The Fediverse, a privacy-respectful, actually decentralized, Metaverse
With Facebook's totally not suspicious rebranding to Meta, and with a lot of marketing put into advertising this thing called Metaverse, there has been some confusion about what it is. In this article, I will cover what it is, and how it's not the way out of big tech's control. I will also talk about the Fediverse, a community-run network that does what Facebook claims to do, but better.
Web3.0 and the Metaverse – Good idea, bad execution
Most people have probably heard the term “Web 3.0” in recent times, after the explosion of crypto markets mid-pandemic. It's supposedly a solution to fight the power of big tech, and bring back privacy and anonymity on the internet.
While the concept is surely interesting, the execution, right now, is disappointing at best. Blockchain has become a buzzword to easily gain investments, like with the whole metaverse deal (just Facebook's way of capitalizing on the tech). While I personally think blockchain has its use cases for payments (especially with anonymous coins like Monero and Oxen), I think that it isn't a solution to every problem. The market is now full of scams and snake oil, and most supposedly decentralized systems heavily rely on a single entity for their development, maintenance, and, sometimes, even for the core functionality.
Most blockchain projects also rely on old technology, “proof of work”, which relies on wasting computational power to verify transactions. This is needlessly harming the environment. Another concern is centralization: since the nodes in the network need to have very expensive hardware, or pay an extremely expensive entry fee (for “proof of stake” coins), very few entities can provide the service. It's surely better than the centralized banking system, but it has its advantages.
Web3.0, NFTs, and cryptocurrencies are being pushed on us by everyone. But do we really want them? Can we have a decentralized internet without them?
The Fediverse – Nothing to do with the Metaverse
The Fediverse is a decentralized social networking system that has existed for far longer than the Metaverse. Instead of relying on blockchain technology, the Fediverse operates with servers running software that uses a single underlying protocol, called ActivityPub. Using that standard, different servers can communicate with each other, and different applications with different purposes can be built on top of it. Here are some: – PixelFed, an Instagram-like social where photos and videos are prioritized – Mastodon, a Twitter-like social – Friendlica, a Facebook alternative – PeerTube, a peer-to-peer YouTube alternative
Anyone can join the Fediverse for free by creating an account on one of the many public instances. Just make sure to pick one that isn't too crowded (to increase decentralization), and don't forget to read your host instance's rules. Fediverse servers are run by volunteers who believe in a decentralized free internet. However, since they have costs to cover, you might want to donate once in a while to help them pay their bills.
With a single account on a single server, you can view and react to the content that anybody posts on any other server in the network (yours included, of course). And here's the cool thing: since the protocol is just one, you can, for example, follow PixelFed accounts from your Mastodon account, and get all posts in your timeline.
This blog itself is a part of the Fediverse – Just grab your favorite Fediverse account, look up “email@example.com” and subscribe. You can also leave comments and reactions.
With an account in the Fediverse, you are putting your trust in your instance's host. You can always self-host an instance, but you need a server for that. You can verify your browser's connections to make sure the instance isn't injecting third-party client-side tracking like Google Analytics, however, you can't know if there's server-side tracking, or if your data is mishandled. I'm not aware of any instance who has ever had any of these problems though.
This issue is the same with the centralized component in blockchain-based software that enables, for example, server discovery. You are trusting that the discovery server doesn't log your information, shows the actual nodes, etcetera.
The big advantage here is that with decentralized software, you might run into an instance that does nasty stuff with users' data, although that's extremely unlikely. With some centralized platforms, however, you are 100% sure your data will be mistreated.