Open vs. closed networks

German translation: 🇩🇪 Offene vs. geschlossene Netze


Closed, commercially operated networks have a natural tendency to develop certain disadvantages:

  • They create detailed psychological profiles about their users, which can be used for targeted ads and potentially be misused for mass manipulation.
  • They use closed data formats and interfaces and prevent the development of alternative clients to make it difficult or even impossible for users to transfer their contacts and data from one provider to the next without loss.
  • They tend to leave the filtering, prioritisation and feeding of content to statistical models, ultimately to artificial intelligence. Humans are gradually losing control over on what their attention is focussed.
  • They deliberately offer hardly any functions for manual sorting, filtering or cataloguing of content – everything is subject to the algorithm. Users are conditioned to only follow the one, centralised timeline. The lack of freedom of choice increases the acceptance of adverts, which are increasingly accepted by users as inseparable from the whole.
  • Their user interfaces use psychological tricks to maximise usage time. This includes the endlessly reshuffled presentation of content and the infiltration of core functions with additional content-baiting. For example, you cannot open the search function on Instagram without immediately being presented with a full-screen mixture of content stimulation, based on your psychological profile, before even a single letter has been typed into the search field. This also includes the deliberate omission of elementary functions (e.g. you can’t pause or rewind videos on short video services; you have to watch them again from the beginning or you are redirected to the next video) and the calculated intervals at which users are reminded with nonsense notifications (“someone has viewed your profile”) to check the app again and – these tricks are also known as “dark patterns“.

As an averagely enlightened person, you may think that you are not affected by the negative effects of these design choices. But your sub-consciousness may have to disagree here; or to say it with Mr Plinkett: you might not have even noticed, but your brain did.

Even just the algorithmically curated filtering of content inevitably leads to a narrowing of one’s own corridor of opinion and interests – even if one feels quite progressive and enlightened in those particular spaces of existence. The psychological tricks and the targeted distribution and withholding of attention rewards, through their addictive potential, mean that you tend to spend more time consuming content on your screen devices, which you then no longer can use for things like:

  • Reading books
  • Writing texts
  • Making music
  • Maintaining friendships
  • Contributing to the common good
  • Improving your own physical and mental health

Alternatives exist

For these reasons, the goal must be to emancipate oneself from the intentional constraints and the “pull factors” of closed networks. Alternative solutions exist and are often on a par with or even superior to commercial providers. The only hurdle is to open up to these alternatives psychologically and to at least operate on both tracks for a while. If the alternative is convincing in terms of content, technology and social acceptance, the complete switch-over will then happen all by itself.

Common reservations about alternative networks may include:

  • “My friends are not there” – but how do you actually know if you haven’t tried it yet? You may sometimes be amazed at how many friends already have an account with the open alternative without having told the world about it yet. And the rest can follow suit over time. Some people have to make the first move…
  • “I don’t want too many apps” – in contrast to the advert-ridden and hyperactive apps from commercial providers (a notification here, a popup banner there), open source alternatives are often light on resources and limited to the essential functionality, without bloat and spammy notifications. The fact that you find most apps annoying (because most apps pursue commercial interests) speaks more in favour of a change than against it…

Overview table

Here is a rough overview of commercial networks and their open alternatives. The trade-offs (for and against the alternative) and some providers in the grey area (Telegram, Reddit) are explained in some detail down below.

CategoryClosed netsOpen alternativeEntry hurdle
Instant Messenger & group chatsWhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, Instagram Direct, etc.SignalVery low
Social networkFacebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.MastodonLow
ForumsRedditAlso Reddit; otherwise Lemmy or Feddit; for companies: DiscourseLow to medium
Short videosTikTok, Instagram Reels, Youtube Shorts etc.– none –
ChatroomsDiscordMatrix, Revolt, Rocket.Chat, SpacebarMedium
Cloud for data, calendar, etc.iCloud, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc.ownCloudHigh


Clearly the hottest candidate for a quick change.

1. Introduction

Signal is open source and has been the de facto standard for secure communication among journalists, activists and in everyday life at least since 2013 (Snowden Leaks).

The principle of “Open Source” means anyone can read, understand, compile, and track the actions of the programming source code to see what’s happening under the hood. This allows for independent audits and impeccable transparency, with no hidden backdoors. Reading source code may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but fortunately, there are countless organizations, security researchers, universities, and other independent entities that have already done the work. Only through public projects based on open-source software can independent “networks of trust” emerge, where individual actors build upon and validate each other’s work.

Further explanations of the value of Open Source are provided at the end of the article, under the heading: What exactly is this “open source” anyway?

By the way, Signal’s encryption protocol, based on modern cryptographic industry standards, was later adopted by commercial providers like WhatsApp – such liberal proliferation of robust technology is only made possible by Open Source.

2. Advantages

The Signal client works flawlessly on all platforms, including desktop. Signal handles private communication, group chats between friends, telephony, voice messages and, besides the privacy and encryption explained above, has the following highlights:

  • Lean app, good performance, high reliability.
  • Friends are automatically discovered via the contact list in the mobile phone based on their phone numbers, without the contact list having to be shared with a central server. This means that the app can immediately see locally who you already know on Signal (except for individual contacts who have deliberately deactivated this discoverability).
  • There really are a lot of people on Signal already; in my extended circle of friends in Leipzig alone there are around 50 people, including close relatives.
  • Compression level when sharing images can be set per file or as a global default setting: either small standard file size or large original quality.
  • Directory of shared images, files and audio files per contact.
  • Selection and forwarding of multiple messages at once.
  • Sharing your own phone number to Signal contacts is optional.
  • Read receipts and typing indicators are optional.
  • Automatic self-deletion of messages after a certain time is optional.
  • GIPHY integration.


Many people are already on Telegram and believe they are already quite “alternative” or even “safe”. And indeed, Telegram was a relatively early alternative to WhatsApp, iMessage and SMS. However, Telegram has tangible disadvantages compared to Signal:

  • Telegram is not open source.
  • Encryption of two-way chats is not enabled by default in Telegram, leading to a false sense of security for most users.
  • Encryption of group chats is not even possible, opening up avenues for mass surveillance.

For these reasons, I am of the humble opinion that Telegram users should move their private communication to Signal.

1. Why is Telegram still so popular when Signal has already existed for so long?

In my opinion, there are two reasons why Telegram is still relatively popular:

On the one hand, because it was launched relatively early on. Secondly, Telegram has tapped into a niche outside of private communication that could be called “direct broadcasting”. Instead of setting up group chats mainly for circles of friends and work groups, groups in Telegram have an almost unlimited number of possible participants and include well-designed moderation mechanisms that can degrade the majority of members to mere recipients.

In this “top-down” broadcasting capacity, Telegram offers an alternative to classic mailing lists (newsletters and such) in a more “social” and dynamic interface. Although participants cannot write posts in such groups themselves, they can decorate received messages with likes and other emojis and, more recently, write comments on a second level below the posts of the group operator.

Telegram also includes well-designed functions to increase the number of users in such mega groups as quickly as possible:

  • Messages from groups can be forwarded to any number of personal contacts or shared as a story with just a few clicks. This blurs the line between being a mass broadcast medium and private messenger.
  • Invitations to groups are possible via public short URLs, making it very easy to advertise your own group on websites and other platform providers. For users who already have a Telegram account, a single click is all it takes to join a corresponding group from a website.

These functions enable some hosts to reach an extremely large number of people with their messages. They nest their followership into a “group chat” (or channel) that is not open to the outside world, thus avoiding detection via normal internet and search engines. This gives users the feeling that they are in a quasi-secret “club” that can only be entered by invitation or personal contact and where they receive exclusive information that is not accessible to outsiders.

This makes this function extremely interesting for conspiracy theorists, disinformation disseminators, but also for scam artists in the cyptocurrency scene (“join the group, be there from the start, buy my currency now before we go public and the price goes through the roof”) and similar fast-ball systems. Generally, I would argue that these groups proliferate the creation of “echo chambers” due to how they spread and because any dissenting voices can be easily removed by the group operators without any transparency or accountability. The ideas promoted within such groups can indeed spread into public discourse (usually without citation or attribution), but there’s hardly any discussion about the actual groups outside of Telegram – as if they were a slightly dubious secret world. They are probably also difficult for outsiders to quantify in terms of their spread and relevance.

2. What kind of people are still using Telegram?

The prevalence of the “top down” groups and the mixing of private chat and semi-public information service, in my opinion, leads to the fact that Telegram today mainly accommodates two kinds of demographics:

  • Only moderately tech-savvy early adopters who somehow felt more comfortable with the “underdog” provider in the early years of mobile internet, but who may have never learned the fundamental differences between Telegram and some if its competitors other than Telegram not being “mainstream”. Such proponents are usually open to switching to Signal with some encouragement and technical education.
  • The later mainstream audience, primarily introduced to Telegram on the recommendation of acquaintances, through neighborhood groups, or via viral influencers, generally possess a lower technical understanding.

For this second group, Telegram is likely more than just a chat protocol, and their regular consumption of conspiracy messages from echo chambers may have conditioned or desensitized them against embracing the dissent and diversity offered by lesser-known open-source alternatives. For them, the sense of belonging to their semi-exclusive channels may be more important than which app truly offers the most secure and sustainable communication.


1. Not great, not terrible?

WhatsApp’s range of functions has always been pretty solid – even automatic encryption of private chats was introduced eventually (quite some time after Signal came onto the stage). From a high-level perspective, WhatsApp has always uphold the impression of being quite independent of its parent company Facebook/Meta. While personal communication is supposed to be properly encrypted (i.e. WhatsApp shouldn’t be able read what you write), the meta data (who writes when with whom and how often) has been shared with the parent company for may years, where it is used for enhancing the profiles (who knows whom how well) already created based on your accounts on Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook also knows which Facebook or Instagram account is associated with which WhatsApp account since the user’s mobile phone number is usually provided to Facebook and Instagram for account recovery purposes. Facebook and Instagram also regularly ask users to check whether their phone number is still up-to-date.

2. Indirect introduction of advertisements

Well, at least WhatsApp has always been free of advertising – until recently.

Starting around 2024, WhatsApp has reached its first stage enshittification (see definition below). Where there used to be “stories”, there are now “updates”, and these prominently list a number of “channels” that you could follow. It is obvious that these channels (football clubs, influencers, newspapers, retail) are curated through sponsorship, relevant to your local country or region.

WhatsApp wants to follow in Telegram’s footsteps, but without benefiting from Telegram’s “underdog” status and its own momentum organised by user recommendations and referrals. This means that WhatsApp channels will initially be pure advertising platforms. However, users cannot switch off this function anywhere in the app. Whenever WhatsApp users want to see the “stories” of their contacts, they will receive an invitation to become a club member of 1. FC Köln…

Why is encryption actually important?

1. Privacy opposes surveillance

Transport encryption of private messages is ultimately the guarantee for the inviolability of correspondence, meaning: your mail can’t be read by third parties. This used to be an important achievement in liberal societies.

A provider such as Telegram, where messages are not encrypted by default, has the ability of intercepting and reading the communication of their participants. If it can be done, it will be done – not least by malicious actors, law enforcement agencies or intelligence services. It opens up mass surveillance where all communication is filtered for certain keywords, phrases or relationships. The end result can already be seen in countries under certain one-party regimes, where messages containing keywords of dissidence cannot be privately shared amongst friends anymore – they simply aren’t received on the other end. And if you discuss the wrong topics with too many people, you may get a personal visit from your local party or security forces.

A service like Signal, on the other hand, which is committed to state-of-the-art encryption and data economy has no technical means of incercepting end-user messages centrally.

“Data economy” comes from German “Datensparsamkeit”: to avoid generating or collecting any data that is not relevant to the core functionality of the program. To put it more simply: you cannot lose or hand out data that you never generated in the first place.

2. To whom is this relevant?

Some participants may not be interested in whether their communication can be intercepted. But the awareness that you can be intercepted has a subtle effect on your own choice of words and on what you may share with your friends. And even if you don’t care yourself, the fact that the other person (especially in group chats where there are many other people) could be affected should make you favour secure communication – if not for your own interest, then for the interests of others.

3. Is absolute privacy achievable?

A common counter-argument is “nothing is secure, everything can be hacked” – but this is only true to a limited extent. The fact is: correctly implemented encryption with strong, cryptographic keys cannot be cracked by simple tricks or sheer computing power. Cryptography is perhaps the oldest computer science and essentially boils down simply to mathematical algorithms. There are even measures being taken against hypothetical attacks by theoretically possible future quantum computers.

In reality, the only practicable way to eavesdrop on two Signal users’ communication is to hijack one of their end devices. Encryption is therefore only as secure as the end-user’s device. However, this method cannot be used on a large scale, even by government agencies, as the software landscape is too diverse and covert eavesdropping attacks would have to use a previously unknown and unpatched security vulnerability (and preferably one that leaves the end-user unsuspecting), which would then be discovered by the software provider and rectified some time after first use. Alternatively, social engineering approaches are necessary, where a target’s computer or smartphone is manually infected with malware (via phishing emails or the famous USB stick in the parking lot). Such an extreme effort is usually only used for so-called “high value” targets, e.g. in the fight against terrorism or conceivably in the suppression of extremely high-stakes political opposition in authoritarian states.

In other words: even if a closed door could be breached, it’s still better than having no doors at all – especially if we’re talking about your own personal space and the potential for societal mass surveillance.


Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are regarded as the absolute worst-case examples of psychological tricks, bad incentives and the selling off of user data. Numerous studies prove the negative influence of these networks on the socio-political discourse and the mental health of their users. This makes it all the easier to recommend an open-source, decentralised and independent alternative: Mastodon.

Mastodon is based on an open-source protocol called “ActivityPub”, which in principle can also be used to implement other networks, such as the Instagram alternative “Pixelfed“. As is usual with open source, no single participant can gain sovereignty over the entire network. In principle, all of these networks can be linked – this is referred to as the “Fediverse”, i.e. a federated universe (just as Germany is a federated republic consisting of 16 federal states).

Mastodon’s user base is currently centred around scientists, software developers, security experts, activists, Linux users and entertainers. However, it could become a network for everyone. Some companies, especially in the IT scene, are already present on Mastodon. Government bodies and public institutions are also flirting with the platform, as the dependence on US-dominated monopoly corporations is becoming increasingly difficult to justify or ignore for public servants in Europe or indeed anywhere in the world.

In my overview table, I have given Mastodon’s entry threshold as “Low”, while Signal is set to “Very low”. This rating is primarily due to the fact that you won’t automatically find all your contacts on Mastodon and that the user base in the casual world (users who typically are not authors, creators, broadcasters) is still much smaller than on Signal. Nevertheless, it is easy to get started if you understand a few basic steps:

1. Select a server (so-called “instances”)

All servers talk to each other, so it almost doesn’t matter which one you use. I would definitely recommend simply registering with the largest server, namely ““. If this recommendation changes at some point, you can easily move your followers to a different server with just a few clicks.

2. Create your profile, follow people, follow hashtags

Creating a profile is obvious. You can then find people using the search function – most people use their real name. Unlike with other social networks, there is no function to automatically search your own private address book for users by their e-mail. The best way to find users in your circle of friends is to simply tell them on a channel they prefer: hey, I’m now on Mastodon.

Following hashtags is just as important as following people. By following hashtags on topics that interest you (such as #architecture), you can find many posts and people you might find interesting over time. In the absence of an AI-driven distribution mechanism, the use of hashtags on Mastodon is the primary vehicle to discover, and be discovered. Well-made posts with meaningful hashtags are quickly found, shared and commented on, even if you don’t have many followers yet.

3. Create lists, e.g. with friends or topics

Once you follow a certain number of people and hashtags, your timeline will quickly become quite busy. In order not to miss anything important, you should put particularly important people (e.g. private contacts) on VIP lists. You can then view timelines for these particular lists removed from all the other content in your feed. What is still missing at the moment: Putting hashtags (not just people) on lists and setting notifications separately for lists. (These suggestions are already on the Mastodon issue tracker: [1] [2].)


Reddit is in both columns of the table – both closed and open. Of course, Reddit is a commercial provider and therefore also runs the risk of rolling out bad incentives and falling victim to enshittification. However, if you look at the distinction between “closed” and “open” platforms less in terms of the monetisation model and more in terms of the participatory core functions, Reddit is still in a relatively good position on the scale:

  • The quality of content is not assessed by an algorithm or hidden telemetry (who looks at what and for how long), but by active user participation: upvotes and downvotes.
  • The sorting of new threads and the comments within these threads thus follows a grassroots democratic approach.
  • Users can set up as many subreddits as they like without any bureaucratic effort and create their own niche.
  • Moderation is not carried out by a central authority – instead, each sub-reddit has its own voluntary team of moderators who ensure that the community rules set out in that sub-reddit are maintained.

Disclaimer: This is partially an idealised portrayal, as certain aspects, such as the non-use of hidden algorithms for user-specific content sorting, cannot be unequivocally validated due to the lack of open-source access, and may also be subject to changes over time that are solely at the discretion of Reddit Inc.

Nonetheless, I will proceed to elaborate on some of the features that to me make Reddit unique as much as I understand them. I will also address some points of criticism.

1. Human capital, detached from corporate assets

The non-corporate human capital of moderators and power users is an important pillar of Reddit’s success. Although Reddit’s source code is not open, the community with its organically grown niches and countless volunteer moderators is characterised by a grassroots culture rooted in the origins of the internet. This culture is beyond the control of the company management – which is why Reddit as a company also pursues the most transparent and sustainable communication course possible in order not to alienate itself too much from this core community.

2. A civil forum with equal voting rights

The consistently implemented upvote/downvote mechanism often ensures that high-quality (well-researched) comments on topics with substance are pushed to the top and are more visible. This is the prerequisite for writing such comments in the first place. While the comment sections of many large Internet newspapers are commonly populated by trolls (because elaborately written replies disappear after 10 minutes on page 3 anyway, and therefore hardly anyone with a sensible mind or a full-time job takes the trouble to write elaborate posts), most communities on Reddit boast a fairly well-diversified population that can maintain a pluralism of opinion and good faith discourse.

In the ideal sense, an upvote rewards the logical soundness of an argument or the quality of the provided research, not whether or not someone agrees with your point. It is mentioned a few times in the Reddit etiquette: Upvote is not a “like” button. Conversely, those who fling personal insults, use misleading rhetorical tricks or unwarranted sarcasm may receive downvotes. A comment that is sufficiently downvoted will eventually be shown as collapsed and move to the bottom of the thread in the standard sorting pattern. It can still be expanded, read and replied upon, but it will garner less attention than before. On the other hand, if you want to spice things up, you can also sort comments by “controversial”: this brings those comments to the top that have a similar share of up and downvotes and thus may be stylistically questionable but substantively valuable (or vice versa).

3. High permeability

As Reddit is not open source, there is no guarantee that these mechanisms will continue to be implemented consistently for the rest of all time. There is indeed a risk that Reddit will slide at some point. On the other hand, Reddit also has no major hurdles for mass user migration, as the debate on Reddit is generally conducted quite casually (almost everyone is using pseudonyms) without personal ties or private relationships. In the threads, users do not stand out with colourful signatures or any status symbols – even the nicknames are secondary to the actual content and are only recognisable after a closer look.

Reddit has an interest in maintaining a participatory design philosophy because this philosophy is the only unique selling point compared to other platforms. Should this ever be diluted or corrupted, a mass exodus cannot be ruled out. Technical solutions already exist on the basis of ActivityPub: Lemmy.

4. Monetisation without enshittification

Reddit has also managed to open up certain monetisation opportunities with clearly labelled, non-disruptive ads and a few paid, cosmetic add-on features that keep the platform alive without lowering the quality. The latest monetisation opportunity is to make the accumulated wealth of knowledge and communication available for AI training – for a price. Anyone who posts on Reddit does so in public. Collecting millions of posts for AI purposes is intentionally made difficult by API restrictions and is now probably only possible for a price that will have to be paid by AI vendors. This business model may be ethically debatable, but it does not have a direct negative impact on the quality and usability of the platform.

5. Critical mass

As Reddit has so far managed the balancing act between quality and monetisation quite successfully, I find myself still being able to use and recommend Reddit despite the emerging open-source alternatives. Reddit’s huge user base often means that you can find real experts (someone who works in the industry, etc.) on almost any topic, who can, for example, put the dumbed down framing of a news headline into perspective or enhance original reporting with their own primary sources. It’s similar to large passenger aircraft, where a doctor can almost always be found when one is needed…

6. You still need to manage your own experience

On the other hand, there are also many areas on Reddit where the discourse is under-complex and there is a tendency to keep reproducing the same lame jokes over and over again. Especially the more general subreddits are not good sources of news as users often tend to post mostly those kind of articles that illicit a strong community reaction. The laws of the attention economics do not stop at the semi-open and participatory platforms.

This mainly affects those subreddits that you follow from the start with a new account – including those that are designed to share memes and trivial humour or observations. If the quality of these subs is dropping over the years, this is probably more a reflection of our society and not necessarily the fault of Reddit as a company or concept.

If you want to take the participatory nature of Reddit seriously, you should cancel the subscriptions to many of these standard subreddits and find a few subreddits that match your own interests or level of depth.

For example, instead of /r/gadgets there is /r/hardware, instead of /r/news there is /r/geopolitics, and so on. You can find these via the search function (enter terms or topics), via Google (“what subreddits are there about topic xyc”) or via public lists. I link two of them here:

These are not lists of recommendations, but templates to help you pick the cherries from the cake. Enjoy!

Open alternative to Reddit: Lemmy or Feddit

Based on Activity Pub, the protocol on which Mastodon is also built, Lemmy has established itself as an open alternative to Reddit. Lemmy received a major boost in 2023 in particular after Reddit Inc. made some API changes in response to AI crawling. These changes had the side effect of also making it more difficult to operate alternative access apps, which was particularly bad news for the countless volunteer moderators of large sub-reddits, as they needed the 3rd party apps for moderation purposes (the official Reddit app is not good enough).

Like Mastodon, Lemmy is a federated network: you choose an instance, but you also have access to all other instances. I haven’t had much experience with Lemmy myself, but I can well imagine that Lemmy will become a serious alternative in the long term, also in terms of user numbers. The official entry point is the site, for German-speaking users there is also a very large instance called Feddit. I have high hopes for Feddit in particular, as the German net culture has historically been quite strong in helping to develop and establish free networks and platforms – see also: Chaos Computer Club and the various activities in the GNU/Linux community.

Self-hosted for companies: Discourse

Anyone considering setting up their own subreddit for their project or company should first take a look at the open source software Discourse. Discourse includes a large part of the Reddit functions (curated threads through up/downvotes), but is then completely under your own control and can be designed and expanded much more freely, with your own sub-forums and more independence from the platform provider. Discourse has almost completely replaced all previous forum software such as phpBB, SMF and vBulletin – at least if you want to build a new community centered around a single subject from scratch.

TikTok, Instagram Reels, Youtube Shorts etc.

I can’t offer any alternatives to these platforms because the concept seems fundamentally wrong to me. The concept includes:

  • Videos that are as short as possible and should catch you from the very first second.
  • Endless, automatic playback, pushing you to the next clip, using an algorithmically controlled red thread tailored to the psychology of the user.
  • Maximum waste of time with maximised effectiveness of advert playout – video advertising works stronger on your brain than text and images.

The principle of a traditional video platform (such as YouTube) or a more dynamic social platform (live chats in every video, streaming and videos on one platform) could certainly be implemented in an ethically healthy and open-source way. And some free and commercial alternatives to YouTube already exist, as listed here:

Video platforms inherently face a significant challenge: their upkeep is tremendously expensive due to the storage, computing, and bandwidth demands of video content. Consequently, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube have become the largest advertising powerhouses in human history because of these substantial maintenance costs. Therefore, I’m skeptical about the feasibility of sustaining such platforms purely through voluntary contributions or donations.

PeerTube offers a potential implementation using P2P technology, where bandwidth—one of the three major cost factors—is shared among users, similar to the file-sharing protocol BitTorrent. Distributing the immense computing load required for encoding videos into various formats and resolutions might be possible as an opt-in feature: initially, videos would need to be transmitted in their original format, then encoded, and sent back to the server in a compressed form. Encoding on the computers of volunteer users would likely result in significant fan noise unless performed very slowly. With volunteers handling the encoding load, electricity costs would also be shifted to users. Whether such a principle is scalable remains uncertain.

Video certainly has an important place as a medium – and not just in semi-state organisations such as public broadcasters. But in the way that video is now displacing other media (e.g. books), and considering how early indoctrination with viral video harbors the danger of turning entire generations into functional illiterates, or considering how even traditional providers (these same public broadcasters) have to use the methods of viral social video providers in order to remain relevant (clickbait), society at large will have to become much more critical of these trends towards non-stop video consumption.

Governments and educational institutions would perhaps be well advised to run large-scale educational campaigns against algorithmically controlled video consumption, financed over decades, in the same way as they do with alcohol consumption, gambling addiction, unprotected sex (keyword AIDS) and other public health issues, otherwise half of humanity will soon be sitting in a virtual matrix simulated by AI. Imagine a generative model such as Sora combined with the psychological profiling of TikTok and give it a few more years to reach its abhorrent perfection…

I recently read elsewhere that if this continues, we humans will become mere reproductive organs of artificial intelligence. In my opinion, platforms such as the video providers mentioned above are massively fuelling this trend.


Discord is great – I like to use it frequently myself at my employer. Similar to Reddit, Discord is still in the green zone on the enshittification scale due to its rootedness in the basic mechanics of the internet (no algorithms, free community building, chronological timelines). Nevertheless, it is of course not great to be dependent on a single provider, especially as Discord was bought by Microsoft some time ago. I haven’t personally looked at the open source alternatives Matrix, Revolt, Rocket.Chat und Spacebar yet, which is why I can’t comment further here. I think the barrier to entry here is medium-high, as no clear competitor has yet established itself and Discord, like Reddit, also depends on a critical mass of users (more than Signal, where you just want to chat with your friends and not with the whole world).


Last but not least, for advanced users: if you can run your own web server, you can also run an ownCloud instance instead of hosting all your data on Google Drive, Apple Photos, etc.

The functions and apps are in no way inferior to the commercial providers. Nevertheless, you still have to take care of a backup – so in addition to ownCloud, you might want to learn rsync or Rclone. None of this is rocket science.

Important distinction: private use vs. purely auxiliary tools

There are countless other platform providers that are widely used but are not criticised here, even though they are not open source. These include Spotify, Stack Overflow, Quora, Goodreads, TripAdvisor and ultimately Google Search including Gmail and Google Maps, including their rating functions for places and businesses.

These platforms are not part of this review because:

  1. Their usefulness is limited to a specific use case that lies outside of private everyday communication and is hardly suitable for maximising the user’s screentime. In other words, you only use these platforms when you really need them.
  2. Or these platforms or services ultimately represent free and open Internet standards. For example, there is nothing wrong with Gmail as long as it adheres to the rules of the free “e-mail” protocol and is fully interoperable with other providers.

Of course, there is also some valid criticism (ex. criticism of Spotify) and there may be open-source alternatives to some of these providers – but the relatively low potential for systematic abuse of these commercial providers makes the incentive to switch less justifiable.

What exactly is this “open source” anyway?

I already wrote it further up:

The principle of “Open Source” means anyone can read, understand, compile, and track the actions of the programming source code to see what’s happening under the hood. This allows for independent audits and impeccable transparency, with no hidden backdoors. Reading source code may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but fortunately, there are countless organizations, security researchers, universities, and other independent entities that have already done the work. Only through public projects based on open-source software can independent “networks of trust” emerge, where individual actors build upon and validate each other’s work.

I would like to extend these thoughts as follows:

Open source software refers to programmes whose source code is publicly accessible. This makes it possible for anyone to use, study, modify and distribute the software. The philosophy behind open source is to share knowledge, promote collaboration and drive innovation.

1. Freedom and decentralisation

Open source software strengthens the freedom of the individual through transparency and control over the technologies used. In a decentralised network where no central authority exercises control, open source enables the creation of a system that is supported by the community. Anyone can view the code, identify security vulnerabilities and suggest improvements. This promotes not only a high level of privacy and security, but also resilience to attacks or the influence of individuals or groups with self-serving agendas.

2. Sustainability and independence

The long-term sustainability of software and networks is often a challenge, especially when they are dependent on commercial interests. Open source projects can overcome this hurdle by gathering a community of users and developers who share a common goal. These projects can indeed be advanced or supported by profit-oriented companies. However, due to the conditions of the open-source license, they cannot become the property of these companies. This structure promotes decisions within the projects that are geared towards long-term benefits and community welfare. If a project is developed in a direction that contradicts these principles, alternative project groups can take the code and “fork” the project, continuing its development in the interest of the common good. The “open source” principle thus provides both legal certainty and the technical means to independently continue developing projects and combine them with each other, without being hindered by licensing fees, contractual restrictions, or proprietary data formats.

3. Financing models

The development and operation of open source software and decentralised networks require resources. While the provision of the source code and the collaboration of volunteers are often free of charge, there are still costs for infrastructure, maintenance and further development. This is where financing models based on donations come into play. Organisations, individuals and sometimes even companies that support the values of open source can make financial contributions to ensure that these projects can be continued sustainably. Donation-based models ensure that development and operation remain independent of commercial influences and can focus entirely on the needs and wishes of users and the community.

In summary, open source software is an indispensable element in building free, decentralised networks that prioritise privacy, sustainability and independence. By supporting these projects through donation models, we can ensure that such networks continue to thrive, free from commercial restrictions and the risk of being compromised by bad actors.

Appendix: the “enshittification” of commercial providers

“Enshittification” is a neologism that describes how incentives inherent in the system can turn what was once good software into pretty rubbish. Enshittification stands in contrast to “innovation” or “optimisation”. In my opinion, an older German word, “Verschlimmbesserung”, does not capture the extent and the deliberate motivation behind enshittification so well.

Whilst deterioration often happens by mistake, e.g. by losing a little focus on core competencies and wanting to “simplify” the operation, “enshittification” happens with the planned purpose of maximising profit at the expense of the user experience, in which previously liked functions are replaced by monetisation opportunities.

The regression of such platforms often follows a pattern such as this:

  • Technological gap in the market is discovered, concept is developed.
  • Product is good, free of charge and free from ads, user numbers are growing.
  • User numbers reach critical mass, company wants to earn money.
  • Core functions are being dismantled and replaced with advertising, user data is being sold – enshittification is beginning.
  • Product mutates into an app that wants to be able to do “everything” (in order to imitate the successful concepts of other providers and counteract user migration), but is no longer really useful for anything.

An often disregarded side effect of this pattern is the increasing fragmentation of digital society: certain age and social groups remain with the “old” product, while new generations are no longer reached.

However, this fragmentation is not the same as the wild early years of the Internet, when everyone had their own homepage. The remaining fragments continue to strife towards monopolisation by conditioning their users to become mere consumers or compliant agents (users provide their content free of charge in order to get a slice of the attention pie) rather than critical participants in an interoperable community.

Your feedback

I hope you enjoyed this journey through the depths of network platforms. If I may have exaggerated a bit in some places or if certain aspects are no longer quite up to date, please write it down in the comments below. Thank you for your attention!

Licensed under CC BY.

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