days after meta When the company launched its new Threads app this month, a software developer at the company named Ben Savage introduced himself to a developer group at the World Wide Web Consortium, a web standards organization. The group, which maintains a protocol for connecting social networks called ActivityPub, had been preparing for this moment for months, ever since rumors first surfaced that Meta was planning to join the standard. Now that moment had come. “I’m really excited to see how this interoperable future will unfold!” he wrote.
Warm replies to Savage’s email came in. And then another answer came:
“The company you work for does disgusting things, among other things. It damages relationships and isolates people. It builds walls and lures people inside. If that’s not enough, then brutal peer pressure will do… Welcome to the list, Ben.”
Meta’s acceptance of ActivityPub, used by apps like the Twitter-like Mastodon, has certainly been a little awkward. Known as Fediverse, the constellation of small apps and personal servers currently using the protocol is driven by an ethos of sharing and openness, not profit-seeking or a user base running into the billions.
ActivityPub aims to allow users of different apps not only to interact with each other and view each other’s content, but also to transfer their digital identity from one service to another. Mastodon, the largest app in the Fediverse, is open source and run by a non-profit organization. Smaller Fediverse apps like PeerTube and Lemmy are often seen as a denial of the closed nature of services like YouTube or Reddit. Companies like Meta are typically portrayed as the enemy. It’s no surprise that despite the ActivityPub executives’ pleas for civility, when Meta hit the list server, some couldn’t shut up.
Week-old threads are already eclipsing Fediverse, which has been around for well over a decade has recently peaked with around 4 million active monthly users. Some Fediverse fans see a win in this imbalance: Suddenly, the network could become many times more relevant. Others find this view naïve and expect Meta’s size to push the small world of ActivityPub-based apps in undesirable directions. Some have circulated a pact to preemptively prevent threads server content from displaying by itself.
“The Fediverse community has rallied out of fear and loathing for meta, but also out of excitement,” says Dmitri Zagidulin, a developer who leads the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) group responsible for discussing the future of ActivityPub is responsible. The prospect of Meta joining the decentralized movement is causing people to beef up their projects and prepare for the limelight. “There are angry meetings. Grants are requested. pull requests. Striving for more security and better user experience. Anything is better,” he says.
Zagidulin is himself a member of a Mastodon server, which acts as a social cooperative where users make important decisions together. They recently voted on whether to preemptively block threads, a process known as defederation. The result: 51 percent for, 49 percent against.