The Fediverse of Things


One of the most frustrating things in modern technology is the effort spent trying to artificially restrict abundance.

Take, for example, this tale from museum-worker Aaron Cope:

I was out with a friend who worked for Twitter and I asked them whether it would be possible for the museum to “create 200,000 Twitter accounts, one for each object in the Cooper Hewitt’s collection”. My friend looked at me for a moment, laughed, and then simply said: No.

In that blog post, Aaron reveals that the San Francisco International Airport Museum is using ActivityPub to create automated social-media bot accounts for all its exhibits and, possibly, every object it hold.

And why not! That would be close to impossible to do on a centralised service. But on a decentralised service under your own control, it is relatively simple. Perhaps I only want to follow the museum's canteen, or I just want to engage with a specific artefact. The Fediverse makes that possible.

This reminds me of the Melbourne "treemail" phenomenon. Every tree in the city had an email address, ostensibly so residents could email maintenance issues for a specific tree. Instead, people started interacting with the trees and sending them little love notes!

Dearest Golden Elm Tree, I finally found you! As in I see you everyday on my way to uni, but I had no idea of what kind of tree you are. You are the most beautiful tree in the city and I love you

A few weeks ago, I read about Ben Smith inventing Tweeting trains. With a bit of code, every train line in the UK was suddenly represented on the web in a convenient format. Well… Convenient if you were on Twitter.

Museums, trees, and trains naturally brings me on to the Internet of Things. I think it is fair to say that IoT is in a bit of an odd place right now. Matter is a confusing mishmash of standards. Security and privacy issues dog the simplest devices. Many people don't even want their toaster online!

For the majority of domestic uses, people want an Intranet of Things. There's little need to have your light-bulbs controlled when you're outside of WiFi range. Similarly, it is probably a really bad idea to have your hydroelectric dam connected to the Internet.

Which brings me back to the Fediverse.

On the one hand, it would be nice to be able to follow @Yellow_Line@Transit_Authority.gov - or even @Bus_Stop_1234@bus_company.biz - that would allow for hyperfocused data getting to the right people. It seems feasible that every civic object could have a Fediverse account. From the individual streetlights to the municipal sewerage system. Perhaps people won't send love letters to overflowing drains - but a social-dashboard of your civic environment could be both practical and delightful.

And, as for your domestic gadgets? Why not give every room, or every light-bulb, in your home a private Fediverse account? You could send a message like:

Hey @thermostat@My_Home.example.com, please set the temperature to 19°C. Thanks!

That might be a bit much! But I like the idea of a private social network which consists of all my IoT gadgets talking to me and each other.


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14 thoughts on “The Fediverse of Things”

  1. said on fed.qaz.red:

    @Edent You say "artificially restrict abundance" I say "experienced anti-spam response".

    It's one thing for the owner of a resource to create thousands of accounts there (domain owner creating email addresses per tree), it's another thing for a third party to do so (museum using a service with account controls designed for humans not bots).

    It is simplistic to ignore that.

    Reply | Reply to original comment on fed.qaz.red
  2. PJ Evans says:

    How much of this does MQTT already cover? Genuine question. Is MQTT the fediverse for IoT?

    Reply
    1. says:

      I don't think it is (although it could be related). It could be, if everyone made their MQTT brokers and data public. I think the semantics that ActivityPub adds, make this more useful - with MQTT you don't typically have a known and strongly typed data packet.

      Reply

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