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information Why Domain Investors Should Take Note Of The Fediverse

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Powerful centralized social media giants have probably not been good for domain investment. Some businesses have opted for social media presences instead of a domain name and website. Those businesses could lose control of their online presence, and demand for quality domain names has been lowered.

Decentralized alternatives to the dominant social media applications have recently received renewed attention. Even if you have no intention to personally use one of the platforms, I think there are important implications for domain investors.

It is not so much that the decentralized fediverse will directly result in many aftermarket domain name sales, as I see it, but rather it may foster an increased awareness and appreciation of domain names.

What Is The Fediverse?

You have probably heard of Mastodon, a microblogging alternative to Twitter. Mastodon is just one part of the fediverse. So what exactly is the fediverse?

The term fediverse, not yet a word in major dictionaries, is a combination of federated and universe. Universe implies all-encompassing. To see what federated means, let’s consider Mastodon as an example.

While at first glance Mastodon may seem similar to Twitter, there is one fundamental difference. Mastodon software, free and open-source, is run on many independent Mastodon servers, which are called instances.

Each instance sets rules and procedures, and manages registrations. Most instances are run by individuals or nonprofit organizations, often on a shoestring budget funded through donations.

At time of writing, there are almost 10,000 Mastodon servers, called instances, serving more than 2 million monthly active users, and more than double that total users. You can get current statistics, and read more about Mastodon, at JoinMastodon.org.

All of those instances are part of a federated network, so that you can interact with people on any of the instances. The term federated comes from a federal political system, in which each region has some autonomy, but also coordination through a federal government. The instances are like the regions, and the overall Mastodon organization is like the federal authority.

Each Instance Needs A Domain Name

Before I delve more deeply into the fediverse, let’s state one obvious fact. The 10,000 Mastodon instances required 10,000 domain names. If it ever scaled to eventually serve the entire population of the world, the number of domain names needed might scale by almost a factor of 1000x.

I am pretty sure the majority of instances today are operating from hand-registered domain names. So there may not be much of an impact on the domain aftermarket, but there is some potential.

A Boost For .SOCIAL

If you browse the list of instances, there are many different extensions in use, including some rarely used ones.

It is not dominated by .com, probably because it is difficult to get a memorable short word inexpensively. Because the name of the instance needs to be shared repeatedly, it is important that it be short and memorable.

I used instances.social, to compile statistics on the TLDs used by the top 180 instances. Each of these instances had more than 4000 users. Shown below are the results for every TLD used by 3 or more instances.

Image-TLDs-Instances.png

The .social domain extension is clearly the most popular for Mastodon instances, used by almost 24%. That is largely because it was chosen for two of the best-known, and largest, instances mastodon.social and mstdn.social.

There are about 6.7% .com, 6.1% org, and less than 4% in any one other TLD. Perhaps the most surprising finding, 45.6% are spread across TLDs with only one or two instances each. Many of these are TLDs with sparse real-world use.

With two instances in the top 180 are the following TLDs: .au ,ca, .cafe, exchange, .io, .it, .me, .network, .nu, one, .party, .pt, .scot and .uno.

There was a single instance in the top 180 using the following TLDs: .ai, .app, .art, .bar, .business .camp, .cat, .ci, .co, .cologne, .community, .cz, .es, .eu, .eus, .fi, .fun, .green, .guru, .ie, .in, .kr, .LGBT, .link, .live, .lol, .moe, .nl, .nz, .pizza, .pl .rocks, .science, .sh, .st, .to, .top, .town, .tr, .uk, .us, .wales, .world, and .xxx. In some cases the use of lesser-known extensions was to get the exact word Mastodon, while in others related to the special interest group running the instance.

Does that mean .social domain names are a worthwhile investment based on use by fediverse instances? It is hard to predict the future, but so far it would appear not.

According to nTLDStats .social registrations have been rising, but at a modest rate, standing at about 34,000.

There are only 11 sales in the .social extension listed on NameBio, only 3 of which are 4-figures or more. A quick check did not indicate the major sales were in use for Mastodon instances.

Domain Names Front And Center

When you share your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter handles, you don’t need to specify the domain name, because they are centralized.

With Mastodon, and throughout the fediverse, you do need to indicate both your handle and the domain name of the instance. For example, I am on Mastodon at mindly.social/@BobHawkes. Every time I share my handle, I also share the domain name of my instance.

As more people use the fediverse, they will encounter domain names more explicitly and frequently. This increased visibility should be good for domain names in general.

The general public will also become familiar with many extensions. As we saw, the majority of instances do not operate from one of the major legacy TLDs or a major country code extension.

The Fediverse Tree

Per Axbom has written a great background piece on the fediverse. While by no means every platform is included, the diagram shows many of the key players arranged on a tree.

fediverse-branches-axbom-20-CC-BY-SA.png

Image by Per Axbom at Axbom.com/fediverse. It is displayed here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

While the section of the tree for microblogging and social networking has the most platforms, including Mastodon, other segments include platforms for video sharing and comment, PeerTube; podcasting, Owncast; image sharing, Pixelfed; event promotion and coordination, Mobilizon; writing and books, and more.

Different instances in one platform, say all of the different Mastodon servers, can be considered one branch of the tree. Users can interact with different Mastodon instances, and through the ActivityPub protocol, see next section, with other fediverse platforms as well.

ActivityPub

For most of the fediverse, interconnections and notifications employ the ActivityPub protocol, a W3C initiative. See complete documentation for ActivityPub here. Learn more about ActivityPub at ActivityPub.rocks.

While ActivityPub is not the only protocol used in the fedisphere, it is the dominant one. Diaspora is one alternative.

The same platform can have integrations with more than one protocol – see the table in this article.

Note that WordPress has a plugin to allow integration through ActivityPub with the fediverse. Tumblr is adding support for ActivityPub as well.

Does It All Work?

It sounds complex to maintain communications between many millions of users on perhaps a hundred thousand different servers, on different platforms and many different instances for each platform. Does it really work?

Not perfectly, but for the most part, yes. Maybe it is easier to accept by considering the email system. Email is handled far more servers, with far more users, at least 6 billion active email accounts globally, and yet we all have confidence that most email messages do get promptly and correctly routed. Well thought out decentralized systems can work.

Types of Names Used By Fediverse Platforms

I did not do a formal analysis, but it seems that the majority of platforms operating in the fediverse use a made-up name, altered spelling, or word merge.

Names like Friendica, Hubzilla, Mobilizon, Owncast, BookWyrm, Castopod, Kibou, Inventaire, and Lemmy are typical. Two-word names such as PeerTube and SocialHome are also found. A handful of fediverse platforms do use single-word names such as Honk, Plume, Mastodon, Hive, and Zap.

The Diaspora protocol uses a dictionary word with multiple meanings, including the scattering of a population into many regions, an analogy for the fediverse.

Nonprofit does not imply lack of funding, and there may well be a market for strong names suitable for new fediverse platforms.

Exact Fediverse Names As Investments?

Metaverse went rather quickly from being relatively unknown, not even in the major dictionaries, to a trending term. There were also a number of domain sales, with NameBio showing 22 sales of the exact term, including the $175,000 sale of metaverse.io and $20,000 for metaverse.one.

The term metaverse is now registered in 679 TLDs according to dotDB, one of the most popular terms. The word metaverse has now been added to the main dictionaries.

Will fediverse enjoy similar popularity? At time of writing, fediverse is registered in 145 TLDs according to dotDB.

I searched for exact fediverse domain names listed for sale using Dofo Advanced Search. Surprisingly, only 10 names were found, most listed in 4-figures. Of course, not all listings appear in Dofo.

The only exact fediverse domain name sale in NameBio is fediverse.de, that sold at Sedo last month for $2558.

Takeaway Messages

Here are takeaway messages I drew from my research and exposure to a small part of the fediverse:
  • While a few rough edges, the system works.
  • Through the fediverse, the general public will become more familiar with many different domain extensions.
  • In particular, the .social extension, and a few others, will get a boost.
  • Google search dominance, and the centralization of Web2, have tended to reduce visibility of domain names. I can see the fediverse reversing that to some degree, which would be good for domain name investment.
  • A smoothly operational fediverse would give more small businesses confidence that perhaps they should take control of their destiny through their own domain name and hosting, and perhaps even run a server for one of the fediverse platforms.
  • If the the fediverse is seen as successful, it might give impetus to other decentralized ventures. That may help some Web3 ventures.
  • I don’t see a significant aftermarket for fediverse-related names, but there will be occasional sales for both instances and platforms.
  • I think the term fediverse will become common, and there will probably be a few, but not many, sales of the exact term.
  • I think large centralized services will always be with us. Many prefer to use them, and habits change slowly.
Draw your own conclusions, and do your own research prior to any domain name investments.

Reading List

I found the following resources helpful:
  1. Per Axbom wrote one of the best articles on the fediverse, and is the author of the diagram shared above.
  2. The Wikipedia fediverse article fediverse includes a comprehensive table of platforms and types.
  3. One of the more complete articles on the fediverse, and Mastodon in particular, is published at PCWorld How Mastodon and federated services put social networks in the people’s hands. Written by Adam Taylor, the article is strong on the nuts and bolts of federated social media.
  4. Cindy Cohn and Rory Mir published at Electronic Frontier Foundation, EFF, the article The Fediverse Could Be Awesome (If We Don’t Screw It Up).
  5. Read about Mastodon at JoinMastodon.org or on the Mastodon Wikipedia entry..
  6. An incredibly rich source of information on the fediverse, from apps to servers to news and more, is at fediverse.party.
There are also dozens of easily-found blog posts on the fediverse.


Thanks for NameBio, nTLDStats, dotDB, and Dofo for information used in this article, and to all of the cited information sources. Particular thanks to Per Axbom for his article and the Many Branches of the Fediverse diagram.
 
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The views expressed on this page by users and staff are their own, not those of NamePros.

Haroon Basha

Service.xyzTop Member
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You are really awesome Sir @Bob Hawkes, Thank you very much for the in-depth article.
 
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topdom

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I suspect people would choose cheapest domains, ones for 1 USD for the first year, and then drop after a year.

After a quick look without careful reading.., this thing sounds like cloud.
 
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twiki

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I suspect people would choose cheapest domains, ones for 1 USD for the first year, and then drop after a year.

After a quick look without careful reading.., this thing sounds like cloud.

Federated cloud.

( ... are we assisting at creation of the Federation of Planets from Star Trek? )
 
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srav

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Thanks for the article sir @Bob Hawkes . Have "Federated / verse " in dawt com.
 
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LoveCatchyDomains

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Have concerns been raised about security of the Fediverse? You mentioned the shoe-string budgets of some of entities using the Mastadon servers.
Your point is well taken, though, that there are potential domain name opportunities for this new Federiverse world.
Thanks, as always, for the trending insights.
 
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StartupNames

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Thank you sir!
 
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I always feel wealthier after reading one of your well formatted data-driven reports, Bob.

Personally, I have a different take on the alleged 'social media', though I do not use them much as I agree they have not been good for domain investment... so why add content and attention to those platforms when I could get another domain online and into the search index.

As far as my takeaway this Fediverse report.
In short, the for-profit "social network" business model now owns the web onboarding and identity marketplace. Virtually eliminating the need for the masses to buy a domain name, own the web experience, or their data. In response, the non-profit 'federated network' model offers a modestly better domain and web ownership experience for those willing, and able, to adapt to it.

In this context, the federated web may well drive slightly more domain name sales. However, in the generational long run... because social networks come and go, and the rules change with ownership. Also, as the non-profit org model is even less scalable, sustainable or competitive.

Domainers need to consider the elephant in the room.

The social networks, and the federated web networks, are just subset networks within the DNS.
As ~75% of all domains are undeveloped. Domainers are virtually holding all the cards. We could win the web's social networking hand, if we play The Domain Card... and turn available domains into a Connected TV network.

Connecting undeveloped addresses into a Namespace Social Network, with a business and family focused (Next Gen Web Ownership) Identity (onboarding) marketing campaign would drive domain name sales, and put the web in the hands of netizen domain owners. Where it should be.

Also, the distributed nature of domain ownership makes it the most fair and sustainable business model for the web as it combines the profits of individual private ownership with the benefits of public service.
 
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Mister Funsky

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Thank you for the article...much information and well worth reading!
 
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Thank you Bob for this interesting information about the Mastodon federated microblogging network.

Reminded me of a FOSS that was popular more than a decade back. Mastodon's features (from its Wikipedia page) almost read like those of "StatusNet" of yore. The federation part and the platform seem to be different though. However, it's surprising to see them use a word which represents animals of the genus Mammut that went extinct more than 10,000 years ago (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastodon).

StatusNet was a good software requiring just a LAMP VPS that one could use to run a private and/or public twitter clone. I ran it on one of my domains, but abandoned subsequently due to heavy spamming, and lack of required bandwidth to maintain it.

Just did a quick search to check what happened to that FOSS. A 12-year old copy is present on github (https://github.com/shashi/StatusNet) with last activity dated December 29, 2010. The domain used by it at that time was status.net, which now just has a few links to some unrelated articles.

What do you think mastodon's future might be, and how long do you think before geopolitical regulators swoop in?

PS: Added after some more search. Mastodon is "a custom implementation of GNU social’s protocol" started by its developer in 2016 according to a dailydot article (https://www.dailydot.com/debug/mastodon-fediverse-eugen-rochko/). GNU Social itself merged with StatusNet in 2013. "GNU social is a continuation of the StatusNet project" as stated in its site (https://gnusocial.network/).
 
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I suspect people would choose cheapest domains, ones for 1 USD for the first year, and then drop after a year.
Thanks for your comments. I had wondered if many would take that short-sighted approach of discounted first year in getting a domain for their instance. Probably in some cases they do. But most of the instances run on TLDs even with discounting $7 - $30 in first year. There are a number of TLDs they could have gotten at $2 first year with 0-2 only in my survey. Compared to the overall cost of the required hosting, the domain is not much of annual costs, even if $30 per year.
-Bob
 
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Have concerns been raised about security of the Fediverse? You mentioned the shoe-string budgets of some of entities using the Mastadon servers.
A good point, and yes certainly discussion around security issues, that I did not delve deeply into. Your data is held at your instance. To join requires fairly minimal personal data, though.

When I joined Mastodon the number of instances taking new users, and that were not focussed on just one region or interest, was low compared to now, as the operators tried to cope with a strong rise in users. Certainly one aspect I looked at was who is running the instance, what the moderation was, and whether the principals have expertise in running a server. I partly chose the one I did because the person is an IT professional who has decades of experience running servers, and from the posts, while I did not understand all of the details, seemed competent and long term.

There are some options that are probably high security. For example, shortly after I joined CIRA, the Canadian authority that manages the .ca extension, opened a Masdodon server and many Canadians are choosing it.

One can change instance, and take your followers, etc. to the new instance. Some have already changed because they did not think moderation was right or they found a better option.

I agree that many shoestring budget operations are probably more likely to lead to issues. That said, many of the huge social media operations have had their own security hacks from time to time.

I agree important to stay vigilant.

Thank you for your comments.

Bob
 
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StatusNet was a good software requiring just a LAMP VPS that one could use to run a private and/or public twitter clone.
Thank you for the background. Yes, Mastodon has been around awhile, and thanks for digging out how it built on previous work. Also alternatives like Friendica have been fully operational longer than Mastodon, and integrates with more protocols, but has a smaller base of users.

What do you think mastodon's future might be, and how long do you think before geopolitical regulators swoop in?
I am no expert on the various things that enter into your good question, but I feel positive re the direction. Also, since Mastodon essentially just provides the open-source software and attached use guidelines, I would think that if governments saw the need to regulate, they would have to deal with the instances. Sort of like if there is a problem with blogs, one generally would not solve it by dealing with WordPress or other CMS systems, but rather with the administrators, or possibly hosters, of the blog.

More broadly on future, I don't think we will see any one platform dominate the fediverse, even in one segment like microblogging. I think the era of a few giants dominating the social space is eroding, and I don't see decentralized going away, but I also don't see the big centralized players going away either.

I honestly think that a mixed system, with many small players along with the giants, may serve everyone better, and will be better for domain investors, at least slightly.

-Bob
 
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Jamor

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Thanks Bob for this article
 
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