The Post-Facebook Social Network

Hubzilla & the ZOT Protocol

Imagine a world where you actually have control over every detail of your online presence. Strange to think that’s actually a real picture we need to paint, but it’s true. This world isn’t some farfetched future, it’s a present opportunity that’s been in the making for us, for over a decade.

You wouldn’t stay with a partner who stalks, abuses, and lies to you, so why would you do the same with Facebook?

Like an unhelpful friend, many authors on this topic have complained about the problems with Facebook, but failed to provide, or act upon any realistic solutions to replace it. A good friend would help you find a way to breakaway, and lead you towards a more hopeful future with personal privacy, respect, & trust.

I have been researching this topic for a while now, and am confident I have found the best alternative; plus it even has a dislike button. Let me lead you through the same simple 3 step process that my engineering brain used to arrive at my conclusion:

1. Identify that there is a problem
2. Find a solution to the problem
What are the specifications
What existing or novel options are possible
 — Which full solution is best
3. Fix the problem

Identifying The Problem

Facebook willingly gave data from 87 million profiles away, which ended up subconsciously influencing our democracies. Maybe should have read the Privacy Policy, and Terms & Conditions after all. It’s not our fault though, policies & data models should be clear & simple.

Some website policies are even longer than a novel

It’s easy to unfollow/block content at your own peril, but you have no control over your unencrypted data once you give it away (or once they take it). Even Mark Zuckerberg thinks we’re all dumb fucks for giving him our unencrypted information in the first place:

Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, comments on a real conversation Mark Zuckerberg had with a friend in the early days of Facebook.

Finding a Solution

Many people (including celebrities), and companies, are deleting their Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp profiles (all owned by Facebook Inc), or refusing to advertise on them. 10% of Americans say they have or plan to delete theirs. Imagine you decide to follow:

Do you know what sites you’d use, for similar functionality?

Switching to Reddit (who’ve been quietly adding similar features), Google+, MySpace, Tumblr, Twitter, Linkedin, etc… doesn’t do anything substantially different. It’s like breaking up with a bad partner and moving on to someone just as terrible.

In terms of biggest online, potential threats to democracy I think Facebook is #3, with Google at #2. Chinese company Tencent (especially with WeChat) is #1, but thankfully, only Chinese really use WeChat. © Delize

The founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton, recently encouraged others to distance themselves from Facebook products, & instead recommends Signal. I wrote about Signal earlier here.

[Matrix] based chat applications like Riot are a good Facebook Messenger replacement, but don’t have the accompanying social network. For that part, most people don’t know what good Facebook alternatives are available.

What Needs to Be Replaced

2.2 billion of the 4.1 billion internet users, see that there are benefits to the features that Facebook provides, and have also started to notice more of the drawbacks. If the goal is to replace it, we need to identify these:

Social Graphs — A person’s name & their contact information.
Persistent Identities — Connect with people whom you don’t always know their most recent contact information (phone numbers, emails, addresses).
Control of Audience — Choice over who to sees your data (excluding Facebook Inc. and others they allow).
Storage & Sharing of Media — Text, audio, pictures, & video posts.
Direct Communication — Ability to message or call individuals or groups.
Event Planning — Temporary, location based associations with others.
Groups — Prolonged associations with others.
Scalable & Reliable — Can support billions of people simultaneously using the service.

Advertisements — Almost nobody likes ads everywhere you go.
Trackers — These follow your browsing both inside & outside of Facebook.
Not Free — Facebook is not free: you end up paying for it indirectly.
Unencrypted Data — All sensitive data should be end-to-end encrypted.
Closed Source — We can’t verify what Facebook does with our data.
Closed & Centralized Ecosystem — This is a single point of failure, and you don’t even have the option to export your data in a usable format.
Censorship — You can’t typically post things people are too sensitive to, even if it’s for a good cultural cause, like #FreeTheNipple.

“Free” Lemonade — © Joe Dator

Now that we have our specifications, what does that leave for potential solutions?

The Free Network: Federation, Fediverse, Activity Web & others

The only way to guarantee both trust & chance of equality, is by using a something that is free/libre open source software (FLOSS). The only way to guarantee both control & resilience of your own data, is by using something that you could potentially host on your own devices, without cutting it off from the rest of the network (decentralization).

This direction towards decentralization is one shared by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web.

The inventor of the internet, folks. Wikimedia — Paul R. Clarke

This primarily leaves social networks in The Free Network. Each of these individual projects run on multiple, decentralized servers, rather than a single website. You can sign up with a server supported by the project, or run your own server. This could easily start with one of the many older devices I know you all have, collecting dust in a corner.

Similar to how IMAP, SMTP, and/or POP3 allow different email providers to communicate with each other, the legacy OStatus, ActivityPub and/or Diaspora protocols allow these different profiles, sometimes on different servers, sometimes running different projects, to all communicate with each other.

A UI mock-up of a decentralized FLOSS social network to have a similar look and feel to Instagram. Sean Tilley — We Distribute

Some of these different projects, are different types of social networks that can interact with each other. Besides the different looks (UI/UX), the only real difference between Twitter & Instagram for example, is that Instagram requires posts:
 — Contain a picture
 — Do not contain a link
 — Cannot be reblogged to other accounts
 — Can expire after 24 hours

So you could potentially have one account that filters content to different audiences, based on the project people choose to access their network’s content through.

I’ve got some bad news and some good news about these protocols though:
 — Unfortunately, all 3 of these legacy protocols don’t support all the features we are looking for.
 — Fortunately though, providing compatibility with these legacy protocols doesn’t stop the project from creating its own novel protocols, and putting them forward as new suggestions to be standardized & supported.

Hubzilla: Has ZOT, but is Also Part of the Free Network

Presenting the solution to all our problems: Hubzilla & the ZOT protocol

After realizing these legacy protocols wouldn’t cut it, the people behind Friendica moved on to create Hubzilla, with their newly developed protocol ZOT, but allow support for the legacy protocols. It is the only existing solution I’ve found that meets all our desired specifications. The ones marked with [ZOT] below, are features that are only available with the ZOT protocol.

Social Graphs — Connect with your contacts’ Social Channels.
Persistent Identities — You don’t need your friend’s newest number/email to connect with them. Their info automatically syncs with your contacts app.
Control of Audience — Full control over who sees your data
Storage & Sharing of Media — Can easily share with your contacts.
Direct Communication — Individuals & group chats. If & Hubzilla merged into one unified product, I think it would be perfection.
Events — Date, time, location, description. Syncs with your calendar app.
Groups — In Hubzilla, these are called Forum Channels.
Scalable & Reliable [ZOT] —If a node goes offline, your data can still reliably safe if you’ve set your channel to clone across multiple nodes.

No Advertisements — Do I need to say any more?
No Trackers — None required, though if a server admin wanted to use a FLOSS analytics like Matamo (formerly Piwik) to ensure my experience on the site functions properly, I wouldn’t be opposed.
Free/Libre — Hubzilla is FLOSS, and a part of the Free Network, though if the server admin asked for donations every once in awhile to help with costs like Wikipedia does, I wouldn’t be opposed.
Encrypted Data [ZOT] — Unlike Facebook & Mastodon, you have the option to encrypt most of your data, end-to-end.
Open Source — Anyone can verify what the program does.
Open, Decentralized Ecosystem — If Facebook or Minds went offline, all your data would be gone. Exported data can’t be easily imported elsewhere.
Censorship Resistant [ZOT] — Nomadic Identities & Channel Cloning help prevent censorship & single points of failure.

There is a demo available here to simulate some of the things Hubzilla can do.

Similar to this Tesla base if it also had a seat, pedals, & driving wheel, Hubzilla has the basic functional foundations to build a product that we all want to use. We just need to add the trim packages. Wikimedia — Oleg Alexandrov

Does Hubzilla look pretty? Not yet by default. It does have the capabilities to be customized in the meantime though.

Is Hubzilla easy to use? Not yet, but it’s probably also because it’s new & unfamiliar. The UI/UX could be better, and it could use more documentation too.

Does Hubzilla have an app? Not yet, but eventually. Access via a browser.

Does Hubzilla work perfectly? Not yet, but it’s a work in progress.

Does Hubzilla work? Yes it has all the core features to work reasonably well.

Like any good long term relationship, we should prioritize all of the key things we want to see in a social network, even if they are an ugly ducking when you first are introduced. We should not compromise half of what we want, in exchange for the remaining half, like we currently do with Facebook.

Fix the Problem

If you’ve been traveling in the wrong direction, the single most important moment is when you begin to walk more towards the right direction, than the wrong. This is called the inflection point, and I firmly believe we have reached Facebook’s inflection point (its stock certainly has). Now it’s time for you to take that first step by creating a profile.

When I first joined Signal (originally called TextSecure then), the only person I know who used it, was the intelligent guy that introduced me to it. I didn’t like it at first because of this and because it looked different, but eventually I appreciated how incredibly valuable it is to everyone. Now after encouraging people to join, many dozens more of my contacts use it now, with most people now joining on their own accord.

The thing is about social graph based networks, is that they’re primarily only as valuable as the number of family & friends who also use the platform, and right now its likely than you won’t know anyone that uses it yet. If that value isn’t there yet, then one approach is to create additional value for the initial group of people in other ways, besides just the technology platform.

To do this for my family, I plan on running my own node, posting family photos that they don’t have copies of yet (uncompressed nonetheless), and hosting other media files like my music & movie library. That way if they wish to access the value I have provided, they need to create value by signing up.

So how do you get your friends and family to consider joining? You can do this by telling them about Hubzilla, recommending this article to others, contributing to the project, and most importantly, by joining it yourself.

Let’s grow the future of social media the way we want, together.

I want to thank Sean Tilley, Andrew Manning, and Mike Macgirvin, as their contributions to, and publications about Hubzilla helped me write this. Shout out to Mark Krynsky as well.

This post also appears on my new Hubzilla Social Channel, but Sean’s is a better illustration of some of the things Hubzilla Channels are capable of.

I encourage you to follow me or my shared publication on Medium, or join me on Hubzilla to hear more things like this.