Thoughts on Decentralization of Social Networks


In the last couple of months I have spent a good amount of time reading, trying out, and thinking about decentralized social networks on the Internet. This post summarizes my understanding of the three different types I have come across.

Centralized vs Federated vs Distributed Social Networks – Is Leadership the difference?

After I informed myself thoroughly about all the scandals around Facebook and Twitter, I decided to quit these centralized social networks and looked for alternatives. Now I’m using Mastodon (federated) and Scuttlebutt (distributed). Both are very different to centralized social networks and both are very different from each other. Mastodon depends on instance admins running the server and moderating the community. Scuttlebutt is completely decentralized, so everyone is on their own and can do whatever they like. One could call this different levels of control but I would like to call it different levels of Leadership:

Therefore, it comes down to the question: How much leadership is needed in a social network on the Internet? To answer that question one would have to look at the definition of Leadership within the culture one lives in. Which gives the first clue: Leadership is defined differently in different cultures. In addition each individual has different needs of Leadership. Some of us like to be as free as possible, others like to follow a lead, and some don’t even think about who they are following. My personal conclusion is that there is a need for each leadership style somewhere – Therefore, all three models will always be there and will continue to thrive.

Centralized vs Federated vs Distributed Social Networks – What about Safety & Security?

Another aspect of Social Networks is the inherent Safety & Security. Every time two human beings interact with each other there is always a chance of one of the two being frauded, exploited, or hurt. The same is true about groups interacting with a single individual or groups interacting with other groups. The different types of social networks also come with different levels of protection. And every individual needs different levels of protection. Some of us are well aware of the dangers that come with interacting with strangers, some are not and might run into dangerous social situations. From my own experience I’d say that the federated social networks are the safest because the Leadership team (instance admin + moderators) moderates a limited amount of users and their interactions. The centralized social networks don’t seem to be able to effectively protect their masses of users. And in the distributed social networks every user has to protect themself. (Which might also lead to more cautious behavior – Just like we are more cautious in a foreign place than in our home town.)

What about Fun?

For me Fun on social networks comes from meeting likeminded people. Exchanging ideas, experiences and opinions about topics that the conversation partners are interested in is Fun! So far Mastodon has been a true source of fun for me. Scuttlebutt is very much fun as well but I tend to use it more to look for unique ideas on specific topics. However, I do think that every individual has a different idea of what is Fun…