Who owns the Fediverse? Is the Fediverse owned by a corporation or venture capital firm? Can it be bought out by Google/Facebook/Elon Musk?

No single person or company or organisation owns the Fediverse or Mastodon. Its ownership is spread throughout the thousands of independent servers that make up the network.

No one can buy out the Fediverse or Mastodon because there is no single thing that could be bought, it would be like trying to buy out the global phone network. The Fedi is made up of thousands of independently owned and run servers, which makes it extremely difficult or impossible for anyone to purchase it.

Most Fedi servers belong to unpaid volunteers, or non-profit community groups and co-ops. The running costs are covered by the server owners themselves and donations from their users. There are no investors, no venture capital firms, no ads, no trackers.

Companies can start their own Fedi server if they want to, anyone can, but all they would control is their own server. They would have no control over the thousands of other servers out there.

The Fediverse is built on free and open source software, made by many independent groups, and the software copyrights are licensed in such a way that no company or organisation could ever take control of them.

I thought Mastodon belonged to some guy called Gargron or Eugen or something?

The software which runs on most Mastodon servers is developed by a non-profit software organisation in Germany called Mastodon gGmbH, which is run by Eugen Rochko (also known as “Gargron”). The non-profit publishes this software under a free open source licence so anyone can use it, distribute it or modify it. Many of the contributions made to the software are from people outside the non-profit, so this open licence is of benefit to everyone.

Rochko’s non-profit also runs two Mastodon servers (mastodon.social and mastodon.online) and the JoinMastodon.org promotional website, but they do not own or have any control over any other servers. Also, many Fediverse servers run on totally different kinds of software which aren’t made by Rochko’s non-profit.

What about the apps? Who owns them?

The “official” apps for Mastodon are made by Rochko’s non-profit and are aimed at new users. However, the third party Mastodon apps have been around a lot longer than the official ones, and tend to be better designed with more features. You can use your Mastodon account (and many non-Mastodon Fediverse accounts) with any of these apps, you don’t have to use the official ones.

The “official” Mastodon apps have no technical advantages over third party apps, they all have equal access to Mastodon’s features.

I thought apps and social networks were the same thing?

In recent years companies like Meta/Facebook and Twitter have attempted to drive people onto their official apps in order to control their experience more tightly. This has happened to such an extent that many people now refer to social networks as “apps”.

There used to be many third party Facebook and Twitter apps you could use, but the corporations who own Facebook and Twitter didn’t like this lack of control so they gradually started to block all other apps from their services except their own. Because Facebook and Twitter are built on closed standards and based on single servers, there was nothing the third party app makers could do about it.

Mastodon and the Fediverse are different, they are built entirely on open standards and spread across thousands of independent servers. That means no one can force you to use a particular app, you can choose from many different apps and they will all work with your account. Any company or programmer can make a new Mastodon/Fediverse app if they want to, and there are no restrictions on the features they can provide.

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