federation in the context of the indieweb refers to services and features on indieweb sites that work directly with other indieweb sites peer-to-peer, without having to setup or create accounts in both places, and without being bottlenecked by any kind of centralized service or silo.
You should support federation on your site so you can:
- Use your site to mention people on other sites and respond to their posts
- Show mentions and responses from other sites to your posts, on your site
- Allow other sites to subscribe to (follow) your site, preferably in realtime
- Subscribe to (follow) other sites from your site
To support federation on the indieweb, support the following:
How to federate posts and responses
You (and your site) get federation benefits from implementing each of these smaller steps, so see the following for the specific how to instructions:
- h-entry markup on your posts
- makes your posts machine-readable
- Implement: How to publish h-entry
- Webmention sending
- Makes your comments appear on websites that receive Webmentions
- Implement: How to send Webmentions
- Webmention receiving
- Allows your site to receive comments
- Implement: How to receive Webmentions
- h-entry consuming
- Parse the text at comment URLs to display comments on your posts
- Implement: How to consume h-entry
How to federate mentions
Federating mentions is a special somewhat simpler case of federating posts, except using home page URLs rather than post permalinks:
- To notify others when you mention them
- To receive notifications when others mention you
How to federate following
There are incremental following federation benefits to each of these smaller steps, and thus you should implement them as described:
- h-feed markup on your primary (composite) stream of updates (like on your homepage), and other streams
- Allows people to find all the posts on your home page or other stream pages
- Implement: How to publish h-feed
- Publish notifications with WebSub
- Enables realtime notifications to subscribers when you make a new post
- Implement: How to publish WebSub
- Follow and subscribe via WebSub
- Subscribe to other feeds and receive realtime notifications of new posts
- Implement: How to subscribe to WebSub
- h-feed consuming
- Parse the list of posts on a page to display in a reader
- Implement: How to consume h-feed
From a social media user perspective, federating across social media sites means two people can post, see each others posts, and respond to each other, each using a different site or service, each without having to use or setup the other site or service.
Contrast this with say two silos like Facebook and Twitter, where if you want to post something so that it is seen by users of the other service, you have to create an account on that other service, set it up to automatically receive your posts, and even then responses will not federate back to whichever service you posted on.
DNS Exception: In the context of the indieweb, and the web in general, the centralized/hierarchicial architecture of DNS is accepted as an exception to the abovementioned federation requirement of no centralized bottlenecks. That being said, there are ongoing efforts to figure out how to replace DNS with a peer-to-peer system.
Focus: for day-to-day practical purposes, the indieweb community is not working on addressing the DNS centralization issue/exception and is instead focusing on design (UI/UX) of how user-level features can and should federate.
Protocols and formats
A protocol or format can be said to support federation if it can be supported by multiple sites+ with multiple implementations++, to interact directly with each other without the use of any third party sites, or centralized bottlenecks.
- +multiple sites because one site only is a silo
- ++multiple implementations* because one implementation only is a monoculture, based on (evolving) code, not a dependable protocol or format (when in conflict, the single codebase wins over any spec).
- Webmention + h-entry - supported by numerous implementations and nearly every IndieWeb site
- WebSub + h-feed - supported by many IndieWeb publishers, and many readers
- FediDB hosts a list of software that is part of the fediverse.
- https://the-federation.info/ hosts some information on software, instances, and statistics as well.
- https://fediverse.info/explore/projects also has lists of projects
Projects that implement one or more additional federation protocols:
- Mastodon (social networking, microblogging)
- HubZilla (social networking)
- GNU social
- Bridgy Fed
- WordPress using the ActivityPub plugin and NodeInfo plugin developed by Matthias Pfefferle
- WriteFreely (for blogging)
- Peertube (video)
- PixelFed (photos, video)
- Pleroma (microblogging)
- Lemmy (link aggregator, bookmarks)
- BookWyrm (for reading, book reviews)
- Misskey (microblogging)
- Mobilizion (events)
- Plume (articles/blogging)
- Funkwhale (music, audio)
- Smithereen (friends, walls, groups)
- Goto Social (Golang Fediverse server)
- micro.blog (social networking, microblogging, optionally works with ActivityPub)
There have been many attempts and limited deployments of various social web federated systems using various protocols and formats.
Pingback and h-entry
In the IndieWeb in particular, the first federated comment thread was built using:
- 2013-04-23 The First Federated #Indieweb Comment Thread
- 2013-04-19 Testing #indieweb federation with @waterpigs.co.uk, @aaronparecki.com and @indiewebcamp.com !
- 2015-07-12 latest Internet Archive snapshot of the first multi-implementation #indieweb federation interaction. Broke on 2015-09-06, and in 2016 started redirecting to his home page.
This first indieweb federation test demonstrated:
- federated mentions in the original post to others's indieweb homepages
- federated comments from the people mentioned and others's sites
Webmention itself had barely been started on a github repo and wiki page, these are the latest versions as of 2013-04-19:
Does anyone have any (Internet Archive) links to the first federated OStatus posts and a cross-site thread? Presumably from circa 2010 (or earlier?)
As a non-web attempt at Federation, XMPP is worth looking at to see how it addressed all the challenges with federating across disparate systems.
Email is often held up historically as a successful federated system.
There are many barriers that are not only preventing more decentralization in email, but ironically incentivizing and causing more centralization in a handful of large servers/services such as Gmail.
There is so much server specific configuration / setup that is needed to get your message accepted by other servers that email in practice is becoming a less-than-fully-federated system. Like if you have to contact help@ some domain (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) to get them to configure their mail servers to accept mail from your server, then it's become a step down from the full sense of "federation" that email launched and became popular with.
There has been some anecdotal reports of the increasing difficulty to setup any form of usable mail server. Peter Molnar runs his own server, and yet found difficulty (e.g. with messages making it to their destinations) just with switching it from its existing well established domain name to a new domain name.
Articles about federation and federated social networks.
- 2020-05-22 Fediverse, or a double-edged sword
- 2017-09-23 A Quick Guide to the Free Network including The Federation, The Fediverse, The ActivityWeb
- 2013-06-27 federated #indieweb comments, likes, event + RSVPs demo by @benwerd
- 2013-04-23 The First Federated #Indieweb Comment Thread
- 2011-03-21 An Introduction to the Federated Social Network
- 2018-07-10 Federation is the Worst of all Worlds