When Twitter began imposing limits on its API for third-party developers in 2010, it sent a strong signal to developers that centralized platforms weren’t to be trusted. That same year, Diaspora — a kind of decentralized Facebook — was founded by four New York students. Later, in 2017, a federated social network named Mastodon experienced a surge of popularity.
Now, in 2021, there is a growing underground project called Scuttlebutt that is tackling the decentralized web from a different perspective. Unlike Diaspora and Mastodon, Scuttlebutt is not a product for end-users — rather, it’s a protocol (like HTTP or RSS). Decentralized social network products, like Manyverse and Planetary, are being built for end-users on top of the Scuttlebutt protocol.
Secure Scuttlebutt (SSB), as it was originally called, was released in 2014 by Dominic Tarr, a New Zealander who lived on a boat and had sporadic internet coverage. Tarr’s lifestyle (which, for the record, is unusual even in New Zealand!) inspired the design of Scuttlebutt, which relies on content being self-hosted and only periodically sent over a peer-to-peer network. This is the opposite of how Twitter works: there, the content is hosted on a centralized server (controlled by Twitter) and is constantly updated, in real-time, over the internet.