Small Organisation Server

Why Sharing Federated Social Media Systems is Important

If you are are a non technical person – or more importantly a group of people – as being social on your own is not much fun – and you are looking for a place on the Internet to get together your choices are pretty limited. Everybody in your group is probably on WhatsApp, and Facebook, and it is easy to set up free Zoom accounts, and then you only need somebody, or a couple of people to have a paid account and you are are all set.

If you want to avoid that route your choices are much more limited. In fact if you are not technical they are pretty much non-existent.

If you are purchasing a large piece of commercial software they often have an example user to show how things can be set up. For example have the example of a “a global fictitious company that sells computer hardware including storage, motherboard, RAM, video card, and CPU.” This gives you an idea of their target market.

I will use the example of a small (say 20-50 members) Gardening Club. Suppose they want to chat, but some of their members do not have a smartphone, or for some other reason they do not want to use WhatsApp (this is a Gardening Club – software freedom, privacy and such like are less important to them than effective defenses against carrot fly, or whether to over-winter dahlias in the shed). There is a protocol called Jabber or XMPP, which has been around for a well over a decade, which does everything which is needed, but it has never really taken off in the ‘real’ world. One reason for that is that there is not much reward for running an XMPP server for public use. There have been several attempts at mass-XMPP – Google Talk used to be proper federated XMPP, Duck Duck Go had a free XMPP service, there are numerous free XMPP services which are not accepting new accounts.

There is a cost to running a service – somebody has to pay for the hosting, network use etc – and running one, free, as a business does not make sense, and generously offering the service to strangers will exhaust anybody’s resources. Our Gardening Club could – if they knew about it – go to and pay to have their XMPP hosted there, but if they also wanted to have a web site, for example using WordPress, they would have to go somewhere else.

If federated social media systems are to take off then our Gardening Club needs a simple recipe for what they can do, preferably go to a provider, pay a small, understandable fee (paid for out of their membership subscriptions, the same way they are now paying for their Zoom accounts) follow a simple set up process and get communicating.

The nearest to this route at the moment is probably hosting a FreedomBox on an virtual, or hosted real system on the internet, although their attention is more towards onion routing than onion sets. There is a community around FreedomBox, as there is around many of the other federated social media projects, but it is a technically oriented community.

If the barriers to entry for Federated Social Media systems are such that only people who are capable of, and have the inclination to, install their own system from scratch can participate then the main topic of the Fediverse will be itself, which is not a healthy state.

Our hypothetical Gardening Club, knitting group, model railway society, dentists association, primary school, needs tools built around their interests, which can federate and accommodate the keen gardener, communicating with her fellow dentists professionally, knitting and working on her model railway when the weather is not suitable for gardening, and making jam for her children’s primary school summer fair.

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