Fediverse Microblogging Protocols: Part 1

by Jon Davis 3. November 2019 15:19

You may or may not have heard of "the Fediverse". No? How about Mastodon? If not that, surely you have heard of gab.com

Gab.com was rebuilt a year or so ago upon Mastodon's open source software system which is a microblogging web platform. It is a branded part of the Fediverse, which is a series of microblogging sites that are all able and potentially willing (via a human decision and a configuration) to talk to each other. Effectively, this is fail-safe distributed computing with social microblogging (Twitter clones) as the form of application. The objective with these frameworks was to establish a censorship-proof system of web hosting, so that people who wanted to enjoy microblogging topics that were considered outside of generally socially acceptable could always have a place to go on the Internet, because the microblogging hosts are effectively proxied out by many servers. One might say it is the dark web originating on the open, public web/Internet. 

The Fediverse was also created largely by the alt-left. These are the bizarre perverts of the world, such as nudists, or furries, people who fantasize bestiality typically via hand-drawn anime art or cosplay. Until recently, sexual deviants were considered too far strayed from the norms of society to be allowed a place on the Internet, so censorship was frequent, which is a key motivator of the Fediverse. However, gab.com, which also struggles with a history of censorship, facilitates thoughts and content from people from all walks of life, including some people on the extreme alt-right--Neo-Nazis and the like. So gab.com forked Mastodon to recreate the gab.com social network on the Mastodon framework, replacing, adding, and removing features according to Gab's whim's and needs. Needless to say, the Masdodon community proved furious about this, that alt-right zealots are allowed to have an uncensored platform, but they made this bed. 

Meanwhile I personally have been very studiously monitoring social networking technologies, companies, and trends since the beginning. I was a participant from the beginning. Like, the very, very beginning. GeoCities was the socially driven personal expression platform of choice at the beginning. My first web site was on GeoCities, until I started hosting my own domain. Then came MySpace and blogging. Everyone had "a MySpace". Then, from out of nowhere, Facebook took off, and the personalized rebranding of an individual's personal profile on MySpace was deemed exotically ugly and forever forgotten in favor of the standardized look and feel of Facebook's fixed layout and feel. All the while, Facebook's mixing of "wall" posts from various users--friends and followed feeds--was something new and amazing. It filled the gap lost by the antiquation of NNTP newsgroups and message boards. It completely changed the landscape of Internet social networking. Then came Twitter and YouTube. With YouTube, sharing your life on video became not just possible, it became a normal way for people to experience pseudo-relationships of mindsharing, complete with facial expressions and body language, with the connected world around them. The people of the world became truly cohesive, the Internet was the glue.

And then people who had traditionally held power over people's minds began to panic. Facebook and Google and the like saw their roles in the world as guidance mechanisms for swaying world opinion, and mainstream media (MSM) began to have their published opinions (*cough* .. "news") prioritized as curated "Trends". YouTube stopped allowing the popularity of everyday people to reveal their priority in searches and top-level browsing, and instead now prioritizes packaged infotainment like CNN as the primary resources to be found for any given topic. And Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and so on, these are all perpetually being mentioned in the (alternative) news headlines for censoring people for sharing thoughts and opinions that go against the preconceived narratives that mainstream media and big tech employees (most of which are in coastal-state or otherwise high population cities, I might add, notably San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, and New York City) are trying to guide the world to embrace.

This is unacceptable, but at the same time expected. As a conservative Christian, I must admit that we had "quite a ride" of privileged authority in driving society for so many decades, centuries, yet we were told by Jesus to expect that the world would hate us, that we would be the underdog. That hasn't happened in our Western society, not really, not in my lifetime. So I can't be angry that conservatism has started to move towards the back seat. Nor should I suggest we are somehow "victims". We're not. The victims are not in the West. The victims are in China, in Pakistan, in India, all over the place, other than the West. The West's time is coming. It isn't here yet, despite "progress" in multiculturalism efforts. But it's coming. This has been instilled in me since pre-Matrix anticipation even in the music I listened to as a youth.

So my interest is in watching for, supporting, and participating in censor-proof platforms, "for everyone" but including conservative Christians. This is why I've invested in Gab. I've paid for a lifetime pro membership with Gab. But I've only just gotten started.

Gab.com made their software (their fork of Mastodon) open source and published it at https://code.gab.com/. They invite the Internet community to clone it and set up Gab Social instances all over the Internet. Presumably people have. So, I tried to. I can't. Trying on both my home workstation and on my laptop, both which run on Windows 10, I am stuck with local setup failure, starting the error that webpack-dev-server never actually got itself up. Gab Social's repository doesn't seem to have a support group, there doesn't seem to be a Gab Social group on gab.com, and no one replied to my post on gab, so I'm left in the dark here, and with this I'm also seeing some serious community-related limitations of the platform in the first place.

My motives to run Gab Social and work on its code myself were indeterminate, it's not truly open source for the gab.com platform so much as disclosed source, but at minimum I wanted to see what it consisted of. But even though I can't get it up and running, and be able to adapt it to my needs and interests--without, say, who knows, maybe somehow $buying an audience with someone at gab?--I can at least see on the surface what indeed it consists of.

The Gab Social software stack consists of:

  • PostgreSQL,
  • Ruby on Rails,
  • Node.JS, 
  • Redis, and
  • ReactJS,
  • with deployments on Docker
Knowing that the software is based on Mastodon, which is a branded implementation player on the Fediverse, this means that it runs on one or more of these protocols:
Knowing the protocol(s) used for Fediverse participating software is important because it means that I as a Microsoft stack .NET developer might be able to build a microblogging-oriented social network infrastructure that is compatible with Gab Social, and perhaps integrate with it (at least to the extent of it being on the same Fediverse), without actually utilizing any of its RoR/NodeJS/etc implementation, not that I'm fundamentally opposed to RoR/NodeJS/etc.
I will be following up with a Part 2 of this blog entry when I have done more homework on these and have come to a better understanding of what's been going on here. Sadly, all of the bullet points in the last bullet points list above are foreign to me, which means I haven't been monitoring social networking tech as closely as I should have, which is particulalry shameful considering I have a number of false starts of social network platform framework side projects over the years, albeit those efforts effectively stopped right around the time these seem to have begun. 

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About the author

Jon Davis (aka "stimpy77") has been a programmer, developer, and consultant for web and Windows software solutions professionally since 1997, with experience ranging from OS and hardware support to DHTML programming to IIS/ASP web apps to Java network programming to Visual Basic applications to C# desktop apps.
Software in all forms is also his sole hobby, whether playing PC games or tinkering with programming them. "I was playing Defender on the Commodore 64," he reminisces, "when I decided at the age of 12 or so that I want to be a computer programmer when I grow up."

Jon was previously employed as a senior .NET developer at a very well-known Internet services company whom you're more likely than not to have directly done business with. However, this blog and all of jondavis.net have no affiliation with, and are not representative of, his former employer in any way.

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