Tuesday, December 20, 2022

In Tech Policy Press: Into the Plativerse… Through Fiddleware?

[Shutterstock, via Tech Policy Press]
My latest short piece in Tech Policy Press, is Into the Plativerse… Through Fiddleware?

It speculates on how the seemingly approaching demise of the platforms and push for less centralization of their power can lead to a renaissance, building on my earlier piece, The Future of Twitter is Open, or Bust (11/4/22). Think of that as the "Twilight of the Platforms (the Platformdämmerung, for those into Wagner).

This has led to a migration to Mastodon and its "fediverse" of locally-controlled federated systems, which in turn has led to the creation of bridges between Twitter and Mastodon. From that, I suggest some further evolution. Here are some snippets:

The Plativerse (A Fediverse That Includes Platforms)

Because these bridges are still crude, Twitter is effectively a huge instance (platstance?) that is poorly federated. ...It seems inevitable that those beginnings of a hybrid fediverse/plativerse can be improved on to enable full interoperability between the fediverse and Twitter (or any other platform)...

Fiddleware (Federated Middleware)

I have long advocated for user choice in how our online feeds are organized and moderated as the only effective way for a democratic society to deal with this complexity and nuance. Enabling such choice has recently gained advocates who see a role for “middleware” services that act as user-agents between users and their media distribution systems. I envision this not as choosing a single middleware service to be granted sole control, but as composing and steering combinations of services to blend a range of algorithms that distill selected sources of human judgments – and to use them to draw from a multiplicity of what I called confederated systems as far back as 2003.

The importance of that level of flexibility in middleware has been little recognized, but the fediverse/plativerse may provide just the environment for it to emerge organically. If users can be given powerful tools to manage their navigation of the fediverse, shouldn’t they be able to shape these tools to feed them what they want, drawing from any of a multiplicity of instances/platstances, in whatever ways they choose – rather than being under the control of any single home instance with its home community and single benevolent dictator? Shouldn’t they be able to compose multiple ranking services to generate composite rankings, and shift the gears – weighting and steering those systems as their moods, tasks and domains change? Shouldn’t middleware be federated? Call it fiddleware.

Shaping a Diverse Information Ecosystem

...The fediverse is surging in reaction to the platforms’ abuse of our attention and failure to scale moderation well. But scalable participatory governance is the crucial failing of the fediverse as well as the platforms. A plativerse can allow platforms to interoperate with less centralized systems – and can create an open marketspace in which shared infrastructure services such as middleware can emerge and find their place organically.

This builds on the ideas the Chris Riley and I explored in depth in our four-part series in Tech Policy Press on delegation of user choice.


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