Hubzilla's Hidden Promise

Hubzilla's Hidden Promise
Photo by Andrew Petrov / Unsplash

Last week, I finally was able to install Hubzilla on my own domain.

The reason why Hubzilla was high on my bucket list is because it's the only "mainstream" implementation I can find on the Zot protocol. The appeal of Zot is that this is one of the few working examples I can find for true nomadic identity.

For me, nomadic identity is the true holy grail for decentralized social networks. In a previous life, I was working on one such project. I make no bones about the fact figuring out nomadic identity is not easy. Many have tried and failed.

Nevertheless, a sort of nomadic identity works on Hubzilla. Take a look at this remote login page on a Hubzilla site.

Hubzilla remote login
Hubzilla remote login

You might be wondering, "Where is the password field?"

There is no password field. Logging into another instance is just a matter of entering your channel address (similar to a username), and you're in. Depending on permissions set on the instance, remote authentication may give you post, comment, and upload access – something that can't be done on Mastodon or Pixelfed.

A field for importing a channel

Importing or cloning a channel is likewise easy. You can either do it by uploading a file, or by providing the identity and email address from another instance. Once done, you now have a redundancy for your channel – which makes it censorship resistant. That means that if someone doesn't like you and decides to nuke your channel, you can continue operating its clone.

A criticism I often have with the Mastodon is that there's a class system which creates inequality: instance admins own user personas, toots, and other important personal data such as photos; users have no recourse should an admin ban them for whatever reason.

This is why, though I have an active account on mastodon.social, I have been insistent about running my own instance. But even then, owning an instance doesn't prevent disruption of service. If my webhost doesn't like me or I'm a victim of a DDoS, then where's my recourse?

The ability to import or clone a channel is therefore a godsend for people like me who are paranoid that someone might try to silence their voice.

So Hubzilla's the future of decentralized social networking, right? Not so fast.

Hubzilla Network Fact

Only 282 Hubzilla hubs are currently online. What's more, the network is delining. Over the past year, 63 hubs have disappeared from the Internet. During March, only 1,623 Hubzilla channels were active.

I suspect that a big reason for this contraction is because it's complex. Hubzilla does everything. It's practically a CMS. Unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily translate well to social networking since the general impression of the platform is that it lacks focus.

My suspicion is that Hubzilla devs know this. According to their own road map, they're discontinuing a large portion of Zot in favour of a new service called Streams. According to Mike Macgirvin:

[With Streams] you'll get internet single sign-on, groups, aspects, private media, privacy/permissions/moderation/spam&abuse prevention, personal cloud storage, strong crypto, nomadic identity, and all the other features this family of software has been known for over the years, but with special attention given to reducing or eliminating unnecessary complexity. Additional customisations and special features are provided through addons and downloadable apps.

Whatever Hubzilla evolves into, I hope their renewed focus is squarely on nomadic identity. Now I don't know if Hubzilla's particular implementation the answer for nomadic identity. It's nevertheless impressive that it works.

It's imperative that the Fediverse, at large, comes to a consensus on nomadic identity. The sooner that nomadic identity is implemented across all major platforms, the sooner that the Fediverse will no longer be in danger of re-centralizing.