In the last post we imagined a social media world where your followers seamlessly connect across platforms, empowering everyone to manage their data and engagements. We pictured a landscape without algorithmic feeds, spam, or intrusive ads, reminiscent of the simplicity of email.

There are ways to realize this image. Right here, right now. But (almost) no one knows it.

ActivityPub is one such method. It’s not a product, nor a platform: it’s not something you buy or rent; it’s a standardized protocol, that websites can choose to adopt.

Still too nebulous? Let’s take a practical example: Mastodon. In daily use, it’s identical to Twitter. Tweets, retweets, likes, comments, images, videos.. you know the drill.

But, when it comes to the underlying architecture, it’s a federation of thousands of independent nodes. They all run the same open-source software, but each is managed by a distinct entity, operating under its own unique terms of service, privacy and moderation policies.

Listen to the beautiful sound of those words.

“Federation” implies that no single entity owns ALL THE DATA. “Open-source” means no ads, no profit-driven motives, no bullshit.

You can register your account with any available node. Pick the one you identify the most with (ie. can be great for electronic music lovers!) or simply the most popular one,

The beauty of it is that, in the end, it’s not that important, because:

  1. At any point, you have the freedom to pack up your followers, your content, and move to another node;

  2. Any account has the ability to follow any other user, regardless of where their account is based. You’ll see their posts in your home feed, and if they return the follow, they’ll see yours in theirs.

ActivityPub is the lingua franca of Mastodon nodes. The protocol allowing this decentralized take to the “social media” challenge.

But it doesn't end here. In fact, that's just the start.

Mastodon is just one of the many social media platforms that communicate via ActivityPub. If Twitter isn't your cup of tea, there's a wealth of alternatives.

Pixelfed is an Instagram-esque platform to share photos with filters, stories and shit.

PeerTube is like YouTube.

Lemmy? Reddit/Hacker News.

They're all federated, and open source.

The most mind-bending part? They're all capable of communicating with each other.

So, if Mastodon is where you like to share, but you really dig a specific Pixelfed user, you can follow them right from Mastodon. Their content will seamlessly appear in your regular feed, and you can drop your much-appreciated like without the need to switch between 23 different apps.

Everything is interconnected. Everybody owns its data. Every platform speaks the same language. Some cringey people refer to this as "the fediverse". I call it civilization.

I'm just at the beginning of discovering these tools myself.

Some of these platforms, Mastodon above all, are much more developed, solid, and frequented, while others are just getting started, lacking usability and especially content.

The journey is so steep for these platforms, given the powerful lock-in effect of existing social networks. If the bulk of my friends/people I follow don't make the switch, why should I?

But the underlying philosophy (and technology!) is so strong, so convincing, that I do hope in a slow, steady revolution. Also, people are starting to get tired. The arrival of Elon Musk at the helm of Twitter, for instance, has driven about 2M new users to Mastodon.

It's hard to explain in words the feeling of navigating a social network without ads. To have a feed that ends at some point, because you've seen everything there is to see. Where you don't feel sucked in, or used. Where you feel in control. It's beautiful.

People communicate and exchange ideas differently in this type of environment. In just three weeks on Mastodon, I've discovered a number of intriguing ideas and links that I've never come across in years of using Twitter.

Suggest it to your friends. That's what I'm trying to do. Give it a try. I think you're going to like the experience!