(2017-04-05) Henry Mastodon Is Dead In The Water

John Henry predicts: Mastodon is dead in the water

Mastodon is a re-implementation of the GNU Social codebase, which itself is... an implementation of the OStatus protocol, originally forking from the GNU FM project and later merging with the StatusNet and FreeSocial projects, from the same people behind IdentiCa, which was later folded into pump.io, which uses the ActivityStreams spec along with protocols like PubSubHubBub, Salmon, WebFinger, and Atom Standards syndication to deliver a federated, open-source Twitter-like experience for the masses.

Before I get into why Mastodon (as is) will fail, I want dissect all of the things Mastodon does right, and why it’s such an important stepping stone in the decentralized computing movement in general.

The first thing to notice is that Mastodon is a beautiful, modern, and ready-to-use application with zero configuration or set-up from the user

Second, functionality. The user experience of Mastodon is a souped-up version of Tweetdeck

Third, Mastodon’s growth this weekend was crazy

Finally, a small note about Mastodon’s codebase. GNU Social, the spiritual forefather of Mastodon, is a PHP codebase that is, by some accounts, a bit rusty and reportedly hard to extend

I’m inclined to believe that Ruby On Rails is a slightly better choice than PHP

The foremost problem is that federation is a lie. Well, it’s partially a lie.

Here’s the first principle of a workable, future-proof social network: Your identity should not be coupled with the moderation policy of whichever platform you host your social graph on. (DistributedMembershipSystem)

Without this kind of guarantee, the promise of federation is ultimately hollow.

Okay, so what is the actual solution to supporting portable identities while allowing well-moderated communities?

There’s a long history of attempts to provide globally unique, neutral identity solutions

  • DNS... groups like IndieWeb advocate using DNS directly to handle publishing, distribution, and conversations online.

  • PGP... doesn’t provide nice usernames

  • Email flows downstream from DNS

  • Cryptocurrency

To the non-tech-savvy, you have a lot of bad options

Finally, there are lot of interesting, forward-looking solutions that are currently being tested

  • Matrix.org

  • Urbit

  • Webfinger is what Mastodon is built on top of, and has all of the problems described above without paid Webfinger providers

  • IndieAuth

  • Solid (MIT), a web standards group headed by Tim Berners-Lee, uses a protocol similar to Webfinger called WebID

There are a couple paths forward I see. There’s an issue open on Mastodon’s Github with some great discussion on potential solutions


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