Appendix to ‘Unlikely Outcomes’ – Unlike Us Reader

Stijn Peeters, Open source alternative social networks: empowering users or same old?

The word “alternative” in “alternative social network” already suggests that the network has a specific purpose: namely, providing an option that is different from the one offered by mainstream networks. In the case of social networking this option often seems to entail user empowerment. For example, the website of alternative socialising social network Diaspora greets visitors with the promise that Diaspora is a “fun and creative community that puts you in control.” Likewise, GNU Social states that “Social networks should … allow you to control what you put into them, and you should be able to keep control of your own data.” User empowerment as a theme is also reflected in many common characteristics of alternative social networks. A decentralized network architecture allows for more user control over data; a not-for-profit business model is often expected to lead to more attention to users’ needs and desires; transparency of data and open source development supposedly allows for user involvement with the software the social network runs on. Go to article

Stijn Peeters, Beyond distributed and decentralized: what is a federated network?

Reading academic texts on networks, it is easy to get confused by the various labels attached to the networks described in texts. One could say it all began when Paul Baran established the distinction between centralized, decentralized and distributed networks in 1964, in his paper “On Distributed Networks“. This straightforward distinction has been widely adopted by scholars, but there are a few other labels that are often used and yet have a less distinct definition.

One of such labels is that of the federated network, a term often mentioned when talking about the architecture of (alternative) social networks such as Diaspora or Lorea. What is a federated network, though? The word itself hints at similarities with the political concept of a federation (see further on), but how such a state architecture would be applicable to networks is not immediately clear. In this essay, I will take a closer look at this term and how it fits in the network architecture discourse. Go to article