Federated Publishing

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By Chelsea​ ​Barabas, Neha​ ​Narula and Ethan​ ​Zuckerman:

"Projects like Mastodon, Diaspora and Freedom Box represent various generations of federated publishing. As the first prominent project in this space, Freedom Box sought to introduce better default settings for user privacy and control on the web by baking key user protections directly into hardware that all households need to purchase in order to go online–the router. In theory, this strategy offered great promise for widespread adoption by tapping into an existing consumer market for hardware. In practice however, the lackluster adoption of Freedom Box demonstrates how low levels of demand are for privacy preserving technologies that require any additional cost or effort to adopt. This makes it challenging to compete against services that offer free, seamless hosting of data generated on their platform.

In addition, projects like Diaspora illustrate the challenge of open source projects and federation as vehicles for developing better alternatives to large, private social media sites. The coordination costs of federated protocols make it challenging for services to remain competitive in a rapidly changing market of communication applications. As this market becomes increasingly consolidated, the tendency to move away from federation becomes stronger for large companies because consumers don’t seem to value interoperability with other service providers over other features. Thus, the Freedom Box model struggles to adequately address all three of our barriers to impact: user adoption, developer opt-in and business viability. These examples highlight the importance of developing foundational technologies that reduce friction and lower switch over costs, while minimizing the need for users to adopt new behaviors or take on additional costs.

The comparative success of Mastodon shows that even highly publicized decentralized social networks, which take usability seriously, will likely have challenges in scaling to the size of commercial social networks. Mastodon’s growth has been in no small part due to controversial subcommunities being evicted from centralized platforms and relocating to decentralized alternatives. It is possible that Mastodon could grow significantly in the short term, but face long term barriers to growth if its key users are associated with highly controversial content." (http://dci.mit.edu/assets/papers/decentralized_web.pdf)