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Challenges in the decentralised web: The Mastodon case

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paperpeer-review

Aravindh Raman, Sagar Joglekar, Emiliano De Cristofaro, Nishanth Sastry, Gareth Tyson

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIMC 2019 - Proceedings of the 2019 ACM Internet Measurement Conference
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Pages217-229
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781450369480
DOIs
Published21 Oct 2019
Event19th ACM Internet Measurement Conference, IMC 2019 - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 21 Oct 201923 Oct 2019

Conference

Conference19th ACM Internet Measurement Conference, IMC 2019
CountryNetherlands
CityAmsterdam
Period21/10/201923/10/2019

King's Authors

Abstract

The Decentralised Web (DW) has recently seen a renewed momentum, with a number of DW platforms like Mastodon, PeerTube, and Hubzilla gaining increasing traction. These offer alternatives to traditional social networks like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, by enabling the operation of web infrastructure and services without centralised ownership or control. Although their services differ greatly, modern DW platforms mostly rely on two key innovations: first, their open source software allows anybody to setup independent servers (“instances”) that people can sign-up to and use within a local community; and second, they build on top of federation protocols so that instances can mesh together, in a peer-to-peer fashion, to offer a globally integrated platform. In this paper, we present a measurement-driven exploration of these two innovations, using a popular DW microblogging platform (Mastodon) as a case study. We focus on identifying key challenges that might disrupt continuing efforts to decentralise the web, and empirically highlight a number of properties that are creating natural pressures towards re-centralisation. Finally, our measurements shed light on the behaviour of both administrators (i.e., people setting up instances) and regular users who sign-up to the platforms, also discussing a few techniques that may address some of the issues observed.

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