Building the core of a federated future

One of the most powerful forces in communications technologies is Metcalfe’s Law, which states that the value of a communication network goes up by the square of the number of participants. Any new technology has to work hard to get “critical mass” in its network — but after that, it can grow incredibly fast.

Getting to that critical mass is difficult and mysterious. Lots of great tech never manages to become self-sustaining. Others that seem unlikely go viral.

But clearly, you have to provide value for that first core part of the network that’s disproportionate to the value that later members get. I think there are two main reasons new users join “early networks”:

  1. The networks have the “right” people (for that user)
  2. The technology appeals to the users for ideological reasons

For federated voice, IM, and social networks, there is a cluster of communities that can form an important core to bootstrap the networks. These include organizations involved with:

  • Free and Open Source software
  • open Internet standards
  • Open Content
  • digital human rights

This cluster of communities frequently communicates internally — making federated technologies pragmatically valuable. It also features a higher-than-normal technical ability, meaning that technologies that require more work to set up have a higher chance of succeeding. Finally, most of these groups have ideological alignment with the concepts of federated communications networks.

We’ve put together a chart of organizations in this cluster in order to encourage adoption of technologies. Do They Federate? shows 24 organizations we think could and should support federated communications by installing servers running for their own domains. We’ve chosen three key federated communications technologies – voice, IM, and social – and marked who has their own servers and who doesn’t.

We specifically chose organizations that provide email addresses in their domains to staff or members.  We picked non-commercial organizations for this first round, but we’ll be adding commercial organizations in the future.

What next? We hope to start a conversation in these communities about getting these services rolled out. We hope that the encouragement of members and the work of volunteers can turn more of these blank and red squares into green ones. Most of all, we want the tools we use to reflect the values we endorse.

We’d love to hear about more organizations that should be on this chart, and especially about “wins” for the board. Each square that goes green means an expanded network that becomes more valuable for us all.

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2 Responses to Building the core of a federated future

  1. I love the idea of the “Do They Federate?” campaign.

    Small suggestion: How about making this blog use a federated avatar system instead of Gravatar? There is a Libravatar plug-in for WordPress:

  2. evan says:

    Francois: I think that’s possible. I’ll ask Peter if he can add it to this WordPress installation.

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