Two days ago, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Threads has started testing making its posts available on Mastodon and other platforms that support the ActivityPub protocol. But the full fediverse play may still be quite some distance away as Instagram head Adam Mosseri has highlighted several key issues the company will have to iron out before it can fully become interoperable. If some of these terms we have mentioned appear foreign to you, then you are not alone. The latest buzz in social media platforms is still something only the biggest tech enthusiasts understand. So, let us break it down for you and help you understand what these terms actually mean, how they work, why they are important, and the challenges associated with them.
ActivityPub and fediverse
This decentralized feature, also known as Fediverse (a portmanteau of Federation and Universe) is being looked at as the next logical step in creating a platformless social media experience. Consider the following scenario.
Maybe you like the group of people you are connected with on a social media platform and you would want to see their posts, but the platform either has a strange algorithm that recommends posts you are not interested in or lacks some features you want or you are not a fan of its moderation policy. In the days of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you were sort of stuck and the only option you had was to create an entirely new profile on the new platform and start from scratch, be it posting or adding new friends or filling out your bio. With years of data stored in each platform, it also acted as a deterrent to people exploring new social media platforms.
But with the fediverse framework, this is no longer the case. This new protocol called the ActivityPub protocol is an interoperable system where the user data is not kept by just one platform but is democratized among all the platforms the user wants to be on. Eventually, the user is the one who has full control over their data, and not the platform.
To break it down even further, the protocol will let you use your profile as an independent domain. So all your posts, bio, friends, basically your entire data, is stored within this domain. You can simply use this domain link, add it to a different website, and start using that. The website will accept your data and will fill out all details, add your post history, and add all your friends that use the platform. And you can begin using the site as if you have been for years.
What happens to platforms under fediverse?
Platforms like Threads, Mastodon, and other such players will play the role of a moderator instead of the owner. They will focus on improving the features of the platform and create more user-friendly policies that can either be safety-driven or freedom of speech-driven. Based on what is being offered, users can pick the platform they want to be on and stay there.
Platforms benefit from this model as it allows them to dip into a massive pool of user base that they can then lure into trying out their platform. This way Threads can try and appeal to Mastodon and other platforms’ users to try and touch X’s (formerly Twitter) numbers someday.
You can imagine this system to look like multiple stores in a marketplace. Consumers gather and pick the store they like, and if they don’t like it, they go to another store with their money. Stores try to lure customers to their shops and try to keep them for as long as possible to get more money out of them.
So, what are the challenges?
Mosseri posted a series of posts to highlight the challenges with this model that Threads is facing at the moment. He said, “For those of you who don’t know, @Threads is being built on the ActivityPub protocol, which means that it will be interoperable with other apps/servers like Mastodon over time. This week we took a small, but important, step by allowing people in the Fediverse, who don’t use Threads or even have an Instagram account, to follow my Threads account as well as a few others. Content is starting to flow from Threads to the Fediverse”.
“We are working to make this option available to all public accounts on Threads, not just a handful of testers. We’re starting small to make sure we have time to work through all the challenges, as our systems historically have been not been designed with this use case in mind,” he added.
Mosseri explained that some of the challenges they are facing currently include making sure that replies made on Threads can show up on Mastodon and vice versa seamlessly and it is a “bad experience” currently. Another challenge is to build support for Threads users to follow Fediverse accounts, so that content can flow from the Fediverse back into Threads. This is where the question of privacy and safety comes into play. Threads is also trying to iron out this issue.
So, when exactly can we expect the fediverse experience to go live? Mosseri believes that all of this will take the better part of a year, and it will roll out in phases. So, by the end of 2024, this new concept might become the reality of netizens.