Innovators Are Crafting Decentralized Social Media Alternatives. Will App Stores Pull Them Down?
Innovation is the best critique. Anyone can sit around and complain about something they don’t like. If you have power and influence, you might even be able to get the government to do what you want—for better or worse. But building something that makes the existing reality obsolete is a surefire way to affect the change you want to see. Well, that’s the theory at least.
In practice, much possible innovation is preemptively forestalled. This is obvious in the case of government regulation. When you ban or control something, you will probably get less of it. But the government is not the only entity that gets in the way of innovation. Our norms and cultural attitudes have a lot to do with it, too.
No one knows this better than dissident developers in tech. While commentators like yours truly snipe about policy and politics, these peer-to-peer pioneers set out to build the tools that route around frictions in connectivity. They know the innovation-killing pain points firsthand. Many times, these frictions are so far upstream of popular consumer-facing technologies that they attract little mainstream notice.
Actually, there are already many good alternatives to the centralized services that draw so much ire in media and government circles. They’re not very popular right now, but they work. If they gather enough steam and support, they could one day become a new standard.
For example, many people worry that Google could opportunistically manipulate search results (and therefore society) since it routes so much of the web’s traffic. These critics could use and promote an alternative like searx, which is a free software metasearch engine with multiple instances that allows users to select their own search sources and preferences. Even better, these search alternatives are privacy-protecting, and do not collect and store user data like today’s leading services.
Then there is the question of speech on social media. Many people don’t like the content moderation policies of third-party platforms. Depending on your persuasion, moderators either censor important political speech or allow hate speech to run amok online. The problem is that a one-size-fits-all moderation approach will never make everyone happy.
Enter the Fediverse: an assortment of federated (get it?) software and servers that provide a more customizable web experience. Fediverse apps assemble the protocols to su
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