Social Media Platforms in the Age of the Fediverse


According to the most recent statistics, almost 5.3 billion people use the Internet worldwide, and 4.95 billion of them use social media platforms. Facebook alone has over 3 billion users. These figures, both directly and obviously, mean that using social media platforms is undeniably the most essential activity of Internet users.

The majority of those connecting to the Internet daily primarily rely on one or more social media applications installed on their mobile phones. These individuals rarely utilize traditional web browsers unless directed to specific websites through links encountered on their social media feeds.

Social media networks’ domination over most Internet users’ experience needs no further proof. And the profound impact of big tech companies on individuals, societies, and even government operations is undeniable and also requires no further proof. This concentration of power among a limited number of companies has become representative of restricted user freedom and potentially more violations of their rights.

Major social media platforms have created a state centralization, which limits access to the Internet to a few gates. These gates have guards whose primary concern is maximizing their own profits. This centralization is yet to be seriously challenged, but a challenge might be taking shape in the form of what is called the Fediverse.

The Fediverse is a group of decentralized and distributed social media networks. Due to their decentralized nature, these networks might offer an alternative to traditional social media networks. Such an alternative might restore users’ freedom to communicate with each other, create content, and access information without being subjected to limitations imposed by big tech companies.

This paper seeks to provide a definition of the Fediverse, its core idea, and its technological foundation. The paper also discusses the philosophy on which the Fediverse is based and its objectives. Additionally, the paper provides a brief historical background of Fediverse and its most important applications. Finally, the paper discusses the future of the Fediverse, available opportunities, development potential, and the challenges and efforts needed to face them.

What is the Fediverse?

“Fediverse” is a portmanteau formed from Fed in Federation and verse in Universe. Thus, it means some sort of a Universal Federation. More clearly, the term refers to the unification of different worlds independent from each other. The meaning will become more apparent when dealing, in the following sections, in more detail with the Fediverse definition by presenting its core ideas.

Core Ideas

There are two core ideas upon which the Fediverse is built. First is the principle of decentralization, and second is the unified daily experience of the Internet.


Decentralization is by no means a new concept to the Internet. The Internet itself is primarily the sum of a significant number of networks that operate through the connectedness of numberless different devices and equipment. No single entity can own or control all these networks, devices, and equipment. Nevertheless, any person, once connected to the Internet, can communicate or exchange data with any other person or device also connected to it. Some old services, some even older than the Internet itself, like e-mail services, are also decentralized.

The Fediverse reestablishes the original principle of decentralization of the Internet in an area where centralization is prevalent due to the dominance of big tech companies. This domination is crystalized in the area of services like social media platforms.

In platforms like Facebook or X (formerly Twitter), users’ data is stored on servers owned or rented by the company. This gives these companies exclusive control over the data and who and how to access it. In the Fediverse services like Mastodon, data is distributed among several servers that no single entity owns or controls. For instance, any individual, group, or entity can make Mastodon services available on any server. Each user is free to access the service on any server they choose while still being able to interact with all the users of other servers without obstacles.


The concept of federalism represents the unification of distinct entities while preserving their internal autonomy, which, in essence, mirrors the idea of decentralization. However, federalism additionally incorporates the notion of unification. When this idea is applied to daily Internet interactions, it implies that the experience is no longer fragmented or isolated.

Each of many services and applications offers its own network that is independent of the others while their features and options intersect. As a result, many users find their daily experience of the Internet primarily divided. This happens because the user needs to deal with many networks/applications to communicate with different groups of people or to benefit from the capabilities of a specific network specialized in a particular type of content. For instance, users deal with YouTube, which specializes in video content, and Instagram, which specializes in photos.

Going back and forth among different applications wastes a lot of time. It also forces the user to learn how to deal with various interfaces. Additionally, the user must deal with different rules and standards enforced by companies owning these networks. Federalism offers a suitable solution to these problems.

Federalism in the Fediverse means that the content published through one network and stored on any server that offers this network’s services can also be accessed through any other network. This is achieved when both networks use the same protocol for exchanging notifications. As a result, users can be notified of updates posted on other networks through the interface of any of the networks. Hence, there is no need to go through all the different networks or applications to follow the published content.

Conversely, any content creator can reach as large an audience as possible on different networks without re-publishing updates on more than one network. Any user interested in following this creator’s content can access it by following one account on one network.

For example, a user connected to Mastodon can follow an account of another user on a network of the video content application PeerTube without needing to have an account on PeerTube. In such a case, the user can follow the updates from PeerTube on Mastodon’s feed.

This structure frees social media users from being forced into using a network/application only because it has a large number of users. It also allows users to access more varied content and content creators to reach a larger audience.

Federalism enables users to choose the network they use most of the time, either for following or publishing content, based on the criteria they are interested in. The user can choose a network based on the ease of its interface, rules for publishing content, efficiency, or quality.

Technological Foundation

The Fediverse’s technological foundation is unified protocols that different networks can use to communicate with each other. In the world of computing, a protocol refers to a set of guidelines or rules mutually agreed upon by various parties. Alternatively, it can be open for anyone to utilize without any restrictions.

These rules determine how a software may understand/deal with data of a specific type. For instance, the TCP/IP Internet protocol determines how to deal with a packet of data transferred among devices connected to the Internet. It determines the Internet address that the data packet should reach eventually. Another example is the HTTP protocol, which determines how a packet of data is interpreted into a web page displayed on the browser.

The Fediverse has used a number of protocols since its early beginnings. Currently, the ActivityPub protocol is the most widely used. It is the one approved by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for communication among social media networks. ActivityPub is an open protocol, meaning that any individual or entity can use it for free without conditions.

This protocol, or any similar protocol, defines a set of rules for constructing messages that include a notification of the publication of content. This allows any software that receives this message to interpret it and display the notification to its user. Any software can also form a similar message to exchange it across different networks. These rules are for interactions between distinct servers in a computing context, establishing protocols for server-to-server relationships.

On the other hand, the ActivityPub protocol defines rules for the server-to-client relationship. This relationship exists between two software entities: one that makes content available for users and operates on a server and another that interprets the content and displays it to an end user, or receives content from a user and formats it as a message sent to the server. This part of the protocol is optional; no network is required to follow it. Some networks already use it, while others use their own software to connect their users to servers.

Philosophy and Objectives

Alan Zeichick wrote an article in 2008 in which he defined what he called the network effect. He described this effect as the phenomenon whereby a network’s worth to its users multiplies as its user base expands.

Network effect, as Zeichick points out, is the secret behind the power and influence Facebook enjoys. The power and influence that Facebook accumulates to this day, as its users grow to more than 3 billion users, lead to a reverse phenomenon. 

As a network’s value to users increases, users experience a decline in their freedom, making them more susceptible to tolerating various changes in the network, even if those changes are inconvenient. This phenomenon may result in users accepting alterations in the network without critically considering alternatives or ceasing their engagement with the network. The other face of this reverse phenomenon is that as the number of a network’s users and its value for them grows, the value of each user for the network diminishes.

This reflects the lifecycle of social media networks. These networks always start with working on attracting users by making them their priority. Networks provide users with desired features and options and work on making them as satisfied as possible. In the next phase, when the network has enough users, its attention turns to the clients who pay for its services. In this phase, the priority is for advertisers, while users become a second priority. In the third phase, when neither users nor advertisers can go without the network, the company’s objectives and interests become the first priority. The network administration focuses in this phase on using it as a tool for maximizing the revenue of the owning company’s projects with the highest profitability.

The insistence of social media platforms on presenting what they want users to see, coupled with diminishing the tools that users can use to control the content offered to them, leads to an unsatisfactory user experience. Additionally, users are being forced to sieve through annoying and unwanted content. In most cases, users are only enabled to stop receiving content from a specific source, which doesn’t prevent the network from forcing similar content from other sources on them.

At its core, the philosophy of the Fediverse is based on freeing social media users from the control of the service providers and the forced content that can’t be avoided. The Fediverse presents an alternative to mainstream social media platforms like Facebook and X. It aims to prevent the replication of negative experiences associated with these networks, thereby offering users a distinct and improved online environment.

The idea of a federation of independent networks, where the value acquired by the user grows as the number of users of all the networks grows, means that the user is not tied to any particular network. Going from one network to another doesn’t deprive the user of following content published by the users on all the other networks, which can be accessed through any of them.

Underlying the core concept of the Fediverse is the notion of a foundational element for an Internet free from restraints. This refers to a network where users have the liberty to leverage its offerings without being compelled to make sacrifices or bear unnecessary burdens. It is also a network for communication that is unfettered for any user except with rules that they themselves want to set. Users of such a network can determine what they want to experience from content types and sources while having the freedom to create the content they want to reach others.

In this sense, the Fediverse is a tool for maximizing the ability of Internet users to practice their fundamental rights. At the forefront is the right to free expression, the right to free access to information, and the right to privacy, as the Fediverse network users can choose the network that provides the maximum protection for their personal data.

The Beginnings of the Fediverse

The Evolution of the Fediverse

The emergence of the first application based on the idea of the Fediverse goes back to 2008. At the time, programmer Evan Prodromou released a microblogging service under the name He used a software called StatusNet, which is built on the open source standards OStatus. These standards were set to enable users of a website to send and receive posts to and from users of other websites, depending on a number of open source protocols that OStatus allowed to work together.

Prodromou worked through the following years on developing an alternative software to replace StatusNet under the name In 2013, turned to using this software.

At the time, the Free Software Foundation started using the OStatus protocol/standards in their GNU-social network. Other networks have also depended on OStatus, including Mastodon. Most Fediverse networks continued to depend on OStatus for several years.

Once again, it was Prodromou who worked with a group of programmers to develop a new protocol for exchanging messages between networks and servers. The protocol, which was a development of, was first known as ActivityPump. Later, it was named ActivityPub, as it is still known today.

ActivityPub was designed from the beginning to be an open and decentralized protocol for social media networks. The protocol provides two APIs: the first for client-server communication, allowing the user to connect to a server, and the second allows communication among servers in a unified way for exchanging content and notifications.

In 2018, W3C issued ActivityPub as a recommended social media network communications standard. Since then, most Fediverse networks that used the OStatus protocol started turning to the ActivityPub protocol.

During the development stages of ActivityPub, it was the only W3C standard that no company has been involved in its development. As per a statement by the leader of the group responsible for developing and issuing ActivityPub, Christine Lemmer-Webber, the reason behind this was that “no one from the big players wanted it to exist.”


Today, there are already dozens of networks running on independent servers. These networks can exchange messages using the ActivityPub protocol. This means that a user of any of them can follow the content published by any other network users regardless of which server they use. In the following, the paper briefly introduces some of these applications.


A microblogging application similar to X. Mastodon is definitely the most well popular, successful, and attractive to users among the Fediverse applications today. 

Following the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk, the platform’s policy modifications sparked discontent among a significant portion of its user base. This discontent led to a search for alternative platforms, resulting in notable growth in Mastodon’s user base.

Mastodon was first released for regular use in 2017 based on the OStatus protocol. After ActivityPub was released in January 2018, Mastodon was one of the first applications to adopt it.

Mastodon has around 1.8 million monthly active users, as per some estimates. Through short posts, Mastodon offers all the functions and options expected of a social media platform. It has a large number of servers that a new user can choose from. It also has an advanced web application that offers a user interface through the browser. Additionally, Mastodon can be used through a large number of desktop applications that work on Linux, Windows, and MacOS, as well as applications for Android and iOS for smartphones.


A free, open source, and decentralized platform that uses ActivityPub to communicate with other Fediverse networks. PeerTube depends on WebTorrent, which uses P2P protocol to stream videos directly through the browser or a desktop application. 

The primary objective of this technology is to distribute the responsibility of storing and sharing videos from servers to user devices. This cooperative approach, similar to the Torrent file-sharing system, alleviates the burden on servers and enables efficient and decentralized video distribution.


A distributed social media network. Like Mastodon, Diaspora is formed by a number of networks/servers, each owned by independent individuals, groups, or entities. Each of these networks is called a pod. They communicate with each other to form the Diaspora network as a whole.

Diaspora started as a project founded by a group from New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. It works in a way similar to Facebook, with a focus on hashtags as a means to find content compatible with users’ interests.


A social media and photo exchange service that is similar to Instagram. It is free, open source, and decentralized. Pixelfed uses the ActivityPub protocol to enable users to interact with other social media networks within the Fediverse. It depends on a group of independent servers, each managed by individuals, groups, or entities that belong to no central body.

The Future of the Fediverse

Evolution potentials and their conditions

The decentralized nature of the Fediverse allows unlimited growth potential. The Fediverse is open to any person, group, or entity who wants to create new applications or set up a server to run any of the existing applications.

The openness of the standards and the use of open source software also allow unlimited potential for the evolution of the services and applications. There are already alternatives available for many of the Fediverse applications that started as modifications of existing application sources, adding new features, options, and capabilities.

However, the sustainability, evolution, and growth of the Fediverse networks can’t depend only on their great flexibility due to their decentralization. There is a need for more effort on the technology, programming, and financing innovation side.

The most important among the trajectories for technological innovation might be cooperative protocols like P2P. These protocols offload most computing and resource consumption from servers to users’ personal devices. This minimizes the burdens of managing networks’ servers, allowing their continuous operation while supporting the potential for growth to have more users.

On the other hand, this requires more rapid programming evolution to offer easier software for laypersons to use and help them deal with the network. There is also a need for highly effective software to face the discrepancy in computing resources from time to time as per the number of active users. This contributes to distributing the burden of making the resources needed to be available all the time through the devices connected to the network.

The needs of file exchange networks, which the P2P technologies were largely successful in supporting, are not comparable to the needs of social media networks. Thus, there is a need for developing the technology or creating other more powerful ones.

Challenges and dealing with them

There are several challenges to the Fediverse growth, which might obstruct achieving its objectives. The paper discusses some of the more important ones in the following points.

Attracting users

This might be the most critical challenge that Fediverse faces. With the almost complete domination of networks like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, X, etc., convincing users to migrate to the Fediverse networks continues to be the most difficult challenge,

By disseminating information about the benefits of the Fediverse and highlighting the limitations and potential threats to users’ freedoms and rights when relying solely on big tech companies’ networks, it is possible to influence the adoption of the Fediverse concept and encourage a shift towards a more decentralized and open online environment. This, however, is not enough for users to quit their accounts on mainstream networks and create new accounts on the Fediverse.

One of the most critical issues that need solutions is how users of mainstream networks can keep the assets accumulated due to investing in these networks for years. What is meant by assets here is personal networks they formed, information exchanged, support, activities, organization groups, goods and services, and marketing outlets, etc.

There is a need for innovative means for the migration of users to the Fediverse while keeping such assets. On the other hand, it is essential to compete with mainstream networks in areas like ease of use and the multiplicity of options, features, and activities. Additionally, ensuring software stability and reliability and avoiding operational issues and programming bugs are vital in creating a satisfying user experience that attracts users.

Lack of sustainability guarantees

It can be said that the world of Internet services never provides sustainability and stability guarantees. This applies to services provided by companies, including big ones. There is no guarantee that a service will continue to exist indefinitely.

For instance, some companies might face issues that lead to their bankruptcy and exit from the market and, accordingly, the disappearance of their services. The same issue might lead to some companies stopping one of their services when its revenues aren’t enough or becomes a burden it can’t shoulder. Some big companies like Microsoft and Google have stopped some of their services because they were not successful enough.

Regarding Fediverse services, the guarantees of the sustainable operation of a specific network (a specific server) are less certain compared to the potential longevity of centralized platforms like Instagram or TikTok. This is because such a server might be provided by some individual, a group, or a non-profit organization that could face different issues. These issues could be not having enough money to keep the service up on the server or the lack of technical expertise to tackle growth requirements, including those of cybersecurity. The problem in such cases doesn’t concern the loss of the service as a whole, which is an advantage of Fediverse’s decentralization. 

For instance, if Meta decided to stop their Instagram service for any reason, the users would lose it entirely. On the other hand, if a Mastodon server stops working, its users will move to another server. This means that such a thing won’t be the end of Mastodon itself. The users, however, will lose their data that used to be stored on the discontinued server. These include their content, the following and followed status, etc. Their current identities on Mastodon will also disappear, and they will need to create new ones with new user names on another server.

There is no foolproof solution to ensure that servers never go out of service for any reason. However, various technical solutions are available to address the consequences experienced by users when servers do go down. One is to give users the option to back up their data by downloading a backup copy to their devices or through a cloud solution. Additionally, it can be arranged that users’ data may be moved from one server to another while maintaining the continuity of following relations in both directions with the users of the same network or other networks.

Security threats

The growth of any social media network’s user base is always accompanied by attracting more attention. Some attention, however, might be associated with security threats. In the following, the paper discusses some of the threats big tech platforms deal with on a daily basis:

  •Spam: Mass content publishing for advertisement purposes, to break the network, or to harass some users.

  •Spoofing: The use of some user identity to post content in their name, communicate with others pretending to be them, or obtain access to their data or sensitive or confidential information.

The responsibility for addressing such threats falls on the shoulders of individual network server managers, who work independently. While the network software offers certain measures to combat threats, certain precautions can only be implemented through the server itself.

The heightening of such security threats may lead users to avoid the network as a whole if no servers are capable of dealing with them to protect their identities and data. One consequence would be that profit-seeking companies might start providing Mastodon services, for instance, through servers with high-security measures, attracting more users. This may eventually mean that Mastodon servers that can grow and continue working are those managed by companies, turning with time into a replica of the mainstream social media networks.

An alternative is to develop open source and cooperative solutions to tackle security threats. Another is that some non-profit organizations and bodies provide enough funding to support existing servers or establish adequately secure Fediverse servers, thus preventing companies from taking over these networks.


The fundamental importance of the Fediverse is its potential to become a tool for Internet users to shape a free future. The choice of seeking a decentralized free Internet is in the users’ hands. In case this was the choice of some of them, the Fediverse is a very effective means for achieving this goal.

This paper sought to introduce the Fediverse and provide as much basic information about it as possible. The paper discussed the core idea the Fediverse is built upon with its two aspects: decentralization and federalism. It has also explained in a simple manner the technological foundation of the Fediverse represented by its protocols like ActivityPub.

The paper also introduced the philosophy behind seeking to develop and promote the Fediverse, which is basically concerned with building a free, decentralized Internet. In later sections, the paper discussed the history of the Fediverse evolution, the most prominent examples of its applications, its future and potential for growth, and the main challenges it faces.

This paper seeks to draw more interest in Fediverse and calls readers to give its application a fair try. However, before anything else, this paper seeks to ignite more interest in the idea of a decentralized Internet free of big tech companies and the domination of their social media platforms. Building a free Internet is the only way for it to support its users’ rights and freedoms. Thus, tools like the Fediverse are very important for the future of the Internet and accordingly for the future of us all.