From Open Source to Open Communication

I just got around to reading mhoye’s article The Evolution Of Open and it challenged and changed my perspective in a good way, relevant to how Matrix fits in to the quest for “open” communications systems for the benefit of society as a whole.

I was focused on decentralization tech, empowering users to technically control their identity (see: “Self-Sovereign Identity“) as the primary need to concentrate on.

After reading that post, I’m seeing how empowering users needs to be at a much more social level, having communities that can technically communicate with anyone but practically need to set loose boundaries in variety of ways, having the personal and collective ability to “tune out” messages and people and entire communities that are abusive or just uninteresting to them.

It’s not that we shouldn’t all be open to hearing view from people who are different from us, it’s that if we allow everyone on the planet to shout into our ears at an equal volume, that’s not effective communication, it’s no use at all. (And spammers use spam bots to amplify their unwanted inputs.) Rather, we need ways to go selectively and occasionally to hear different views, moderated by people we trust.

In the #synchronicity channel the Matrix founder Matthew expressed reservations about how, in the article, federated systems are positioned as detrimental to providing a safe “open space” for all participants to be free from online abuses. The author writes, “I believe that federated infrastructure – that is, a focus on distributed and resilient services – is a poor substitute for an accountable infrastructure that prioritizes a distributed and healthy community”. Matthew countered that federated systems “have an existential reason to fix” that problem. Big-corp silos have financial reasons to address the problems of safe inclusion, and indeed have “health” and “reputation” teams dedicated to it, but they are only ever going to do so in profitable ways, which could be insidiously worse. Maybe the perspective expressed was what’s available today rather than future-looking. Today, the “best” moderation is achieved in some profitable silos. For the future, it seems obvious to me that federation is part of the solution, even though it poses challenges, and that point seems to be missed.

After reading and pondering these issues, I raise the priority of my ability as a user to control the rules that my federated messaging server applies to me, and to migrate to one that suits me better, above the technical ability to run my own instance of such a server.