Transcript: Interview with atomicpoet (Chris Trottier)

from Ep2 28 Dec 2022

Across the Fediverse: To tell the stories of the Fediverse, we’re going to deep dive in conversation with some of the characters involved, the projects, the instances and the communities. Today I’m joined by atomicpoet Chris Trottier. How are you today Chris?

atomicpoet: I’m pretty good. I’m enjoying my holiday.

Across the Fediverse: So Chris is involved in a federated project, Great Ape. Can you tell us what Great Ape is, Chris?

atomicpoet: It’s very simple. It’s a federated audio and video app. I know that’s very general. We are going to be adding a little bit of a peer-to-peer component on top of that. Basically we saw that audio and video, that’s something that the greater Fediverse kind of needs, so we decided to work on it.

Across the Fediverse: So there’s some other projects out there already, Funkwhale comes to mind as does PixelFed for images and Peercast for the video. You said your pointed differentiation there was the peer-to-peer part of that. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?

atomicpoet: Sure. So the way that most of the Fediverse works is through a server client architecture. You know what I’m saying? PeerTube does torrent-based as well, but the thing is that peer-tube is meant to be a YouTube replacement, right? Owncast is meant to be a Twitch replacement. We’re more going for the live video aspect of it.

Across the Fediverse: Oh, it’s so a little bit more where the Owncast platform sits, is it?

atomicpoet: Well, like I said, Owncast is specifically going for video game streaming. That’s where they wanted to be, and that’s fine, right? And I think Gabe, the fellow who makes it, he does a pretty good job. But you have to host Owncast. You have to install the server. Don’t get me wrong, with GreatApe, there will have to be one person who’s the broadcaster, but it’s going to share the load. And that’s where the value comes into play.

Across the Fediverse: What market do you see the GreatApe platform mostly taking in the Fediverse? Which demographic or viewer slash broadcaster?

atomicpoet: Yeah. So if you take a look at most social media sites out there, there is a live broadcasting component in them, right? For example, Twitter Spaces, right? Or YouTube Live, yeah. Exactly. All of these services, they’re doing live audio and video. Sometimes it’s just audio, sometimes it’s audio plus video. That’s what we’re essentially hoping to do, is offer that service to the Fediverse.

Across The Fediverse: That sounds like a much needed service for the Fediverse. Is there a time frame? I did note, we’re still considered pre-production for GreatApe. What state is the platform in? Should folks jump in and start running it now? Or how long should they be waiting before they consider getting up and going live with GreatApe?

atomicpoet: Yeah, I mean, excellent question. So we’ve actually been working on this project for quite a long time, well over here. Originally, we didn’t really think about the Fediverse, but a bunch of circumstances happened and I said to Charles, my colleague, hey, we should build something for the Fediverse. And after a lot of talking, this was back in February. We decided this was a direction we want to go. And as you can imagine, building anything peer to peer, especially on top of activity pub has some challenges, right? I mean, it’s a different paradigm. So it’s going to take a bunch of testing. We hope to deliver it this upcoming year. But what we’re also doing right now is we’re migrating a lot of the previous code base into our GitHub repository and making that available through the AGPL.

Across the Fediverse: Excellent to hear. So a GreatApe will be entirely free and open source software and participating in the open Fediverse. You did mention some of the challenges of distributing content. That’s more than some text across activity pub in the manner that’s needed to do things like this. Can you elaborate more on some of those challenges your team faced and how you’ve overcome them?

atomicpoet: Well, I wouldn’t entirely say that we’ve overcome them. Yet if we’ve overcome them, we would probably have something production ready for you guys. But a lot of this is testing, right? The first most important thing is to make sure that we are able to deliver something peer to peer, right? Because the number one thing people want when they use anything video or audio related is they need some stability, right? So my whole thought is don’t promise anything specific, don’t over-hype things. For the code, let people test the code, see how it works, assess themselves. That’s the whole plan of any ways that I have. Part of it like I said, you’ve got the peer to peer aspect, right? So that’s a challenge. Second challenge is the federated aspect, right? Because the way Fediverse works is it’s a lot like email. You are writing something and you’re saying it’s too a recipient, but you’re doing this many, many, many different times, right?

Across the Fediverse: It’s like a really, really, really long CC list.

atomicpoet: Absolutely, yeah. So it’s a really, really long CC list. And obviously when we integrate with the Fediverse, we need to deliver stability in that direction as well. So speaking, peer to peer offers people, like peer to peer has a good, has some certain advantages, one which is it’s got a lower cost. Second thing is that once you get a critical mass of people, it becomes even smoother than the typical kind of the YouTube approach of server clients, right?

Across the Fediverse: Yeah, and we’ve got the thousands of servers pumping out millions and millions of video, right? A challenge to do it a community or open level. And that’s definitely where I see the need for this, something like this myself and certainly with a cross-the-fediverse in the future, I’d like to be looking at some monthly panel discussions and things like that which are suited to live. And it certainly sounds like the place that makes most sense for doing that. So I look forward to tracking that project in the future, Chris, but the Fediverse is a little wider than Greatape and thoroughly appreciate you giving us a little bit more background on that one. Actually, just before we move on from GreatApe, can you tell us a little bit about the team involved in your role in that team and the stack that you’re using?

atomicpoet: Yes, I have a colleague. His name’s Charles and he’s been building internet apps for decades, right? Almost as long as, well, longer than me, right? He’s been making apps since the 90s. He and I, we met at a company called Hootsuite. I was employee number eight over at Hootsuite and I believe he was employee number, well, you know, he was hired like maybe a year after myself. And if you don’t know what Hootsuite was at one time, it was the number one third party Twitter client.

Across the Fediverse: Absolutely. And I was a massive fan of it in around 2010, I think. I was using it heavily.

atomicpoet: Yeah. I mean, it used to be very big. In some ways it still is big, although with what’s going on with Twitter right now, there’s obviously, I’m glad I don’t work there anymore. Let’s put it that way. So, but getting to the point, that’s where we met. We found that we had some San Patico Charles and I. And about a year ago, I basically said to him, hey, look, Charles, you know, there’s, I’m basically, this is going to be complicated. So sorry about this. No, you’re right. Take your time to explain it because I think, you know, the dynamics of the teams behind open source software can be important. And you know, the difference between a project that’s being headed up by folks who’ve used a large scale app with a social focus in the past is vastly different to the, you know, the basement code, a single person project. So yeah, that’s the reason I asked more about the team. So yeah, take your time to elaborate there, Chris. Okay. So I’ll give you some context for a 2017, I decided to build kind of a peer to peer messenger app. You know, we got pretty far. We had an, we had, we had an alpha. You could send messages and all that. But the timing was off. It was just, it was really tough to, to, to push that out there. Like, as it, as it happens, if you’re building something that is peer to peer, um, cryptographic and, uh, and decentralized, the first thing people think of is they think, you know, cryptocurrency, right? The problem with that is when you, is, is when you say those three words, you’re alienating two people. First off, you’re alienating the people who like crypto because I’m not building crypto. Second people I’m, I’m alienating are the people who hate crypto because they think I’m building crypto, right? And at around this time I, I, I saw what was going on with the, with the fediverse and I thought, well, you know, this is, this isn’t perfect. The fediverse is not perfect. I do not like server client architecture. Okay. It’s, it’s full of problems, but at a certain point I had to face reality and I said to myself, you know what? This isn’t perfect, but it’s better than big social. It is decentralized, right? You, you can run your own instance if you, if, if you want to, you can own your own data. So I looked at that and at a certain point, some other stuff happened. Um, I ended up to take a little bit of a holiday from the whole social media business. And at a certain point, I, I thought to myself, hey, I want to get back in, in, into, into, uh, I want to get back into this thing, into the startup scene, into all this other stuff because, because that’s where I thrive, honestly. I just said to Charles, hey, do you have anything I can work on? And he said, yeah, this, uh, this video project of ours. I gave it a shot. I liked where it was going at a certain point in time. I said to Charles, what if we built something that had even bigger ambitions? What if, you know, we federated this darn thing, you know, like this, this can work. Like look, look at, look at WordPress, right? WordPress is now 44% of the, uh, the rules, what, like web pages, right? That’s, that’s like a studying success. So basically we considered, we considered the whole audio video aspect and we realized there is no stability in the, in the streaming audio video world right now. Like we tend to think, oh, hey, you know, what we’re learning, zoom, zoom, they’re, they’re the market leaders, but how long have they actually been the market leaders? Two years, maybe? Right.

Across the Fediverse: There, a surprise explosion. Uh, I think in their business model in the right place in the right time as with many of these projects, right?

atomicpoet: Yeah, but then, but then think, think to ourselves, um, can that change? Well, it probably could change if you, if you built something that, that was easier to use than zoom, because right now a huge barrier to entry with zoom is you have to download a client, a huge, huge, huge, huge, huge painting, painting the butt, right? And then he, then here’s the other. So we just, we just thought to ourselves, you know, we should try and pull off a WordPress in the, in the audio video world. And that’s part of the reason why we’re making this free and free and open source.

Across the Fediverse: And that’s always a fantastic outcome for any software and final part of my question there. Chris, was the stack you guys are building on curious about that one?

atomicpoet: Uh, so I’m not the coder, the bulk of it is written in Go.

Across the Fediverse: Oh, awesome. That’s the, the second Lang project we’ve interviewed somebody about today. So that’s, uh, yeah, good to see out there. All right. So, um, that’s plenty on, uh, on GreatApe and I certainly look forward to seeing where we go in the future with that one for, uh, you know, from, for my own selfish reasons for some of the content I’d like to produce in the future.

[break for insert explaining that I couldn’t edit this interview down because it was so good]

Across the Fediverse: You did digress a little into the distributed cryptography connotations that were had previously, which leads me to something I’d like to just raise. The feature story we covered up in the headlines today was when we just missed out on last week the mask network acquisition of Pawoo. Did you want to make any comment on that one at all, Chris?

atomicpoet: I mean, I guess my comment here is that, I mean, there’s a lot of assumptions about the Fediverse right now that a lot of people might be having that it’s run by volunteers. That’s not necessarily the case. A lot of people who own instances, they very much see it as a for-profit venture. When you look at Pawoo, that’s the second biggest, second biggest Mastodon-based instance, right? PAWU. But that company also has and

Across the Fediverse: And we talk about the number of users on those instances earlier up in the podcast as well. That’s covered in the story we do when we talk about how I think it’s about one-eighth of the total Mastodon users now on a mask network controlled instance.

atomicpoet: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. So the thing with me is that, look, I think everybody’s entitled to making a living off the Fediverse if they so like to do, right? Heck, you know, I’m part of a startup trying to do the same. But here’s the thing. What bothers me about big social is a surveillance capitalism. It’s a surveillance capitalism that causes all the issues that we’ve been seeing right now, right? Because those VCs, they’re looking to, you know, at minimum, 4x the value of whatever they invest in, right? And the easiest way to do that is to go through those old tried and tested surveillance capitalism models of, hey, offer product for free, spy on them, and then ring everything out of their existence. And truth be told, I don’t think how we use is a very good instance. And that’s purely because of the terms of service and the kinds of content they permit or is it the, is there something deeper there? I mean, I mean, the fact is, is they serve ads, right? Again, I have no problems with ads, but hey, this is a free service. How are they going to make sure the ads are effective? How will buyers of those ads know that they’re reaching relevant audiences? You need metrics? The tried and true methods, right? The metrics, the surveillance, the tracking, the, all of the things that we’re building to avoid here. That’s right. That’s right. So, you know, like the old Maxim goes, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. And that’s where I kind of see where this is going, unfortunately. And that’s why we need to be very vigilant. And we have to ask ourselves very simple questions, such as, when I join an instance, does the values of that instance align with my own? If they don’t, you know, look very, very carefully about what the thin red line is, is for you, right? For me, you know, I just, I can’t do, I just can’t do pawoo. I will never do pawoo. I will never show so much as arrive at that site. I mean, heck, I’ll be real with you. I think that the content on pawoo is probably illegal where I live.

Across the Fediverse: I, look, I certainly, in my day-to-day as an instance, I have visited instances, you know, as I say, so you don’t have to. And in my research for the story this morning, I did browse, but we were little with translation to assist. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, I have to say. I certainly encourage all Fediverse users to do their due diligence and find out who’s behind their instance, find an instance that aligns with their values, as you said, Chris. And even better get to know your admin and buy them a coffee, at least. So, Chris, there’s a lot happening outside of that, VC finance world on the Fediverse as well, and that’s the adoption by companies, which is somewhat related and also foundations. And the one that comes to mind here that’s been in discussion a lot lately is the Mozilla Foundation. Now, they’ve promised to stand up an instance in early 2023. Now, is this, this is different to, of course, cryptocurrency-controlled mass surveillance instances coming from an organization with the reputation of Mozilla. But we’ve also had some chats around how organizations like Mozilla can better incorporate Fediverse into their products and how that’s potentially more valuable than just standing up instances.

atomicpoet: Yeah, absolutely. They have a huge opportunity. Do you remember an old browser? It was one time, I think, based upon Chrome, it was called Flock. Do you remember Flock? Well, Flock doesn’t ring a bell, do I? I’ve used many browsers, Vavaldi and Opera, and these days I tend to be chromium. But tell us more about it. So Flock was a social media browser before social media really took off. You could do everything in Flock, right? It had Flickr integration, Facebook integration, all this wonderful stuff. And it was a good idea. But as with anything on the internet timing is everything. And they had an idea, they couldn’t get it off the ground because of timing. And that’s what happened. But social media has validated itself. Social media is now worth billions of dollars. And this is where a browser, like I think Mozilla Firefox can probably show some leadership, right? Which is nice that there’s going to be an instance. I think that’s fantastic. But what can they build in browser? Personally speaking, I would like to see options to basically share content, share articles within the browser.

Across the Fediverse: Do you think they can take some, take a lead from some of the other projects out there that I do know. And one of the other stories we’ve covered this week is the Graze extension. And I’m actually chatting to a developer from the Graze team or sorry, creator of Graze coming up in a future episode actually to talk more about browser integration. But is that something you think that is better off done in browser or by extension?

atomicpoet: So I just spoke to that developer today too. I like that browser extension. I think that kind of shows what can be done next. But I also think at the same time, if we threw some money at this venture, we could do so much more. Because what that plugin does, Graze is it allows you to basically, when you’re visiting another instance, you can reply from, you can basically use the extension to reply to remote instances, which is nice. It kind of treats remote instances like you’re at home and you can perform as usual, right? Yeah, yeah. It’s nice. See, he had an itch that he wanted to scratch and I think he successfully said out what he wanted to do. But I also think that there’s even way, way, way more that you can do, right? For example, that thing Graze for Mastodon. It’s very prominent to me that that extension is only made for Mastodon. I spoke to him, I said, hey, do you know this extension? It also works for friendica. He said, that’s cool, but I haven’t tested it and I don’t want to test it. And it’s fine, you know, because this is a hobby. But here’s my question. What’s going to happen if there’s ever a YouTube migration or an Instagram migration or a Facebook migration, right? What’s going to happen? They’re going to look for something on the Fediverse. It’s probably going to be the Fediverse, not something else. And they’re going to look for the closest approximations for whatever it is that they’re using. So if you’re a Facebook user, you’re probably going to use friendica. If you’re an Instagram user, you’re probably going to use pixelfed. And this is why I think it’s so important to not just say, hey, Mastodon’s 90% of the market right now, we’re only going to make something for Mastodon. That’s kind of, you know, like Mastodon, it might be 90% of the market now. Actually, it’s not 90%, but people kind of say that it’s more like 75%. It was quite a Fediverse out there across the other tools.

Across the Fediverse: And I’ve certainly been noticing how active the lemmy community is since I started dipping my toes in this week.

atomicpoet: That’s right. So there’s already half a million peertube users out there. That’s a lot. And all I’m trying to say here is, hey, it would be really awesome if we built these tools to touch on everything. That’s what the activity specification is for, is for interoperability across different apps. It’d be nice to see what could happen with some of these things.

Across the Fediverse: And I guess it may take a migration from some of those other tools or some unforeseen change to prompt that. And I was certainly hoping that folks finding a replacement for something they considered irreplaceable almost. And I was hoping that would encourage folks to explore some of the other tools out there. And, you know, it’s not quite been as easy as what I thought I thought it would actually reduce some of that friction. But that leads us really well into the final thoughts from your Chris on where you see the Fediverse being say this time next year and possibly even a bit further down the track. What are your hopes and dreams for the Fediverse?

atomicpoet: Okay. So I think all this stuff is going to take time because we’ve dealt with at least two decades of world gardens, right? And what the Fediverse introduces is an entirely different paradigm, the decentralized paradigm.

Across the Fediverse: Yeah, back to the BBS days of the 90s and as a recovering dial up 2400 boards, SysOp running remote access in the 90s. It’s certainly a good return to the roots of communications and community based infrastructure. But yeah, go on, sorry.

atomicpoet: Yeah. So first we’re going to have to socialize the whole concept of a Fediverse, right? And I hope we socialize the Fediverse instead of Mastodon. Absolutely agree there. Yeah. Yeah. So what Mastodon does though, and I want to take nothing away from Mastodon, I love Mastodon, right? I’m a huge fan of what it’s accomplished, right? And a relatively heavy user to I do notice that you’re probably as heavy as I am on Mastodon. Yeah. Yeah. So Mastodon is important because it validates the whole concept of a Fediverse. Yeah. So it shows all those influencers from Twitter, hey, you can build something off of this and reach millions and millions of people, right? That’s important. But something I’m also kind of socializing here and telling everybody is, hey, we can do to Mark Zuckerberg what we all what we just did to Elon Musk, you know, like people aren’t necessarily looking at this, but Metas going through a lot of difficulties. Oh, that’s really. billion dollars a year, 10 billion dollars just on building this social network called Horizon Roads, right? And by the way, have you ever used Horizon Worlds?

Across the Fediverse: Yes, I have actually my day job for the last five years involved creative technology and head of technology at a creative studio. And yeah, we actually built two VR games. So much shorter than Oculus and Vibes. We built a cricket game with Vive Pro in the end was the product we chose to deploy one. But yeah, I’ve experienced pretty much everything VR has to offer today, including Horizon, which was a terrible experience, I have to say.

atomicpoet: Yeah, well, I mean, so here we arrive at the problem with with Metas, which is first off, you’re in the VR world, you use it, you know, it’s a terrible experience. But most people don’t even know what what Horizon World are.

Across the Fediverse: And then probably not going to join for about 10 years, right? I think the technology doesn’t have wide peeled market adoption outside of industry or gaming for another five to 10 years that I see.

atomicpoet: Exactly, exactly. So so we just got a thing to ourselves, right? That is is Metagorn to be able to sustain a $10 billion spend over 10 years, especially now that they that they’re like their value has as dropped by 70% just over a year. That’s a big question. That’s very macro, I understand. And I understand that a lot of users aren’t necessarily interested in in Metas stock market performance. But eventually, here’s my my thought. The chickens are going to come home to roost.

Across the Fediverse: It eventually affects the end user experience.

atomicpoet: That’s right. That’s right. And it’s more than plausible that there is going to be an Instagram migration and a Twitter migration and all this, right? This could happen within the next year. So we have to be speaking of of the broader dev space, we have to build for the eventuality that, hey, you know, there will be massive pixel fed adoption and peer tube and spread decay adoption and we have to scale for it. We have to think to ourselves what would it look like for there to be one million instances on the Fediverse right now and just plan. And that’s certainly a scale that we’re we’re not even close to. I think I saw some stats of just under 10,000 instances across the Fediverse, broken down by a type, including even relays. So yeah, it’s that’s certainly a scale that’s probably unfathomable to most folks and how it would impact the Fediverse is going to be an interesting story.

Across the Fediverse: I certainly do hope that we do see some wide scale adoption of those other tools. I’ve personally moved all my podcasts listening to Funcoale thoroughly enjoying that experience. And as I was saying before recently adopted, lemmy, mostly for folks to submit stories for this podcast actually. And already in just a couple of days had a couple of great stories submitted and I encourage everybody out there to hit the link in the show notes if they do have stories to submit. And I will go off researching and reach out to folks to chat to them.

atomicpoet: But just a thought. And this is something again I’ve been talking about for a while. Eventually, like Activity Pub it is a W3C specification. What happens when every website on the internet, maybe not everyone, but 90% of them let’s say, what if they become Fediverse instances? Well, we’re already seeing that with WordPress plugins, the potential of Tumblr to implement the whole confirmation of Tumblr will be implementing Activity Pub. The list is growing quickly.

Across the Fediverse: And as a W3C specification, there is no reason for it not to become as common as HTTP itself, for instance.

atomicpoet: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, definitely.

Acros the Fediverse: Well, Chris, we’ve had quite the chat today. All right. Well, it’s been quite the chat today, Chris. And thank you very much for your time and your insights across the Fediverse. And I certainly hope it’s encouraged some of the listeners out there to explore some of the other tools available and check out more of what the Fediverse has got to offer. So over to you for any closing thoughts. And yeah, thank you so much for your time. You can follow Chris at

atomicpoet: Thank you very much.

[Transcribed with OpenAI Whisper]