In recent weeks, we have seen many reports on the well-known messaging service “Twitter” after a change in ownership and subsequent steps taken under its new management. Some sources even go so far as to call it a “great exodus,” and major civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, have even called for a boycott.
Of course, Twitter is not an isolated case. The original decentralized vision behind the Internet and the Web has suffered from large-scale industry consolidation. As part of the Next Generation Internet Initiative, we have worked towards alternative futures for the Internet to create a resilient, reliable and sustainable the Internet. These alternative futures have one thing in common: they are based on technological commons: open standards, free and open source software and hardware, and open data. They are ideal ingredients for restoring the health of the Internet, as they allow individual users and the community to operate their own Internet services rather than elevating a single business entity into a dominant overlay.
A key ingredient of the “social” space is a standard called W3C ActivityPub, produced by the World Wide Web Consortium. ActivityPub makes it possible to have its own presence on the so-called Miscellaneous and in fact to own your presence as a user – you can set up under your own Internet domain, determine your own community policies and rules, establish your own privacy settings, and use the same account everywhere to interact with others.
One of the best known Fediverse projects is Mastodon. Mastodon made a worldwide buzz: in a short time, Mastodon gained more than 500,000 new users, reaching today more than one million active users. The number of independent servers for Mastodon has also doubled recently. Unlike traditional social media, Mastodon is not a single website or service. To use it, you choose an account with any provider implementing the ActivityPub protocol (or run this software yourself), which allows you to connect to the entire ecosystem on your own terms. Users can post text (500 character limit), images, links and videos and their “Toots” are posted strictly in chronological order (there is no algorithm ranking “Toots”) without advertising.
Building the Next Generation Internet with Open Standards and Free and Open Source Software
The goal of the European Digital Decade for 2030 is to empower businesses and people in a human-centric, sustainable and more prosperous digital future; decisions to support digital commons become relevant to preserve the original vision of the internet as non-monopoly and non-privatized.
By offering citizens an alternative to major commercial players, ActivityPub delivers the conceptual bricks of cross-functional cooperation. It also opens the door to widespread adoption of Fediverse – again making the Internet a decentralized infrastructure capable of accommodating diversity, forming a free and more democratic alternative to the current situation.
NGI supports many different Fediverse tools such as Mastodon, PeerTube, Pixelfed, GoToSocial, Lemmy, and Owncast, each catering to their own use cases. The power of the Fediverse lies in its diversity: Mastodon instances are websites, as are the servers serving PeerTube, PixelFed, etc. From the user’s side, the Fediverse can be considered “just another class of web pages”. PixelFed is more photo sharing oriented (like Instagram). Lemmy is a great alternative to Reddit. And Owncast allows live streaming, just like Twitch. Each of them is already valuable in itself. Together, they provide a realistic alternative for users looking to move away from big business online social networks.
In addition to more general ActivityPub tools such as GoToSocial, Bonfire, GNU Social, Mastodon, and #Seppo, here are some of the more specialized efforts that have received financial support from NGI programs:
- Castopodis is an advanced open-source podcast hosting solution for anyone who can connect to fedivers.
- Cortez is a low-code platform for building cloud-based web applications.
- Funkwhale is a free, decentralized and open-source audio streaming and sharing platform.
- Inventory is a free web application for sharing books, sharing knowledge about books and helping people connect to discuss, donate, share and sell them.
- Lemmy is an open-source, easily self-hosted link aggregator that you can use to share and discover cool new ideas – and discuss them with the world. You can also access it with the Lemmur
- Mobilizo is a federated tool for finding, creating and organizing events – allowing community events to benefit from wider visibility and participation.
- Owncast is a self-hosted open source live streaming platform allowing users to easily host and manage their own live streams.
- PeerTube is a free, libre and federated video platform. Video is a very popular class of content and meanwhile accounts for a significant portion of internet traffic, PeerTube greatly expands the choice of hosting options.
- Pixelfe is an open-source, decentralized photo-sharing platform, in the same vein as services like Instagram. You can also use the PixelDroid mobile client
- XWiki is a modern and extensible open source wiki system that tracks individual wiki pages and allows people to comment on them without having to create a new account.
Additionally, there are many other tools and libraries that allow your site users to interact with other users in the fedivers, including Drupal and WordPress ActivityPub plugins, bridges between ActivityPub and other protocols (like the vendor-independent standard for instant messaging XMPP, or the Matrix protocol).
ForgeFed is preparing to use ActivityPub to federate software forges. There are also other interesting methods and protocols to federate, which we also support, such as Hubzilla and Spritely. There are many other projects in NGI’s portfolio that create federated services that use standards like XMPP, SIP, and others.
Recently, NGI will continue to promote diversity and decentralization of Internet infrastructure. We see the potential for a sustainably open environment for our societies and economies, celebrating our values, promoting creativity, and realizing the next generation of reliable, secure, and energy-efficient Internet. Explore NGI Solutions to see over 700 funded innovators reinventing the internet to reach full human potential for all generations.
The next-generation internet engages with citizens and voters directly through the established European juggernaut, becoming part of the Fediverse – the largest alternative to central platforms – based on federated, open source and standardized technology.
Are you involved in a project contributing to the development of the ActivityPub and Fediverse tools? If so, we encourage you to apply for one of our NGI open calls – let us help you create a better Internet. We count on your ideas and your energy!
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