Some thoughts on organizations running their own Fediverse instance

November 8, 2022

One of the current ideas floating around the Fediverse is that (significant) organizations should be encouraged to run their own instances, in part to implicitly verify the identities of people posting from them (one writeup of this idea is here). If someone with the name of my MP posts from the official instance run by the Canadian (federal) Parliament, for example, I can be pretty sure of what I'm getting. In related news, MIT has stood up their own Fediverse instance. This got me thinking some thoughts over on the Fediverse, which I'll repeat here in slightly edited form with some annotations.

(You may want to read the replies over on the Fediverse; people had things to contribute, and not everyone is as pessimistic as me.)

@cks: The more I think about it, the less certain I am that lots of organizations should run Fediverse instances and encourage their members to use them. The big issue is: what happens when you stop being associated with the organization, especially if the parting is an unhappy one? Is it a good idea to tie people's Fediverse presences to their employer or university or etc?

If people will only use their organization's Fediverse instance for 'official communication', then that's one thing; it's useful in some circumstances (for example, an official Canadian Parliament instance) but not generally. But in practice this is not how a Fediverse instance would normally be used if you opened it up to a general university population, or even a population of professors. This sort of official communication is also not what's in the air of 'academic Twitter'; what's in the air is university people moving their personal presence from Twitter to the Fediverse.

(While you can migrate from one Fediverse instance to another, to the best of my knowledge this requires the cooperation of your original instance. If you left it and its organization on good terms, this cooperation will probably be available and you can even migrate in advance. If you had an abrupt and unhappy parting, it may not be.)

I continued:

I agree that running your own instance is the clearest way for organizations to show that something is the real X (for appropriate Xs). But a lot of people probably shouldn't tie their identity to their current location that way, because they will move in the future.

(At universities, students definitely move on and professors sometimes do too.)

With universities specifically, the kinds of online activity that people are interested in moving from Twitter to the Fediverse are not primarily the anodyne press release level announcements. It's the live interactions of academic twitter, with people talking about their work, interacting with each other, and so on.

The early days of the web and the Internet featured a lot of people using their work/university email and web pages as their online presence. In the long run this often did not go well and generally the advice today is to not do that.


The current social expectation is that if someone on your Fediverse instance becomes inactive, their posts still remain forever. This is a recipe for steadily increasing costs over time, which organizations often have a bad reaction to sooner or later, especially for costs from people no longer associated with you.

(We've seen this before with alumni email eventually getting shut down.)

What I didn't cover is that if people continue using your instance after they depart (as in the alumni case), you're taking on a steadily increasing support burden due to this. Some number of the now departed people will forget their credentials or otherwise run into access problems, some number of them may get phished, and so on and so forth.

All of this isn't a short term concern. But if we're going to stand up a Fediverse instance and encourage general use of it, I think we should be in it for the long haul. My Fediverse account has been around on its server for more than five years now, and I'm a comparative latecomer; going forward, we should be looking at least five to ten years into the future of any instance we stand up. That sort of long term planning is the responsible thing to do (even if it's uncommon on the web).

Comments on this page:

By gasche at 2022-11-09 04:46:23:

Another obvious issue is that people use these tools for personal communications, and also on a regular basis to criticize their employer. What rules are we implicitly accepting when we are using an employer-provided instance? Do we realize that it makes it very easy for our employer to access all our public messages? Does the software used by our employer use end-to-end inscription for private messages, or do they also have access to the content of all our private messages? How do we feel about that?

(The same questions, of course, can be asked about Twitter instead of our employer, or in general the maintainer of our instance. But most users probably do not have to worry about targeted surveillance coming from Twitter, and may think differently about the threat of employer surveillance.)

~~~~ gasche

For the 'professors at a university' case, isn't this exactly like email? While working at the university, their email address ends up on every paper they publish, every program committee roster they work for, etc. When they move to a different university (e.g., they fail to get tenure), they have to update their contact info everywhere and the papers they published will simply have outdated contact info forever.

I'm not commenting on whether this is a good or a bad thing, just that it is nothing new for them. (I don't have any data on how common it is for them to move, but it does happen.)

Ultimately, I think it is on the each individual to decide where to draw the line between personal and business.

I think, being a social network, it is better if instances are based on social groups, rather than jobs.

For official posts, non-person-specific accounts can post from company/organization rules. e.g. ``

Within certain circles of the Fediverse, there's a weird expectation to tie you whole identity to a single account, and delicately migrate your account when trouble strikes. This is already poor internet practice.

There is nothing stopping someone from creating multiple "alt" accounts across the Fediverse, of varying pseudonymity. One academic account on a university instance, another professional account elsewhere, another personal account elsewhere, etc.

It's very common on the Fediverse to see accounts with "alts" listed in their bio. In the same way I have many email addresses, I have many Fediverse alts, which is normal, and should be the normal approach to any social network. Migration is really a last resort.

In an ideal world where most businesses and organisation had Fediverse instances, one would create professional accounts with those whom they're affiliated, and naturally deactivate/archive them when one leaves.

I think people (students and professors) would catch on with this practice. If not, it just seems to me like a good opportunity to educate.

Written on 08 November 2022.
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