Unpicking 'The fediverse needs to do [x]' posts

Every so often (and, in my timeline, that’s seemingly “quite often”), I see a post in the fediverse along the lines of:

To survive, Mastodon must…


The fediverse needs to do [x] to [attract specific users]

I often wonder exactly what the people who makes these comments mean (or might mean if they understood the different “options”; not everyone is technically minded), so this is my attempt at unpicking it.

I think it really comes down to what they mean by “the fediverse”.

Or by “Mastodon” when they probably mean “the fediverse” anyway (#MastodonIsNotTheFediverse).

I reckon it breaks down into three categories:

Perhaps there are others too?

Fediverse software

If they mean that “fediverse software needs to do [x]”, I suspect that, in most cases, they actually mean

“the people who develop fediverse software must (or should) do …”.

And while I’ve yet to see someone say

“the people who develop fediverse software should do [x] and I’ll be submitting patches to help achieve it”


“the people who develop fediverse software should do [x] and I am sponsoring a developer to help achieve it”.

beyond relatively small functionality tweaks, that doesn’t mean that people have not said these things, just that I have not seen them.

And for those posts which read like the author is stamping their feet and demanding change, this is essentially a request for someone else to perform unpaid labour. I don’t think that that’s particularly cool in the context of a Free software project, but YMMV.

I have seen instances of

“I am going to start my own project, so that I can do the things I am talking about”

but - as far as I can recall - those have all been for things which are pretty contentious, like fedi-scanning / scraping, and building up databases.

(Note that a fediverse developer may not accept any given patch. That’s why there are various forks around.)

Fediverse instances

If they mean that “fediverse instances must do [x]”, I suspect that, in most cases, they actually mean “the people who administer [some or all] fediverse instances must…”. Because, again, they’re asking for the labour of others.

Different moderation practices?

Different configuration options?

More instances? Fewer instances?

All come back to asking (or demanding) that admins do something, or refrain from doing something.

And there are loads of admins, of myriad instances, all with different interests, worldviews, expectations, and demands on their time. There are admins of instances which I’ll block without a second thought, because of the content that they and their users posts, or which they tolerate.

Fediverse users

This one probably boils down into (at least) three categories:

And, as with admins, there’s an even greater number of users, again all with different worldviews etc.

For all the users who do their best to add alt text whenever they reasonably can (accepting that it is easier for some than others), and to use CWs in a way which they think best safeguards their followers, or use hashtags to enable filtering, there will be users who are absolutely against any form of CWs or hashtags, or who won’t use alt text because they’re posting from a client who doesn’t support it, or they just don’t regard it as important.

That’s not to say that saying things like

The fediverse must be more welcoming of newcomers


The fediverse must do [x] / not do [y] to encourage [z]

are bad or wrong, just that not everyone will agree unconditionally, and some will (and do) push back against what they perceive to be unwarranted intrusions into how they engage in the fediverse.

Some want posts in their timeline to have CWs for various different things. Others want different things CW’d, or consider all CWs unnecessary, or don’t want to use CWs themselves.

And just as different groups of people behave differently, and have different norms and expectations, offline, so too within the (massive, disparate) fediverse. That’s pretty much where blocking and muting come into play, although the labour in that is a conversation for another day, perhaps.

Asking something of a smaller group, with a particular commonality - for example, an instance admin setting rules that they expect their users to follow, with the potential for sanctions if they do not comply, coupled with the reporting system - is more likely to succeed, I guess.

“To survive, the fediverse must…”

The death of the fediverse is, IMHO, massively overstated, mainly - again, IMHO - by people who don’t know what they are talking about, or else with a mindset akin to “if I don’t use it, and my friends don’t use it, then it’s dead”.

Most of the commentary I’ve seen about the “death of the fediverse” appears to have been written by people who discovered it in the last year or so, and didn’t like something about it. But the fediverse is not something which has popped up in the last year or so; people have been using it for years and years.

It isn’t dead until no-one is using it. And, since anyone can run a fediverse server, and can limit federation to specific other servers, you may never know whether anyone is using it or not.

If it becomes the preserve of a small group of people who are happily use it, it isn’t dead.

Not everything online needs to aim for massive growth, or huge user numbers. That’s not the sole grounds for success, let alone survival.

To survive, the fediverse must… survive. Nothing more, nothing less.