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Twitter Exodus: Devs Leave, but Big Tech Won't Land in the Fediverse...Yet

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Open source folks have always been social.  Sharing new ideas, code snippets, and fierce opinions is how we roll.  The people who send paychecks to devs, maintainers, and evangelists don’t always move so fast, though. 

Twitter* has been vital for communicating with the open source community.  Our team uses it extensively at open source events to let attendees know about presentations, demos and giveaways in real time, and to see what’s happening in open source communities and projects.  We’re always on the lookout for interesting events and resources to retweet. On a wider scale, Twitter has become the place we turn to when we want to understand the latest developments in the world, such as the situation in Ukraine, the revolution in Iran, the tech layoffs and in an inception moment, the fate of Twitter itself

But #TwitterMigration is now a real movement for thousands of the former blue bird flock.  Since Elon Musk bought Twitter October 27, his actions have alienated advertisers and engineers alike, many of whom have decided to leave Twitter.  As a result, there’s been much speculation in the press about how Twitter will continue to function, and government agencies are updating their emergency plans. 

While we watch these developments with the interest of a rubbernecking commuter checking out a car crash, the fallout has impacted our team, too.  Open Source Event Specialist Sonia Goldsby was surprised to find her account permanently suspended -- incorrectly flagged as spam -- and has not been able to reinstate it through the automated appeal process. 

The open source software engineers we communicate and work with see what is happening and are (re)activating Mastodon* accounts, broadcasting those links in their Twitter bios.  They’ve found new connections or reconnected with old colleagues and co-workers.  Many report having much more meaningful interactions with others interested in the same topics, without the distractions of trending time sucking 280-character missives about whether someone won the lottery for pre-sales tickets for Taylor Swift (#IDidNotGetTheEmail) or Nick Cannon’s mission to repopulate the planet (#IveLostCount).  The number of new Mastodon accounts is rising by thousands a day, cresting with each new drama from Twitter.

Advocating for open source at every level, we see the similarities between open source projects like Linux*, Mastodon and other distributed, Fediverse alternatives. Of course, we’re rooting for them to take off and succeed.

For the uninitiated, the Fediverse  is a collection of distributed platforms relying on the ActivityPub standard. Mastodon, along with Pleroma* and Friendica*, provides an alternative to vendor-controlled social media that is interoperable with other Fediverse platforms like Pixelfed* for photos, and BookWyrm* for book reviews. This interoperability allows users of one platform like Mastodon to follow content posted by users on another platform like Pleroma, for example. By using open source software and open standards, these options provide the potential for a social web beyond vendor lock-in.

Mastodon is currently leading the pack with user registrations and mainstream attention, and this level of interest could signal a major turning point for Fediverse adoption. Furthering this trend, Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of the popular open source blogging platform WordPress, has recently committed his Tumblr* platform to supporting the ActivityPub format, which should help bring the Fediverse and ActivtyPub to an even wider audience.  The more users adopt these projects for their own purposes, the more developers they will attract and the better the projects will become. 

While Mastodon itself maybe an open source project (free as in speech), running a Mastodon server is not free (as in beer).  Some instances are large, run by organizations, hosted on dedicated services, taking donations to keep running, while others are smaller instances of a few dozen users or a single user and hosted as a hobby.  In an ideal world, we’d like to see companies setting up their own instances to allow developers and customers to readily be able to identify employees as being related to that company. 

But even though we’re rooting for open source to take over social media like it has in the data centers, there are several reasons why we won't see Mastodon adopted by companies in the near term.  

  • Process – In any large corporation there are ways to get things done, and setting up an externally facing web service involves a lot of considerations and risk assessments such as security, privacy, resources, management, maintenance, etc.  For a trending social movement like the move to Mastodon, those risks must be weighed against the potential benefits of adoption. 

  • Tools – large companies typically don’t have single users tweeting, but social media teams refining and polishing social media campaigns.  They use tools like NapoleonCat* or sprinklr*, and these types of applications aren’t in place for Mastodon yet. 

  • Funding – Setting up a new service requires some department to foot the bill, and many companies are feeling the crunch right now. 

  • Licensing – Mastodon is licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL). Some companies have taken a strong line against deploying anything with an AGPL license.  Unless Mastodon changes their positioning on licensing (although the choice of AGPL may argue against that), many companies may have to opt for another ActivityPub protocol-based solution with a more acceptable license, or more likely, could use a third party host or agency , but that would require funding.  See above. 

So until there’s an fediverse instance, you can find Open Ecosystem team members individually on Mastodon. 

Here’s where we’re at:

Vice President and General Manager, Open.Intel

Arun Gupta: 

Director of Open Source Community and Evangelism

Deirdré Straughan:

Editorial Director, Open.Intel

Nicole Martinelli:

Open Source Evangelists

Katherine Druckman: 

Ezequiel Lanza: 

Chris Norman: 

Open Source Events and Engagement

Director, Shirley Bailes: 

Event specialist, Sonia Goldsby: 


Open Source Program Office Licensing & Compliance

Alexios Zavras:

Henrik Sandklef:

Jeremiah Foster:

About the author

Chris Norman is an Open Source Advocate who has promoted the use of open source ecosystems for over a decade.  You can find him as pixelgeek on TwitterIRC, GitHub and Mastodon.  



Photo by Ana Paula Grimaldi on Unsplash