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Journal article Open Access

Mastodon over Mammon - Towards publicly owned scholarly knowledge

Björn Brembs; Adrian Lenardic; Peter Murray-Rust; Leslie Chan; Dasapta Erwin Irawan

With the turmoil surrounding Elon Musk’s handling of his Twitter take-over, the problems associated with a public good in private hands have again become a focus of public attention. For scientists, the situation is not unlike that of 2009, when a social media platform widely used by scholars, FriendFeed, was bought by Facebook and subsequently shut down. This instance was only one of several where the dangers of private, profit-oriented organizations owning platforms used for scholarly discourse became palpable for everyone involved and were widely discussed. One of the outcomes of these discussions over the last 15 years is a set of open standards for social technologies that mimic the open standards underlying the wider internet and web, the World Wide Web Consortium’s ActivityPub [1]. In 2009, scholars started to leave FriendFeed and migrate to Twitter, founding what has grown to a community about half a million researchers and is often referred to as #ScienceTwitter [2]. Now, much of #ScienceTwitter is migrating to Mastodon [3], an application based on ActivityPub in what is called the “Fediverse” [1]. Analogous to web or email servers, Mastodon runs on so-called instances (servers) and while anybody can implement such instances, nobody can control all of them, just like nobody controls all email or web servers. We identify parallels between private ownership of #ScienceTwitter and private ownership of scholarly journals, prompting a proposal to safeguard the entire scholarly record from corporate vagaries.

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