society simply doesn’t need social networks federated or not. Sites like this, hn, even Reddit are ok, but when it comes to the likes of Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and the rest are literally eating people’s time and act as gateways to procrastination. It amazes how people are paralysed in front of the infinite wall of bogus information, commenting and debating over nothing.

      /rant over

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        You think sites like HN are somehow not full of bogus information too?

        Social networks at least have some good social aspects!

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          I am not necessarily speaking about the information we get, but the addiction it creates. I don’t feel addicted visiting hn or lob a few times a day. But when I using Facebook, the first thing in the morning, even before washing was to check the notification bell.

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            First thing I check in the morning is Lobste.rs /comments, no lie.

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        “The curious task of Social Media is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

        • Internet F.A. Hayek

        It’s not up to you to tell society what it can and can’t have. If people want to have their time eaten, if people are doing something they enjoy, who are you to tell them they’re using their time incorrectly? Are you made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?

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          If people like something it doesn’t make it good. If people like cocaine, slot machines and get drunk during the weekends it doesn’t mean I cannot formulate an opinion about their behaviour through my personal filter.

          If I am allowed to formulate an opinion, there’s no sufficient reason I cannot share it with others. It’s not like I am going to seize power, form a world government and forbid social media.

          Also, the discussion is not about the properties of the clay, but the form it gets. Clay is very sensitive to feedback.

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          I feel this is somewhat unfair.

          The developers of said social network do have the influence and do use the psychological tricks to nudge people towards certain behaviors.

          Oftentimes the only reason they can do so is not due to their platform being somehow attractive by itself, but merely by virtue of their platform being the first one to penetrate respective social networks of it’s then future users to the point these users feel that they have to be present so as not to miss out.

          People do lament their kids spending real money on Fortnite skins.

          But you might believe (and I would agree) that it’s more productive to devise new ways for others to spend their time than to criticize their current preferences.

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        It’s worse than wasting time, it’s an aliterate medium. An arbitrary limit on how many characters you can fit in a post is an arbitrary limit on how much depth or insight you can fit into a post. I see images posted of screenshots of news summaries because the platform only allows enough text for clickbait titles and not shallow summaries. It’s a stupid medium created for stupid people by stupid developers.

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          I agree, but that’s kind of Twitter-specific (maybe Mastodon too?) Other social networks don’t have that limit.

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      I wish that the fediverse had a PGP-like trust system, where I can specify the trust of a given party to my fediverse instance, and then validate the trust of randoms relative to the explicit trust of parties I do trust. Preferably have the possibility to apply some ranking based on hop distance between me and the rando, and trust level (maybe decrementing as you further remove yourself from the rando). This would/could have a nice effect of reinforcing networks where you’re likely to have “actual contact” with the other parties, which is really what I want in a social network: stuff from people I know, or that the people I know can vouch for.

      You can have some priorization of content based on “stuff I like”, a “recommendation engine”-sort, if you will, however you decide to implement that, but to me it would be more practical and desireable to have the social priorization first.

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        I think Urbit’s ID model goes a long way laying the ground work for this type of thing.

        I think the federated approach will never work for reasons others describe here (even email and the web broadly are failures that primarily lead to centralized systems).

        To really solve this requires fixing problems earlier in the stack: https://zalberico.com/essay/2022/09/28/tlon-urbit-computing-freedom.html

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          Unfortunately, Urbit has moldbug’s neofeudalism at its core, baked in the design of the protocol and language. And artificial choices like 2**32 systems (or whatever it’s nomenclature), choices of language to obfuscate ideas, and leadership - all of these show me the original designer’s “ideals” are inherent in that design.

          I’ll pass on that.

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            It’s worth a deeper look imo.

            I don’t align with the politics of the founder, but the reasons for the system design are independent of that (and I think correct).

            Smart people tend to prematurely undervalue things when they dismiss them for unrelated reasons - I think that’s largely the case here.

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              I was careful in how I said my response.

              If it was just because the founder was present, it’s one thing. He’s no longer there. However, the ideals of neo-feudalism apply at all levels of Urbit, specifically around “land ownership”, “disowning users on your land”, and the like.

              The system forces an hierarchy where one shouldn’t necessarily exist. Instead, it instead forces it on everyone, in the way feudalism did so in history. That inherent design choice is what I wholly reject.

              And the language all inherent of Urbit also serves to cover and distract from these core choices. And along with distracting, it also does a good job in making sure that ideas in that system are effectively land-locked in understanding their way of things, without a good translation.

              As a corollary, Lobsters also has a feudalist-like invitation system. However, one above you cannot “disown” you or otherwise control you (unlike urbit), destroying your account. And I’d think that @jcs and other sysops here would also frown pretty greatly if I started selling invites here.

              (Edit: as an aside, Mastodon and the fediverse is different. Sure, we’re running on someone else’s server. And they can boot us. However, I can move elsewhere, no longer under the influence of admins I don’t like. Or I can make my own. There’s no way to make your own “urbit” - it doesn’t federate, and it’s owned by someone who can deplatform you for no reason.)

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                The land metaphor doesn’t matter - it’s the IDs that enable moderation to actually be possible at the user level and it’s the mild scarcity of these IDs (4billion initially) and cheap, but non-zero cost that prevent the spam problems that cause things to recentralize.

                Federated systems are worse about this - a handful of servers end up being actually feudalistic and capriciously enforce rules (see: https://twitter.com/LefterisJP/status/1593934653114785793?s=20&t=Pp1ZI6q-UstZEOwCksReyA). It will always be a handful of servers because these systems don’t solve the root problems that cause recentralization (spam, linux sysadmin complexity, true p2p). You end up in a worst of both worlds situation: a crappier experience than good centralized systems, but with even worse security. It doesn’t solve any of the problems it sets out to at scale due to incentives that lead to recentralization.

                On Urbit there’s no distinction between user and ‘server’ so this doesn’t happen. The hierarchy only serves to route traffic updates to prevent version mismatch problems that plague federation (they’re more like ISP routers) as well as the ability to do public key lookups for setting up p2p connections between users. You could also just run urbits outside the hierarchy entirely if you wanted to for some reason and there’s a large number of traffic routing nodes, so there will be a lot of options along with the ability for users to push back (akin to web users pushing back on ISP routing).

                The language/OS design is about solving complexity problems that lead to recentralization (which are hard to solve) that’s why separating the kernel from the OS it’s running on is important (and having it be a functional event log is important) - everything stems from that core idea.

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          I’d like to turn that on its head: email is a resounding proof that federation works. Same goes for the web. True, email and the web at large have largely coalesced into a handful of ginormous players. That being said, you still can send email to those even if you’re outside that oligopoly under very specific conditions. Within that oligopoly, it mostly works. I think for email and the web the problem is more the ease of access (or lack thereof) for the layperson. It has not been a commercial focus to make it easy for Everyone To Host Their Own Crap because I don’t think there is a whole lot of money to be made in it (relative to the costs of supporting Everybody).

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            It “technically” works, but it failed to achieve its goals (of the 90s cypherpunks anyway). My argument is that fixing the underlying system design could fix the incentives that lead everything to centralization, but it won’t happen via federation and it (likely) won’t happen with the existing tools.

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            email is a resounding proof that federation works.

            I can’t even apply for a hCaptcha accessibility cookie using Yandex because I need to “use a real email address”. Handing the unstoppable deluge of spam email addresses (both servers and compromised accounts) is an entire industry. Gmail drops inbound and outbound mail effectively randomly. Email is an abject failure, which is why in developing countries most communication is done over centralised social media, be it WhatsApp, Facebook or their local thing. We only use email because it was good enough as the only option, and reliance on it ballooned.

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      I was thinking, would a network of non-profits accountable to their users be a good way to build a new root namespace?

      I feel that there is a need for persistent, free of charge identities for anyone who wants them with the ability to recover such ids by showing up after their house burned down and still being able to access their digital life.

      It might be a first step towards an email alternative. And we for sure need one fast.

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        Yeah, I think it’s a good idea. The main weakness of the federated model right now is sustainability of servers. Having non-profits to handle funding running the servers in a sustainable fashion would be a good solution.

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          I don’t think that we are the point where people are willing to chip in monthly towards their online platforms (yet). But we might be at the point where 1% of tech savvy users would be willing to fund a handful of people who make it possible to move your profile to another federation instance without losing the connections. You’d have to handle the content backups yourself, of course.

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            A lot of Mastodon servers get funding via crowdfunding right now actually. I’ve actually subscribed to the Patreon of the server I’m on. It only takes a relatively small fraction of the users to pitch in so that the server can be run sustainably. Large instances also follow best practices such as having backups, and of course you can always get your own data from the instance as well. Also worth noting that account migration is built into Mastodon. You just register an account on a new server and then tell your old server that the account has been migrated. This will redirect the followers automatically to the new account.

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              I know.

              You just register an account on a new server and then tell your old server that the account has been migrated. This will redirect the followers automatically to the new account.

              But if the old server goes down permanently, there is some lasting damage. We lack some kind of global namespace and suffer from the same issue as email. Phone numbers, for example, do not suffer from this issue (anymore). You can migrate to a different provider and bring your number along.

              All recent work on this (as far as I know) boils down to eIDAS (that purposefully does not provide stable identifiers, probably due to German historical perspective) and DIDs that seem to me like web3 lobbyist festival. But maybe I am unfair.

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                I think that having some global identity would be useful, it would also allow logging in to different fediverse platforms without having to make multiple accounts. This just may be one of those rare cases where blockchain actually makes sense. Basically implement OAuth on a blockchain and use that as a global identity.

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                  I wouldn’t rely on blockchain for life-critical stuff. It’s way too easy to lose access to it and hard to impossible to recover it. Having couple of reputable people to vouch for me with a judge to step in as needed sounds somehow safer and more malleable when weird situations arise.

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                    Calling social media accounts social media account life-critical is a tad hyperbolic. I do agree that not being able to recover your account if you lose the credentials is a downside. Yet, there are not a lot of other options for having a stable identity without a central data store.

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                      Calling social media accounts life-critical is a tad hyperbolic.

                      Only as long as you don’t include mail and other messaging infrastructure. And even then, it might be disaster for a business to lose its social media accounts.

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      ActivityPub messages (i.e. Mastodon “tweets”) are not authenticated, as I’ve learned recently. I see that as a big flaw for something that’s supposed to run on semi-randomly picked servers and where taking your data with to another server is supposed to be easy. More power to federation by all means, but that’s something that would need to be improved.