forks Mastodon and slaps a blockchain on top, for some reason [Updated]

[This article has been updated to account for recent changes and to address subsequent comments.]

The Hiveway platform raised more than a few eyebrows today with an announcement by none other than John McAfee, unveiling the startup’s rebrand from Etherhive to Hiveway. At this time, McAfee’s affiliation with the project remains unclear, but he nevertheless appears to be providing consultation to the team.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem to be anything new. Blockchain-powered social networking startups come and go all the time, with relatively few of them capturing much market attention. Many implementations face technical roadblocks and scaling problems, and most provide an obscure whitepaper detailing how they intend to use a token for purposes related to identity management or promoting content with currency.

The platform describes itself as such:

The Hiveway Social Network will be the first democratic social network, running fully autonomously. Its users will be able to post and interact with messages, photos and videos. The social platform will be ruled by its users, through an electoral system. Its goal is to offer the alternative everyone expects: a fair social platform. One that does not treat its users as merchandise, take away their rights or sell their attention to third parties for its own benefit.

Additionally, the platform is having a pre-ICO sale of The Way Token, which this startup is probably using to bootstrap itself. In the cryptocurrency space, this is hardly an uncommon practice for blockchain startups to do.

This is all fine and good, however, one detail sticks out like a sore thumb: Hiveway is totally just Mastodon with a skin.

Oh! Uhh, coincidence?

What’s curious about this is that it’s not uncommon to run a custom-branded instance of Mastodon. In fact, doing so is normally encouraged, provided that the Mastodon branding is still prominent in some fashion, and credit is given where credit is due.

The problem here regards the nature of how Mastodon is being forked. Unfortunately for Hiveway, they give the impression of trying to actively avoid affiliation with Mastodon, going as far as setting up a separate code repository and overwriting commits that had been attributed to the original people who did the work. For Open Source contributors, this kind of thing comes across as distasteful.

Hiveaway has also mentioned the release of an Android app, which itself is a fork of Tusky, a popular Mastodon client. Effectively, they did the same thing there.

For most of the repo’s life, a single copyright file makes passing reference to Mastodon. As of a few hours ago, the project has updated its README to clarify its derived work status.

Other Differences

The most dubious aspect of Hiveaway’s copy and whitepaper is in how it ignores the federation aspect of what it is building upon. Mastodon itself is built as a frontend client for the Fediverse, a communication supernetwork of independent instances all passing messages to each other.

Another curious aspect here is that this fork of Mastodon purposefully limits the multicolumn interface that Mastodon is best known for, which limits some of its defining functionality.

Hiveway’s fork forgoes a core concept of the system and exchanges it for a blockchain that would purportedly leverage smart contracts, and some of the ideas in the whitepaper raise questions about compatibility with the rest of the federated web. The federation still works for now, but there’s not a guarantee of how this could change in the future.


When we look at the whitepaper, we can glimpse a few unusual things that the project proposes to do. Here are a few excerpts:

The hiveway network will be comprised of interconnected autonomous nodes, filled with different people, interests, languages, and needs. The nodes are run by Hiveway miners that will receive tokens as a reward for sharing their hardware resources.

Unfortunately, this is already at odds with the Fediverse, because this supernetwork operates without a monetary incentive system in place. While the idea of rewarding providers is a nice sentiment, this faculty doesn’t exist within this network and some of the technical requirements conflict with the current infrastructure of the network.

To be able to participate in the network governance or to receive ad compensation, the user must provide sufficient information about himself, his education, skills and work history. To be able to participate in governance, users skills will be audited by the Skills Board, and will receive a score that measures their validity. Users can also receive endorsement from other users with a minimum of 300 followers. Each user can only endorse one other user.

While there’s something to be said about a social reputation system, particularly in a decentralized system, this basically proposes a crowdsourced Klout score and requires users to have a minimum of 300 followers and a LinkedIn-style resume to even be vetted in the first place. The other problem is that most self-hosted Fediverse instances have zero ads, and don’t want to see any of yours.

A set of Smart Contracts will serve as constituting laws for the platform, governing marketing ads, the Board elections, Board functionality, voting and platform development and maintenance. The Smart constitution will be made available to all platform users.

Smart contracts are not a silver bullet, and the practicality of using them for community governance in lieu of a basic honor system seems dubious. In fact, using a rigid system for policy enforcement could theoretically hurt the user experience, as smart contracts are not particularly known for incorporating nuance in their contractual terms.

Special algorithms will check any similarities between accounts,
and will notify the initial account of a possible impersonation,
the first account having the option to cancel the second. To
counteract compromised accounts, all linked nodes will establish
between themselves a behaviour benchmark. Fluctuations in the
behaviour pattern of a node will be investigated by a commision of
linked nodes, allowing them to temporarily suspend the account,
or that node’s rights on the platform.

Impersonation is a common concern on the federated web, but this solution seems to have a distorted idea of the role individual instances play. Part of the purpose of the decentralized web is that it is comprised of individual self-run nodes. The idea that all nodes would bend at the knee to enforce a policy, even one as noble as preventing impersonation, suggests a mentality of having one’s cake and eating it too.


I’m not sure what the future has in store for this network, but it hasn’t done a great job with fostering much of a relationship with the community or a sense of familiarity with the platform or the rest of the space, and some of the steps it has taken in establishing its own branding have come across as problematic. There’s a general impression that the people building this might want something completely different, and just forked an open source project to save time.

So far, I’m not impressed by much of what this system purports to do; from a distance it just looks like a familiar permutation of the same ICO + Blockchain + social network scheme I’ve seen arise over the last few years.

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