Transcending Poor Governance Through Syndication

Penned on the 23rd day of May, 2021. It was a Sunday.

I picked back up efforts to set up my IRC bouncer today, finally getting around to filling in more networks besides Freenode. Word had already made it into my periphery about some petty staff drama going on with that network, although I wasn’t setting my bouncer up as a reaction to that or anything. I have been meaning to do this for months, and likewise I have been meaning to finally program my IM bot, Zenobia, for operation on IRC. She currently only runs on the Arqadium and FHTK Discord guilds.

Joining IRC, it’s not uncommon to find channels operating bridges between the IRC server and some other coexisting medium, like Discord or even Matrix. As I was joining many other networks, I had an urge to create channels for the initiatives I run on all of them instead of choosing a network and sticking to it. After all, why the hell not? The main problem presented by this is that users on one network can’t hear or respond to users on another. But wait, isn’t that the exact problem bridges are solving? Why not just build one of those but for many different IRC networks?

Well, come to think of it, I was mildly miffed about the shoddy state of affairs at Freenode. For what it’s worth, I am a registered owner of the group for ARQADIUM, maintaining propriety over the #arqadium channel and #arqadium-* channel prefix. I’ve read enough about the staff drama to know that there’s no reason for me to care about it on its own, but it still presents the general problem that these networks are fragile and vulnerable to the personal failings of the people who lead them. My ideal scenario is one that maintains “business as usual”, even on networks like Freenode, until such time that they can no longer maintain even the most basic guarantees of functionality of my channels, at which point my community will be much more resilient in the face of a network shutdown. This is exactly the kind of anti-fragile power provided by syndication.

Syndication is the simple process of bouncing everyone’s messages all around a collection of networks, effectively creating a virtual channel that exists on many different channels on various networks and protocols. If one of the networks or protocols falls off the face of the earth, it is straightforward for users to reconnect by joining a different network or using a different protocol, because the channel never stopped existing. A network outage no longer needs to correspond to a social outage, i.e. a disconnection of the real social channel people are using to talk.

This is probably the best solution for overcoming the limits of poor governance in online social technology services. It is feasible regardless of how new or old the underlying protocol may be (Discord v. IRC), regardless of how centralised or federated it may be (Twitter v. Mastodon), and regardless of who may be present where. As I said in What’s the deal with decentralisation?, “moving platforms is easy. Getting your friends to go with you is hard.” With syndication in use, nobody needs to move anywhere. Other people’s content is instead brought to them.

Syndication is something of an allegory to the fundamental mantra from Data-Oriented Design, “data is all we have.” Content is king, content is all that matters, so copy the content, bring it to everyone everywhere, and you win. Getting people to move platforms with this in play doesn’t seem so hard after all. Content is all we have. Content is all that matters. Content is king. Admins and communities are always secondary to the content. People are always looking for the content. Syndicate it. That’s it.

Until next time,
Άλέξανδερ Νιχολί