Concerns about the Fediverse

Table of Contents

I’ll preface this with the fact that I’ve recently set up an Akkoma server on, and that you should follow me there. I’m the only account! :)

Setup was, frankly, pretty easy. Akkoma has good documentation and install scripts. However, there’s a few things I don’t understand about mastodon/fediverse technologies, and they’ve been bothering me.

Everyone’s first comment in a Fediverse discussion seems to be something along the lines of “find the right instance!”. There’s just one problem: I’m very much Not Fucking Interested(tm) in re-establishing my online presence in 18 months if the instance I’m on bites the dust for one reason or another.

I’ve had the same e-mail address for a decade; I’ve had the same phone number since middle school. This has been great! There’s too much inertia behind Google to disappear from the internet any time soon, and thanks to the FCC you can port numbers between carriers very easily. Losing these just isn’t something I have to worry about, even in the most fleeting moment of anxiety.

E-mail is less of a problem to disappear, because although it does (unwillingly) serve as a main source of identity on the internet, the things that rely upon it are mostly personal, not social. E-mail addresses are mostly used for accounts at businesses, and for establishing seventeen aliases to use at DoorDash to get free delivery.

(No, I won’t apolgize for that.)

The phone, on the other hand, is my most important single point of social contact. If I were to lose this, I’d have to manually re-establish contact with a number of family members. We, as a society, recognized this problem pretty quickly and had the FCC establish rules that allow people to move their phone numbers. Hell, some of the earliest automation in the telephone network was (after billing, of course) for reassignment of numbers!

What about the fediverse, though? There doesn’t seem to be any mechanism for moving identity, at least from my cursory research. If the instance server I’m on dies (this has happened to me before), unless I take backups of my own account, the data is lost forever. Even if I do make backups, do ActivityPub servers really allow you to import posts and make them appear in the past? That seems like it can be abused pretty easily.

What about other people’s replies to those posts? Sometimes, posts are only as good as the discussion they generate - how does that conversation persist across a move to a new instance? What if somebody else moves? Maybe these questions are answered somewhere in the depths of arcane ActivityPub knowledge, but frankly that’s not good enough. Billing the fediverse as a replacement to Twitter without answering these questions is, frankly, absurd.

Obviously, this problem exists on Twitter, but it’s at a smaller scale. Tweets get deleted, and accounts get suspended all the time. However, if a fediverse instance server is taken down, or collapses for financial reasons…that’s tens of thousands of users (potentially) that need to find a new home. An entire social network just got wiped out. On Twitter, people can (usually) recover an account quickly by updating the rest of their non-suspended friends with their new handle.

There are Twitter accounts that have history going back more than a decade and a half! …Not that I necessarily want a record of what I said a decade and a half ago, but I sure as hell want to know who I was talking to!

It just shocks me that the question of moving identities around isn’t (seemingly) addressed at all, especially with things as likely to be ephemeral as community-run servers. I’m not proposing a global identity system, but you would hope there was a way to set a forwarding address.

Anyways, rant over - this was way too long for Twitter and nobody’s following me on my fediverse instance yet so here’s a blog post for you. Hope everyone’s past eight months were nice!

Hopefully I do more of these soon.