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This week someone on Mastodon joked about a federated reddit, and it got me thinking that an OStatus, ActivityPub-compliant lobste.rs would be really interesting. With different lobste.rs instances, perhaps with different themes of interest. What do you think?


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    What are the advantages to making it federated over the current setup?

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      In terms of content and moderation, each instance would be kind of like a “view” over the aggregate data. If you want stricter moderation you could sign up for one instance over another. Each instance could also cater to a different crowd with different focuses, e.g. Linux vs. BSD vs. business-friendly non-technical vs. memes vs. …. Stories not fitting an instance could be blocked by the instance owner. Of course you could also get the catch-all instance where you see every type of story; it might feel like HN.

      The current Lobsters has a very specific focus and culture, and also locked into a specific moderation style. Federating it would allow a system closer to Reddit and its subreddit system where each instance has more autonomy, yet the content from the federated instances would all be aggregated.

      So of course such a system wouldn’t be a one-to-one replacement for Lobsters but a superset. Ideally an individual instance could be managed and moderated such that it would feel like the Lobsters of today.

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        The current Lobsters has a very specific focus and culture, and also locked into a specific moderation style. Federating it would allow a system closer to Reddit and its subreddit system where each instance has more autonomy, yet the content from the federated instances would all be aggregated.

        If federation results in a reddit-like site, I’d much rather that lobste.rs doesn’t federate. It’s a tech-news aggregator with comments, there’s no real benefit in splitting it up, especially at it’s current scale.

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          I get what you’re saying. I think OP framed the idea wrong. People come to Lobsters because they like Lobsters. The question is whom would the federated Lobsters benefit – it would mostly benefit people who aren’t already Lobsters users.

          It’s just that the Lobsters code base is open source and actively developed, and much simpler than Reddit’s old open source code. So it’s not unreasonable to want to build a federated version on top of Lobsters’ code rather than start somewhere else.

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            it would mostly benefit people who aren’t already Lobsters users.

            Well that was my point. Any spammer or shiller can create and recreate reddit and hacker-news accounts, thereby decreasing the quality and the standard of the platform, and making moderation more difficult. This is exactly what the invite tree-concept prevents, which is quite the opposite of (free) federation.

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              We do have one persistent fellow who created himself ~20 accounts to submit and upvote his SEO spam. He’s still nosing around trying to re-establish himself on Lobsters. I’m very glad not to be in an arms race with him trying to prevent him from abusing open signups.

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          Based on my experience in community management, including here on Lobsters, I do not believe it’s possible for an individual instance in a system like you describe to have a coherent culture which is different from the top-level culture in substantial ways, unless you’re okay with participants feeling constantly under siege. The top-level culture always propagates downward, and overriding it takes an enormous amount of resources and constant effort.

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            Have you used Mastodon at all? If that’s used as a model, it seems each instance can have a distinct personality, as Mastodon instances do today. Contrast with traditional forums, and Reddit to some extent, which do more-or-less have a tree structure and where your concern definitely applies. With federation there doesn’t necessarily need to exist a top-down structure, even if that might be the easiest to architect (although I don’t know if it is the easiest).

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              I have used Mastodon, but not enough to have a strong opinion on it. It’s been a challenge for me to pay enough attention to it to keep up with what’s happening; it’s kind of an all-or-nothing thing, and right now Twitter is still taking the attention that I would have to give to Mastodon.

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          Biggest argument in favor is probably for people that want to leech off of the quality submissions/culture here but who don’t want to actively participate in the community or follow its norms. That and the general meme today of “federated and decentralized is obviously better than the alternative”.

          Everybody wants the fruit of tilled gardens, but most people don’t want to put in the effort to actually do the work required to keep them running.

          The funny thing is that we’d probably just end up with a handful (N < 4) of lobster peers (after the novelty wears off), probably split along roughly ideological lines:

          • Lobsters for people that want a more “open” community (signups, etc.) and with heavier bias towards news and nerdbait
          • Lobsters for social-justice and progressive people
          • Lobsters for edgelords and people who complain about “social injustice”
          • Lobsters Classic, this site

          And sure, that’d scratch some itches, but it’d probably just result in fracturing the community unnecessarily and creating the requirement for careful monitoring of what gets shared between sites. As a staunch supporter of Lobsters Classic, though, I’m of course biased.

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            So “federation” is what the cool kids are calling “forking” nowadays? Good to know ;)

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            I’d be quite interested to see lobsters publish as ActivityPub/OStatus (so I could, for instance, use a mastodon account to follow users / tags / all stories). I don’t see any reason to import off-site activity; one of the key advantages of lobsters is that growth is managed carefully.

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              Lobsters actually already does this with Twitter, so that seems both entirely straightforward to add and in line with existing functionality.

              (Note that I don’t use Twitter, so I can’t speak to how well that feed actually works.)

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                The feeds already exist, just have to WebSub enable them…

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                It won’t go away entirely if the one, special person who happens to own this system decides to make it go away for whatever reason of their own. It won’t die off if this specific instance gets sold or given to someone who can’t handle it and who runs it into the ground.

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                The Usenet was already created almost 40 years ago.

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                  Not that I’m against federation but so far my experiences weren’t great. For email I can change servers on a whim, or at least do forwarding only with a very simple SMTP, same for XMPP - for Mastodon on the other hand… meh. Realistically it’s running your own instance forever or change handles or join one of the big ones where you don’t own your identity. I actually prefer non-federated systems where I kinda trust the admins more than bad federation (based on my criteria).

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                    Changing servers for XMPP or SMTP also usually involves “changing handles”… unless you mean pointing domain at new server, which you could do for Fediverse as well…

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                      Really? Last I checked Mastodon didn’t really support it and also, how would you even find an instance that accepts your “hostname” and thus would automatically host your users (sure, sometimes it’s only one).

                      I’m running pleroma now but used to run Mastodon and even if it’s theoretically possible I’d still say it’s miles more hassle than email. Sure, if I had friends I could just ask to “care about my domain”.. but hardly anyone runs those. So, yeah, maybe it’s “just” a numbers game and everything’s not shaken out or still badly documented, but especially the forwarding part would be nice and afaict doesn’t really make sense in this context.

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                        Mastodon semi-recently added profile redirects. They don’t actually forward your messages or followers or anything, but they’re at least an official way of marking an account as having moved elsewhere. Partial solution obviously, but thought I’d note it, because I only recently found out it existed.

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                          Oh, instances people are running may not currently support it, similar to how most public mailservers won’t let you host a custom domain with them.

                          This is a social problem, and one worth working on.

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                      I have a hard time in understanding how decentralized systems are better at protecting me from abusive government agencies, groups, and even individuals? With big online companies, it is not perfect but, as a citizen I have more tools to ask for accountability.

                      And even for daily stuff, how can I trust “decentralized” systems run by some individual who may or may not be good at following security best practices etc. Again, with big online companies, again it is not perfect but, I have more power as a citizen.

                      I think centralized systems scale better when it comes to power / responsibility balance.

                      I vote against decentralizing lobster but happy to read more counter arguments.

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                        It’s more about people outside the US. Big Corps like Reddit or Google basically follow the US law and the US law mostly protects only US citizens.

                        Instances in the fediverse follow local law (which is why usually people don’t federate with Japanese instances that allow NSFW material) which is great if the US law is silly in your culture/country.

                        The easy answer is simply that you pick a community, not a corp for your server. If you pick a corp for your server you should pick on in the same legislation as you are in.

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                          It’s even good for people within the US; for instance, I can pick a fediverse server in Germany and know that the admins will be required by law to ban nazis even though I don’t live in Germany.

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                            I agree that federating big platform like reddit, Twitter, or YouTube makes sense because these platforms host multiple communities with conflicting norms and expectations regarding privacy, speech, etc. In an ideal scenario, individual reddit nodes could choose to omit subreddits they found objectionable or implement their own local censorship regimes (a la USENET).

                            That said, I am inclined to agree with ctulek that lobste.rs is best suited to central hosting. In scale, lobste.rs is more like an individual subreddit than the reddit platform. We pick our community each time we choose lobste.rs over other forums discussing similar topics.

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                              I agree, yeah, Lobsters is more like a single sub but it could be useful if lobste.rs could federate…

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                          an OStatus, ActivityPub-compliant lobste.rs

                          Lobste.rs is a news aggregator: people post links and some people vote up or down, others comment. It’s code base is open source, so different instances can be set up, and run by different people. Federation is implicit in this step because of a certain something called “http” - just link one page from another, it’s not great, but it’s enough – OStatus, ActivityPub and everything is great, but don’t overhype it, otherwise it will just become another fad (eg. Blockchains, Containers, …).

                          The only thing that federation can offer would be to allow comments to be cross posted in some way, but that would seriously undermine one of this sites great strengths, namely it’s quality and control over content.

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                            This was discussed a few times on IRC. I’ve started on the pieces of this locally to try and replicate what we do with the mailing list mode.

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                              I would enjoy lobste.rs as a Usenet newsgroup. Gmane already offers the group gwene.rs.lobste (on nntp://news.gmane.org) via RSS, but without comments.

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                                One of the reasons I created Feedbase was to have a “Gwene with comments”. However, one thing is building the software, another thing is to get a community going… :-)

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                                Previously. I did end up creating a list of sister sites using the Lobsters codebase.

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                                  I had the same thought a few months back and started looking into ActivityPub. It all seems very do-able, and I sketched out an outline of what the system would look like, but at the moment I don’t have the bandwidth to implement something like that from scratch.

                                  Maybe later in the summer.

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                                    You don’t need much to have some basic federation with Lobsters. Source: working on federated reddit rn.

                                    The absolute basic variant of federation would be a RSS feed + webmention. The RSS Feed is basically the content posted and webmention allows conversation in comments.

                                    Of course the disadvantage is that this setup is rather fragile and inflexible for what you actually want but in my current project it allows me to scope out which interfaces are needed at the basic level for everything to work.

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                                      Supporting inbound webmention for comments could be great, actually! I would use that.

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                                      It would be instructive to look at other federated services to see how it might work.

                                      An organization or individual can run their own SMTP (email) server. There are multiple SMTP programs to select (Postfix, Sendmail, EXIM, OpenSMTP) and they all interoperate [1], allowing one SMTP server to exchange messages with another SMTP server. The organization running the server can dictate which other SMTP servers they will accept messages from and send to, and any individual that does not agree can either find an organization they find tolerable, or run their own SMTP instance.

                                      An individual user of SMTP, using a variety of client programs (elm, mutt, pine—yes, I’m old school here) can further filter incoming messages, rejecting based on the sending server (“I reject anything from example.net”) or an individual sender (“I reject anything from fred@example.com”). Furthermore, if done correctly, one can move their email address from one organization to another (if they have their own domain name and the organization will accept mail for said domain).

                                      Another federated service is NNTP (Usenet [2]). It’s similar to SMTP in that there are serveral server implementations to choose from [3] and many clients to choose from (rn, nn, tin). Also, an organization can select not only which NNTP servers they talk to (this is almost mandatory) but what messages they accept (news groups—one organization can say, accept everything, while others might accept everything but the binary groups (messages that contain non-text information like pictures or movies)). Again, if a user does not agree with the organization, they can move to one that receives what the user wants, or the user themself can run NNTP and find an organization (or organizations) that will send them wanted messages. The user can then do further filtering, again based on sending server or individual (or message group).

                                      The major difference between SMTP and NNTP (besides the base protocol) is the distribution method. SMTP is (more or less) point-to-point [4] while NNTP is more fan-out method [5].

                                      So the point of federation is for servers to exchange messages amongst themselves, according to organizational and individual requirements. SMTP is usually more direct but locating a recipient is out of scope for SMTP. NNTP is more broadcast, but finding a recipient (or “channel” if you want) is easier as that’s part of the definition of NNTP (want to talk about C? comp.lang.c. Want to walk about old computers? alt.folklore.computers. You can always get a list of groups that are available).

                                      What does this mean for lobste.rs? Does it federate with Hacker News or Reddit? Or does it only federate with other sites that run the lobste.rs codebase? (IMNSHO this defeats the point of federation as it should be based upon protocol and not implementation; also, different clients that handle things like filtering and presentation).

                                      [1] More or less. Aside from installing and running, say, Postfix, there are other steps generally required to achieve proper interoperability. Sad, but true.

                                      [2] There is very little difference between a mailing list and a Usenet group. The major difference is how subscriptions and distribution works. In fact, there have been several SMTP clients that are also NNTP clients.

                                      [3] It’s been too long for me to remember names of these. I only had to deal with NNTP server software for like six months in the early 90s.

                                      [4] In that it talks to an endpoint that will accept email on behalf of the receipient.

                                      [5] The NNTP server will only exchange messages to a configured set of NNTP severs, who will then distribute the message to their configured set of NNTP servers.

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                                        Huh, what would a federated message board look like? I guess I could see a reddit-like one where each sub could be on a different server, but you’d have a shared account around them all. Still one server per forum, so you can have consistent ordering of stories and comments. I’m not really sure what the benefit is to anyone of having a shared account among a ton of federated board servers, though. It just preserves reddit weirdness like sharing massively different karma amounts between joke boards and deep research boards.

                                        Lobsters is meant to have one main page though. How would you do consistent ordering of the front page if stories were federated?

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                                          what would a federated message board look like?

                                          Usenet, I think. Threaded messages (with different people getting a different, but eventually consistent view of the thread). Each lobste.rs post would be a new top-level thread.

                                          You’d lose voting and ranking on a straight usenet model, but that would be a small extension (usenet already supports control messages - you’d just have upvotes/downvotes propagated as a type of control message and your ‘top level’ view respecting the votes and an aging algorithm etc.

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                                            I’m not at all convinced that you need that consistent view. Twitter doesn’t have one - everyone sees their own slice of things that they’re paying attention to.

                                            Having some consistency is a prerequisite for a place to be a community, though, so it would certainly be a very different form of interaction.

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                                            From my perspective lobsters is already federated hacker news for nice people.

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                                              But… It’s not federated?

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                                                Hey, man, they said it was their perspective.

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                                                  Not in the mastodon definition but in terms of the web itself, it is. Don’t like this discussion forum over here, go use this other one over there with different servers, different community, different norms. Counts as federated in my book.

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                                                Please no.