Send in your ideas. Deadline June 1, 2024

Open Social Fund

Promoting W3C ActivityPub and beyond

Submit a proposal

If the medium is the message, then social media are probably the least coherent message humanity has had to deal with so far. Social media are a discontinuity in how we communicate — a different kind of communication constellation colonising the flock, invoking new classes of group dynamics and interpersonal relationships. Social media have proven capable of deeply affecting society and hijacking the public opinion through an undertow of viral misinformation. Social media are not just a phenomenon that we need to understand better, but also something we can and should actively shape.

Corporate social platforms in particular typically are driven by the undesirable interplay of monetisation and algorithmic hunger (for more advertising). Unlike many traditional media where reputation of the individual author matters, and the channel bears editorial responsibility, social media are perceived as free-for-all platforms that can hardly be blamed for excesses. This invokes a waterfall of expendable opinions and bias, the continuous exposure to which tends to quickly exhaust human comprehension.

With the cultural arena that bonded us across social stratification and geographic distance in the past now nearly abandoned, corporate social media have already partially taken over society.

This is where the Open Social Fund comes into play. The goal of this dedicated fund is to assist in transitioning to the Fediverse, which brings social media back home to the open web platform and federates rather than centralises. The name groups together everything that federates into a single word — a porte-manteau of federation and universe. Of course this name leaves interoperability at the federation layer out of the picture, and (continuing that metaphor) leaves it more fine-grained celestial naming conventions like galaxy or solar system. The particular interest of the Open Social Fund in the Fediverse is the galaxy of W3C ActivityPub, and its surrounding area. This consists of free and open source technologies across the whole social media spectrum using the same standard, ranging from what used to be called microblogging to grassroots link sharing communities, from forum applications to media collections and podcasting — anywhere where users and application not only want to follow developments, but also talk back and interact contextually as a group.

NLnet has financially supported research and development of tens of W3C ActivityPub related efforts. The Open Social Fund is intended to be complementary to the funding of R&D work, which is typically within the scope of larger funds like NGI Zero. Because it is a private fund, there are less restrictions on what it can be spent on. Therefore, don’t be afraid to send something out-of-the-box if you think you can contribute to the topic: it really is an open call. Of course, it needs to make technical sense, be frugal and have impact.

Our goal with the Open Social Fund is to help to restore balance in the social media landscape of today and tomorrow. By redecentralising the internet, we help make it healthier and more robust for the benefit of society.

We are seeking project proposals between 5.000 and 50.000 €; beyond the financial contribution, we may be able to provide you with other kinds of auxiliary help. In total, the Open Social Fund will invest 480 000 € in small to medium-size grants towards social media solutions which improve the status quo. If the topic is important, and you have budget to spare, we welcome additional donations.

There are no separate calls to be held for this fund. Your application to the Open Social Fund can be made through the general Open Call of NLnet. If your projects fits with the fund, NLnet will contact you. The next opportunity to submit is June 1st 2024 12:00 CEST (noon).

Submit a proposal


Project results for projects funded by NLnet always become available under a free or open source license, so anyone can read and validate the source code, and anyone can use the code or open data to create solutions that fits their own purposes. The right to reuse and right to repair not only allow for unrestricted scrutiny and permissionless innovation, but also help to reduce e-waste. And the use of standards enables interoperability and redundancy in implementation to reduce the risk of compromise and failure.