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Shaping Digital Public Space

This text aims to describe possible ways forward after having been bound to digital platforms for over a decade. For this text to do its justice, I hope you read the first part, which describes the platform society of the last decade and how it developed to today. It probably makes this text easier to get onboard with.

The public digital dialogue of today is not anymore governed based on the established practice and the traditions from which modern democracy sprang. The digital dialogue have come to leave behind large parts of the customs and traditions we see in the physical world. Instead, the terms of the dialogue, the rules of our conversations, are dictated by a few for-profit companies in their interests of their shareholders. The processes that constitutes the rules of a public meeting, or for that matter an informal conversation, are instead largely governed by algorithms that are designed to grab attention, as well as business models linked to data and advertising. The voices that are heard the most are the angriest, most emotional, most divisive. Reasonable, rational and nuanced voices are harder to hear. It leads to a more loud and radical conversation where the common ground, thoughts about the principle of generosity and inclusion find it difficult to assert themselves.

In this digital landscape, it is to maintain democracy. When different parts of the population can no longer hear the others, when common institutions, courts and professional civil servants are called into question, then democracy and its institutions are eroded. The digital conversation and society’s public spaces need other conditions to work. Another path needs to be explored to create better conditions for democracy. In this development, everyone needs to contribute, from public actors, civil society, business and to us as individuals.

How do we put the era of the digital platforms behind us? How do we find ways forward that focus more on the needs of the individual and society, rather than on algorithms and business models? There are many different reasons for why we have ended up where we are today. Reasons can be found in market forces, in the access to digital services which at one point contributed to development, but later became a problem. It is possible to find causes at the system level, in network effects and in dysfunctional legislation, or in the absence of good legislation. But some reasons why we find it difficult to break an ongoing development are also to be found in each one of us. In our own approach to development and change. In the age of platforms, we have come to take them for granted, we see them as self-evident. They are the starting point from which we try to find solutions. And this in itself is a problem. Although it is not particularly strange that it has come to be this way. Let’s take a step back and explore some ways to explain why things have come to be the way they are, and then look at the options and ways forward.

Status quo and sunken costs

We humans have a natural tendency to go back to what is familiar to us, as it is often perceived as a safer and more reliable path to follow. We prefer to choose what one perceives to be the “original” or “current” state, because that is what one is used to and feels comfortable with. We can also reason in this way about ideas about the future, because we often have a tendency to assume that things will continue to develop in much the same way they always have, unless there are strong reasons to believe otherwise. In this context, there is a psychological phenomenon called “status quo bias”, which means that we tend to prefer to maintain the current situation, even though there may be other alternatives that may be more profitable, valuable or effective in the long term. The reason may vary, it may be because we are afraid of change and prefer to follow a path that we feel familiar with, or because we are concerned about possible negative consequences that may arise if we agree to the change.

At the same time, a decade of using digital platforms and social networks that lock up data has put us all in a difficult position when it comes to actually making a change. We have all invested a lot of time and energy into what exists today. And in that idea there is also a psychological phenomenon, in a concept in economics called “sunken costs”. It is a term in economics and decision-making that refers to costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. These costs are already taken because they are in the past and cannot be changed. For this reason, they should not weigh as much in a calculation where decisions are made about the future. As users of social media and platforms, we have all come to build ourselves into them, we have gotten used to the technology and formed habits and behaviors around them. We almost instinctively open an app without even thinking about it. That’s how ingrained behaviors can become. The “sunk cost fallacy” is a cognitive bias that refers to the tendency to continue to invest time, money, or other resources in a project or business because of the costs that have already been invested, even though it would be more rational to withdraw and move on. This can lead to poor decision-making and inefficiency, because in this context we risk continuing to invest time and energy in something that is no longer in our real interest, because we feel that we have already invested too much to be able to back out. The threshold to leave what we are used to, for the uncertainty of trying something new, can be perceived as very high. Not least in situations where you experience a continued value of what is, even if the value has decreased over time.

Over the past decade or so we have come to discover many good ways to use the various digital services that the large platforms have come to offer. At the same time, but over time, we have also come to see their downsides and problems. So now we stand here, thinking about our alternatives. How should we do? Where are we going? Should I continue to use Facebook and Instagram? Or should I leave it behind? Should my business have a presence on Twitter, even though it is increasingly problematic? As a journalists, can we continue to justify being in a digital environment that over time has become something other than a platform, rather than a megaphone for certain political views? Should the government authority I work for communicate on Instagram or TikTok, despite the problems we know today regarding everything from problematic consequences for young people’s self-image, or the problems in an authoritarian regime having access to data and information about users in a platform?

It’s easy to fall back into a state of “status quo bias” and “sunk costs” thinking. But what would it look like if we instead took a break from this line of thought, and instead explored what it might mean to look at possible paths forward based on the expected future costs and benefits of the choices we make, rather than on the costs that have already occurred and the feeling we have right now?

Creating together

At a time when the large digital platform companies are no longer able to meet society’s digital needs, it is not possible to sit back and hope that someone else will come along and do it on behalf of society. We – all of us who are part of society – need to contribute based on the conditions we have, in order to co-create, shape and develop an open digital public space, which is founded on technologies and principles that are based on the needs of society and individuals. So, what would need to be done to bring about this development? I think we need to see a commitment among all community-supporting organizations, both from the state, municipalities and regions, as well as from civil society, associations, companies and business. We need to see individual initiatives and a commitment from many. No one builds a society, or a digital society, on their own. The same applies to digital public spaces. It is a collaborative effort.

To achieve this, it would have been desirable, but not a prerequisite, to form around a common image, or vision, of what the digital public space is and what it brings to society. A rough proposal for such a vision or image for a digital public space in a democratic society could be to develop and maintain a common digital infrastructure for public discourse that is open and accessible to all, that ensures fundamental rights and that contributes to strengthening democracy by giving everyone the opportunity to participate and influence. This digital public space must be both inclusive and multifaceted, and able to meet the needs of society, its inhabitants and organizations. It should function as a digital starting point for society’s diversity of communities to exist on. It cannot and should not be a platform, a monolith, a structure, owned and maintained by someone. The digital public space must be a shared digital commons, with different expressions, variety and opportunities to provide the complexities and collisions of society at once. It needs to be open, accessible, interoperable, common, safe and secure. By creating such a space, we can give everyone the opportunity to express themselves and participate in the public conversations, and thus contribute to building a stronger and more inclusive society.

In order for such a vision to be achieved, there needs to be will, which is also expressed in intention and action. For those organizations that want to participate in the development of digital public spaces, a strategy is therefore something that can contribute and enable development. A strategy can help define goals and guidelines for the development of how an organization or activity can contribute to the development of the open digital public space, and to identify the technologies and principles to be used. With a strategic approach, it becomes possible to operate more long-term, to focus on the own organization’s goals and conditions to contribute, and also to meet other organizations and businesses, in order to find common areas to contribute to together. This could mean, for example, that organizations focus together to a greater degree on developing open technologies, such as open source code and open data, as well as ensuring fundamental rights such as freedom and protection of personal integrity. Much of this is something that many organizations already do today. There are good examples of how public actors today work in this way to jointly solve complex challenges, where, in a Swedish context, eSam is perhaps one of the clearer ones today.

In order to create an open digital public space that takes into account the needs of society, organizations and individuals, it is important to bring together different actors, including authorities, companies, associations and civil society. The digital public space needs to be designed so that it has a high degree of interoperability, so that many similar actors, services and systems can be linked to it. It needs to be developed so that it is inclusive and multifaceted and able to meet the various needs that exist in society. This is not a project for an individual actor or solely for the state. Shaping a digital public space presupposes a broader commitment and a large collection of actors who can both work in community or individually, towards a common higher purpose.

Having said that, it is valuable that there is an actor in the state or government who can take the lead for authorities and other parts of the state in this matter. An actor that today has close tasks in a Swedish environment is DIGG, whose ongoing work with ENA, a administrative common digital infrastructure buildt so that information can be exchanged in a secure and efficient way, has similar structural characteristics to what might be needed to contribute to the state’s perspective in a community-wide project like this. But as in so many cases where cooperation is crucial, it also presupposes a distribution of responsibilities and a starting point in the proximity principle when it comes to decisions and mandates. The development also needs to have a strong international character and connection, so that the public space does not have to clearly know the borders of the nation, but can function as a meeting place also in the more global contexts. The connection to ongoing initiatives and involvement in other countries, not least within the EU, becomes important here. It is a genuinely complex and challenging thing to develop a digital public space for a community.

The building blocks of public space

It is a comprehensive and broad project to take joint responsibility in society for the development of public digital spaces. Many dimensions need to come into place to build digital society in such a way.

First and foremost, fundamental human rights need to be secured in digital environments as well. The digital public space must ensure basic human rights, such as protection of one’s personal integrity, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly and so on. Here, the different roles and opportunities of the public, the media and civil society are decisive elements.

The individual should also be at the center of the development of a digital public space. This venture is for each and everyone in society. Therefore, the individual’s needs and wishes should be a starting point for development. At the same time, there are values that arise in a society, which cannot obviously be discovered on an individual level. Society’s complexity and web of relationships, connections and dependencies in itself form structures, which may be important to the individual, although a direct connection to an individual person cannot be perceived. Therefore, it becomes important to balance the needs of individuals with the needs of all. The perspecive of the individual and that of society needs to be understood together.

The individual should also have the opportunity to influence and participate in the development of the digital public spaces, so that they can become as user-friendly and accessible as possible. Having an individual and community perspective in the development of digital public spaces also becomes important as they shape digital places that are used by many different actors, such as the state, regions, municipalities, civil society, media and companies. When individuals and society are the focus of development, it becomes easier to shape the digital public space so that it is open and transparent. At the same time, there is also a need to consider protecting the individual’s privacy when creating common digital spaces. A digital public space should be designed in such a way that the individual’s personal information is not disclosed or used in a way that may harm the individual’s rights and freedoms. This is particularly important at a time when technology is developing rapidly and there are many different actors who want to collect and use personal data in different ways. It is also a prerequisite for the development to meet the requirements set, not least in the EU, in regards to laws such as GDPR.

A digital public space places different fundamental demands on design and technology than what we are used to today in the age of platforms. A digital public space is in many ways more reminiscent of what it looked like before the days of platforms, during the time open protocols like RSS, and the prevalence of blogs was high . At the same time, a digital public space needs more infrastructure than that found previously in order to create a clearer cohesive experience and sense of presence. To enable a digital public space, we therefore need to see development to identify, develop and maintain open technologies. As far as open source goes, most governments have had far too much of a backseat role here. It should be self-evident for a public organization to actively contribute both financially and pracitcally to the development and maintenance of the open software already in use today, or in need tomorrow, as well as contributing to driving the development of more socially useful open digital services, systems and protocols. For example, in our digital times it is a reasonable idea for a municipality to provide good digital public places, in the same way that today’s park and nature administrations and cultural administrations do the same in the physical world.

There are several reasons why open source and open protocols can be an advantage in the development of digital public spaces. There is already a strong tradition in many places of using open source to build digital infrastructures that are open, transparent and accessible to everyone. Open source based on federated and decentralized technologies can also be more resilient and can help counter monocultures and dependencies on single actors or technologies. By building digital public spaces on this type of protocols and technologies, one can also promote a more inclusive and democratic use of the technology itself, and create conditions for a development that is both economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

An advantage of federated and distributed protocols, services and systems is also that they enable different actors to create and use their own services and technologies, which can be integrated and exchange informatino with each other. This can help create a more multifaceted and inclusive environment, where different communities and interests can exist and interact in an open and transparent way. A comparison can be made here with e-mail, for example. It is based on a set of common protocols, but our experience of email can be very different. I can choose a large provider such as Google’s gmail or Microsoft’s Outlook, but if I want to have my own e-mail server at home, or have my own e-mail address, I can buy the service to have a digital e-mail server. The e-mail programs themselves in the computer can also look very different. It doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things, because an email can be sent from one person’s email server to someone else’s despite all these differences. Federated and distributed services can thus offer a wider flora of services, functions and possibilities, and in that way satisfy many different needs that may exist in a societal context. It may offer the possibility for services and functions to be created not only in financial interests, but for other, social, personal, societal or other reasons.

Another perspective on digital public space is about the importance of asking questions about accessibility and participation in its development and use, because all people, regardless of their physical, technical, economic or other conditions, should have equal opportunities to participate in or take part of it. If accessibility and participation are not taken into account, certain groups may risk being excluded or have a worse experience of the digital public space. There is also a legal basis for considering accessibility and participation in the development of a digital public space. By considering accessibility and participation also in the development of a digital public space, one can also contribute to increasing the opportunity for everyone to participate in society and make use of the opportunities offered in the digital society. This, in turn, can lead to a more inclusive and sustainable development of society as a whole.

Cybersecurity and digital resilience are also important factors to consider when developing a digital public space. A high degree of both security and resilience is crucial for creating trust and confidence among users. Many people will use a digital public space to communicate, share information and interact with each other, so it is important to ensure that it is protected against various types of threats and risks, such as hacking, malware, spam and other forms of fraud. Community resilience is also an important factor to consider because digital public spaces can over time become central to, for example, community communication. The design of digital public spaces therefore becomes critical for society in many ways, as it can risk being exposed to various types of disturbances and incidents that can cause interruptions or other problems.

A central question is how we move from a current situation, where we are in many ways dependent on a few commercial platforms for a form of digital semi-public space, to a new situation in which new and different technologies, protocols and services are used. It is far from obvious that it is possible to gather around the development of digital public spaces at national level or in the EU. Perhaps such a project is still far too extensive and complex to fly if it is designed from the top down. Instead, a bottom-up model for development can be a more successful alternative, where many different actors, such as authorities, associations, companies, media houses and research environments, collaborate or collaborate to create a digital public space that meets the needs of society and individuals. This type of broad movement is common when it comes to the development of technology connected to the internet. The Internet Society and many other international organizations have extensive experience with what is known as multi-stakeholder governance, and perhaps it is a model that over time can prove more robust in this context as well.

In such a process, it becomes important to be able to organize loosely around a number of existing structures, in order to gain momentum. It can be a matter of joining ongoing and existing projects that largely satisfy the needs that have been identified. These can be existing protocols, such as ActivityPub, platforms such as Matrix, and open federated services such as like Mastodon, PixelFed, Friendica, [PeerTube](https: // with several within the framework of what is described as Fediverse.

Starting from these different perspectives and with the individual and society at the center, a rights perspective, open software and data, federated and distributed services that also relate to security and resilience, it is possible to develop something that has not existed until now. A digital public space that is based on technologies and principles that are based on the needs of society and individuals, and that can contribute to strengthening democracy and community in our society. Of course, it requires an effort from many different actors for us to be able to achieve this vision, but by cooperating and building together we can create a digital public space that we can all be a part of and that develops society and the people in it.

A glimpse of the digital public space

But what could a digital public space look like, and what could it mean for individuals, for civil society, for public activities and business? Let me first describe how existing federated and distributed services work, in order to describe them in the context of a digital public space in the next step.

I have described how a federated and decentralized model is likely to be beneficial from a societal perspective. A commonly used protocol today for these purposes is ActivityPub. It is an open social media protocol developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It is intended for use in federated and distributed systems, and aims to enable communication and interaction between different services and platforms. ActivityPub is based on the idea of a social web, where users can create, share and interact with content on different platforms and services. The protocol uses HTTP and JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) to describe different types of activities, such as creating a post, sending a message or liking a post. ActivityPub is significant for federated and distributed systems because it enables communication and interaction between different services and platforms, without users needing to be on the same platform or service. This means that users can interact with each other and content on different platforms, and that they can choose a service or platform that suits their needs and preferences.

Mastodon is an example of a federated and distributed social media service based on the ActivityPub protocol, which means that it is structured in a way that differs from platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. In a federated environment, the service is made up of different servers, or instances, which can be integrated and cooperate with each other. This means that users on different instances can interact with each other and see content from other instances, even if they are not on the same instance. In a distributed environment, the service is made up of different clients, or apps, that can connect to different servers and retrieve content from them. This means that users can use different clients to interact with the Service, and that they can choose a client that suits their needs and preferences. As I described earlier, a model like this can contribute to values other than current platforms. But a federated and distributed model can also empower users to have more control over their own data and privacy. It can also give users the opportunity to contribute and influence the development of the service in a more inclusive and democratic way, by participating in various communities and projects. A platform logic such as Twitter or Facebook is often more tied to a specific platform and business model, which can limit the users’ choices and opportunities to influence the development of the service. It may also mean that the platform has more power to control the content and users’ data, and that it does not always ensure basic rights such as freedom and protection of personal integrity in the same way as a federated and distributed model.

There are many other services of different nature that are based on ActivityPub today, and more are being developed continuously. PixelFed is a decentralized photo platform that allows users to upload and share photos, as well as follow and interact with other users. PeerTube is a decentralized video platform that allows you to upload and share videos, and share them with others. Friendica is a decentralized social media platform that is also based on ActivityPub. It allows users to create and share content, as well as to follow and interact with other users. It’s also exciting that all these services can talk to each other. For example, I can have an account on Mastodon and follow someone who posts pictures on PixelFed, or shares a movie on PeerTube. A bit like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and the other commercial platforms would talk to each other.

There are two important differences between services based on open protocols and open software, and the existing platforms most of us use, and that is how algorithms are used and how business models affect content. These are the algorithms that are used to sort and present content to users, and the other being the business models are used to generate revenue. In the absence of algorithms and business models in a digital public space, this means that the content is not sorted and presented in a specific way, but that all content is displayed in the same way to all users. The lack of business models can also help create a platform that is not dependent on generating revenue in a specific way. Instead, the platform can be financed through other means, such as with support from the government or through donations from users. This can help create a platform that is more independent and not driven by commercial interests. Concretely, the lack of algorithms governing a content can mean that you take part in information in a chronological order, and the lack of commercial interests can be reflected in the fact that services such as those in Fediverse do not have advertisements embedded between other information.

As I have discussed before, a digital public space needs to be formed in cooperation between many different actors. For some it would likely be a shorter journey than for others. For the individual, it can be as simple as creating accounts and an identity in one or a few of the digital places that connect to the digital public. For the association or company, it may be something similar, or that they themselves choose to become part of an emerging digital infrastructure and create their own presence by setting up their own servers. Something similar, I imagine, would also be a passable path for public actors. But what could it mean for a municipality or authority, for example, to engage more actively and become part of creating its own digital presence in a digital public space?

Public activities in a public space

If we continue to take as a starting point what already exists and is created today – environments based on the ActivityPub protocol, then a municipality or authority that wants to develop a digital public space can, for example, choose to create its own Mastodon instance, PixelFed instance and PeerTube instance instead of using platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. By using open software in Fediverse, they can provide the services themselves, and thus have control over how the services are used and how the data is handled. There are several advantages to using these services in Fediverse instead of using large platform companies. An advantage is that it can contribute to meeting the requirements set by legislation such as GDPR, because the users’ data is handled in the same way as other services with local cloud services that are either operated by themselves, or by companies in Sweden with clear legal relationships. A service in a system like this also gives users the opportunity to own their own data, and gives them the ability to switch services if or when they themselves need to. In this way, lock-in effects are reduced, that is, users are dependent on a specific platform and cannot switch to another service without losing their data. By using Fediverse services, users can switch services without losing their data, as data can be transferred from one service to another. An additional advantage for a municipality or authority is that it can improve the conditions for archiving and historical preservation, since data can be saved in a way that allows it to be archived or independently kept available for a long time to come. This is important to preserve our common history and cultural heritage.

A public organization can choose to have its own instance on Mastodon for example for several different reasons. It could be about having a place for employees to share information, where the agency becomes a kind of digital citizen office in some sense. A digital, communicative, window into a public business. The staff can, for example, use the instance to discuss and collaborate on various projects and tasks, as well as to keep up-to-date on what is happening in the municipality.

Another scenario could be to set up an instance, could be to have a place to offer residents of the municipality to participate in. With such an environment, completely new conditions are suddenly created for interaction both between residents, and between residents and its local institutions. It can become a more communicative and participatory context. Residents can use the body to participate in community debates and influence decision-making, as well as to gain access to various services and tools that the municipality offers.

At the same time, of course, new questions arise for the actor who chooses to contribute to a digital public infrastructure. You need to ask yourself questions such as how to manage the hosting of data, how to administer, update and maintain services. There may be a need to manage and report incidents, operate infrastructure and some development. Manage cybersecurity and content moderation. Much of this is tasks that are already done today for other services and systems, but nevertheless they are areas that need to be handled when setting up new systems for new contexts.

Another way to get involved in Fediverse as a public actor is to contribute to financing the work of other actors in maintaining one or more instances. Perhaps there is an association or other organization that runs a local or regional body that the public actors choose to be on, instead of taking the step to also contribute with infrastructure themselves. Regardless of what one chooses to do, various forms of challenges and opportunities arise in this.

By using services based on ActivityPub, a digital public space can enable users to participate and influence different types of online conversations and communities, as well as to share and participate in different types of content. The services can also be integrated with each other, allowing users to follow and interact with content from different platforms at the same time. Organizations, businesses and individuals can come together across different digital environments and services and form a kind of digital web that is more reminiscent of how the complexity of our physical society expresses itself, than simple commercial platform monoliths.

With the ActivityPub protocol and in Fediverse, there are many different services, and more are being added. A digital public space can build on services such as Mastodon, PixelFed, PeerTube and Friendica in different ways. With a flora of services and functions, it is possible to develop the digital public space in the ways that the actor himself and its users need. Meetings can also occur through the different services and form different kinds of communities. Local media can have their own Mastodon instance, from which they can share news and interact with readers and other users. Users can follow media content and interact with it, as well as participate in debates and discussions on various topics. Local associations, schools, libraries and other actors can also be involved in the digital public space by creating and sharing content, as well as interacting with other users. They can, for example, use the services to reach out with information about their activities and events, as well as to create community and collaboration with others in the environment. Individuals who live and work in the environment can also participate in the digital public space by creating and sharing content, as well as interacting with other users. For example, they can use the services to stay up to date on what is happening in their surroundings, participate in community debates and influence decision-making, as well as to create community and networks with others in the environment. Others interested in the local environment, whether they live there or not, can also participate in the digital public space and interact with other users.

Through all these different actors and individuals contributing to and being engaged in the digital public space, a more complex and dynamic whole can be created, a fabric that does not have an obvious center but is made up of those who together shape and create it.

Whether you, as an individual or actor, create an instance yourself or have a presence in Fediverse through other people’s instances becomes very much a question of needs, conditions and will. But regardless of how you get involved, you contribute to creating and shaping a new and different kind of digital experience than the one we have seen in the age of platforms. An experience without algorithmically driven feeds, embedded ads or lock-in effects of users or data.

Digital agreements, norms and values

Just like in the physical world, society needs established laws, agreements, norms and values to become the functioning complex structure that it is in a digital space. In many respects, a federated and distributed digital public space can likely facilitate or contribute to such a development, as different businesses may have different needs that are local and tied to a single context, while other rules may be important to have general. It is to some extent reminiscent of what is spoken of in political science as the principle of subsidiarity, or the principle of proximity, that is to say that decisions must be made as close to the citizen as possible. A business or organization that contributes to a public digital space thus certainly has its needs and conditions, which color how they contribute to the whole, while all actors need to agree on some commonalities, such as common technical protocols and certain common functionality.

For public actors who choose to develop a digital presence in order to shape digital public spaces, it may be important to consider these issues carefully in order to design conditions that contribute to and develop good digital practices and environments. Fortunately, today there are many people who think about questions like these, and based on some of these ideas, such as from the EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the organization New Public and in research and thought work stemming from, for example, the research at the Institute for Public Infrastructure, I have taken inspiration for these proposed approaches for public actors who want to contribute and develop.

Some thoughts on starting points for public actors participating in the development of digital public spaces:

Adopt or follow the Santa Clara Principles on Content Moderation. The transition to smaller federated bodies creates more opportunities for better transparency and, in several respects, clearer responsibility for content moderation. A broad international coalition of non-governmental organizations has developed a set of principles for content hosts that support users’ basic human rights. They can serve as a starting point for those who want to develop Fediverse, for example, and would help to increase protection for users.

Community and local control. Fediverse is developed and designed to facilitate community and local control. Creating large-scale federated networks for social interaction is still relatively new, and much remains to be developed. In a network like Mastodon, there are already today instances with very different political ideologies and house rules. It is possible to see how the development has involved a kind of self-sorting, where certain services or instances choose to connect to, or block, others, based on their users’ preferences. Several different experiments are underway with how rules at an instance should be handled, with different forms of democratic organization. A social internet where users and communities can set their own rules can be a way forward in creating meaningful and valuable social digital environments, than today when in practice we place the hope of the solution of most of these problems to the whims of shareholders or tech bros in Silicon Valley with notions of being able to be the ones who solve the world’s problems on behalf of the world.

Innovation in Moderation Practices. Fediverse itself cannot block users, but the owners of each server have moderation tools and can share blocklists to accommodate the experience their users expect. Methods for how this is done are currently being developed continuously. When it comes to protecting their users from bad actors and malicious content, an administrator of a server should not have to start from scratch, but they should retain the ability to make their own choices, even if they differ from the choices of other administrators or servers. In the next step, users should be able to choose which server and environment best suits them.

Many application options. Today, Mastodon is the most popular service that rests on the ActivityPub protocol. But there are many other services with different functionality and focus, and more are being added. Recently, a number of large players have stated that they are working on connecting their services to ActivityPub. Tumblr, WordPress, Flickr, Vivaldi and Mozilla are all actors who in different ways drive this, and who are likely to drive further heterogeneous development, even if the environment grows. There is also a flora of applications to use for each service, which in itself is important to be able to offer just the diversity that is needed. There is also a lot of development going on here and now, and many apps will see the light of day in the next year as it seems to drive a good user experience with.

Remixing. It should be possible to build on each other, and use services and protocols in new and creative ways without risking legal consequences. That the services are based on open software is an important starting point, but also being able to design services to deliberately make it easier for others to mix, change, build on and develop. The diversity of technological innovation that can arise from user involvement contributes to strengthening the conditions for a federated and distributed environment from a societal perspective.

A new digital social fabric

If we stretch our minds a little and imagine what it would look like, in the near future where residents, municipalities, authorities, associations, companies and others participate in interwoven digital public spaces, what could it look like? What could such a development mean? We would probably find the diversity of differences that we find in the physical fabric of society. We would find the large digital rooms where authorities, large companies or nationally and internationally organized associations are located. But we would also see the small club, the local association, the student council, the study circle and cultural activities. Businesses large and small, local and national, centralized and dispersed, would win. In an emerging digital social fabric, we would probably find more similarities with the physical social fabric we developed over hundreds of years, rather than in models of today’s social media. Perhaps this is why it can sometimes feel difficult to make pictures – because we assume a wrong starting point for how we think about the digital public spaces. The model should perhaps be based on what has made democracy and society strong over the past hundreds of years, but where you take power and inspiration and thought from the digital development of the past decades, beyond the platforms.

With the digital developments we see today, this picture of the future is entirely possible. It is in all our hands, and it is we together in society who have the power to choose how we want our common digital public space.

Perhaps this text has succeeded in provoking a thought, or inspires action. Regardless, I’m very curious about your reflections after reading. Feel free to share them under #publicspace with me and others in Fediverse. At Mastodon I can be found at

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