Bonfire federated groups - NLnet grant application - August 2022

Bonfire federated groups - NLnet grant application

Abstract: Can you explain the whole project and its expected outcome(s). (1200)

Project: Bonfire federated groups

The fediverse enabled the sprouting of a new wave of online communities, that chose it as their home for its promise of an internet free from the monopoly of profit-driven centralised social media platforms. The fediverse relies on the core tenet to build a more inclusive, open and safer web for anyone to join, interact and feel part of in a meaningful way, according to each user’s preferences and needs.
True to this concept, we believe that it’s crucial to move beyond the limits of “each instance is (sort of) a community”; by empowering users to create, join and manage federated groups across instances, with their own set of rules and customisable governance.

Federated groups on Bonfire will leverage the flexible foundation we’ve recently released, circles and boundaries: Introducing circles and boundaries
Using those building blocks we will ensure that groups have the possibility to define a fine grained set of roles and permissions, with the possibility for each group to define a multitude of roles that fit with how they want to manage membership and participation, and distribute power and responsibility.

Groups will be a crucial feature in the fediverse and we will ensure that our implementation will follow open standards and document all implementation details so that it will be compatible with Mastodon’s ongoing efforts, and any other apps that implement groups.

Have you been involved with projects or organisations relevant to this project before? And if so, can you tell us a bit about your contributions?

  • Recently the bonfire team attended a Sociocracy (a form of decentralised governance) facilitation course, organized by the Sociocracy for All foundation, and from there we’ve started a series of meetings with other fediverse participants to brainstorm about the intersection of sociocracy and the fediverse (notes here:

  • We’ve collaborated with the Co-op Cloud team to test their tool “abra”, and we wrote a bonfire recipe (Co-op Cloud Recipes) to radically ease the deployment of bonfire instances using cooperative or self-hosted infrastructures.

  • As part of our work supported by the Culture of Solidarity fund, we’ve built the circles and boundaries extension (GitHub - bonfire-networks/bonfire_boundaries: Circles, ACLs, etc). These are the foundational building blocks upon which we will develop groups, roles, and many other features in a flexible and safe way.

Explain what the requested budget will be used for? Does the project have other funding sources, both past and present?

(If you want, you can in addition attach a budget at the bottom of the form)

We will use the 15k to fund the development of the following milestones (which will overlap over about 3-4 months total):

  • Group UX research & testing (1mo)

    • We will co-produce with users a list of requirements and mockups that will guide us through the development of groups. Research will be done through user interviews and discussion with our community on the bonfire platform.
  • Group design & development (2mo)

    • We will implement the features defined by the Group UX research & testing milestone. We will release groups on the bonfire playground instance, to test and iterate together with our community.
  • Group federation implementation and testing with other relevant platforms (3mo)

    • We will add federation support for groups, so that our implementation will be compatible with other efforts (such as mastodon, mobilizon, lemmy, guppe), while preserving the flexibility we’ve implemented in bonfire.
  • Communication and documentation (3mo)

    • During the duration of the development, we will publish blogposts and write docs to share our progresses and to involve the community into our work.

Compare your own project with existing or historical efforts.

  • Mastodon, Mobilizon, Peertube, Lemmy, Pixelfed are some of the fediverse apps who are at the early stages of implementing groups and which we will coordinate with to establish and test interoperation.

  • Facebook Groups is the first choice for lots of virtual or local groups. They’re easy to setup and have the advantage of network effects. But they dont offer a comprehensive set of governance tools, and they’re dependent on centralised and profit-driven facebook policies and data management.

  • Tribe / MightyNetworks / Circle / Amity / Hivebrite are ad-hoc community platforms and most of them include the possibility to create groups. They typically have the value proposition of monetising specific niches, offering group admins features to charge for membership and only a subset of permissions to implement the most basic roles. They are all proprietary SaaS services, with prices ranging from $40 to $600 per month (while others charge per-user).

  • Wordpress’s BuddyPress / Open Social (Drupal-based) are modular (open source or open core SaaS) frameworks to build and manage online or local communities. Their main limitation is their centralisation. Each community is a silos and cannot connect with the others; each user is forced to create and monitor as many accounts and feeds as the amount of communities they belong to.

  • Telegram / Whatsapp / Signal / Element / etc: Chat-base groups are the most used alternative. They have the lowest UX entry barriers and they are ephemeral enough to setup, use and delete in few clicks. But chat groups are mostly limited to real time or linear text-based conversation and hardly allow users to perform other kind of activities, such us creating events, publishing offers/needs, coordinating tasks, etc.

What are significant technical challenges you expect to solve during the project, if any?)

We will implement groups so that users can granularly configure roles and permissions, invite users and moderate the content published, all while ensuring that bonfire groups can interoperate with other fediverse efforts.
We will foster discussions to agree on clear and documented specs so all platforms can implement compatible federated groups and roles.

Describe the ecosystem of the project, and how you will engage with relevant actors and promote the outcomes?

We are using our playground instance ( to co-design features and spot bugs together with our community.
We will involve our community from the very first stage: from brainstorming the most relevant features together, sharing early mockups, spotting bugs on the released features, etc.

We’re partnering with UXDI, the biggest “user experience and inclusive design” course in south america, helping to mentor a team of design students, that are using the bonfire platform as a case study, and helping to improve the user experience and accessibility of our main features.

We will keep a monthly blog diary to share the relevant news and work done.