Meta’s Threads Make or Break the Fediverse

Meta's Threads Make or Break the Fediverse

Meta’s Threads App Sparks Debate in the Fediverse

Days after Meta launched its new app, Threads, this month, a software engineer at the company named Ben Savage introduced himself to a developer group at the World Wide Web Consortium, a web standards body. The group, which maintains a protocol for connecting social networks called ActivityPub, had been preparing for this moment for months, ever since rumors first emerged that Meta planned to join the standard. Now, that moment had arrived.

“The company you work for does disgusting things among others. It harms relationships and isolates people. It builds walls and lures people into them. When that doesn’t suffice, brutal peer pressure does… That said, welcome to the list, Ben.”

The response to Meta’s embrace of ActivityPub, used by apps including the Twitter-like Mastodon, is mixed. While some members of the developer community are excited to see how this interoperable future plays out, others view Meta’s involvement with skepticism and concern. The Fediverse, the community of small apps and personal servers in the ActivityPub ecosystem, is known for its ethos of sharing and openness, in contrast to Meta’s profit-driven approach with its massive user base.

Meta’s new app, Threads, has already garnered significant attention, dwarfing the Fediverse, which has been around for over a decade and peaked at about 4 million active monthly users. This drastic difference in scale has sparked contrasting opinions among Fediverse fans. Some see Meta’s entry as an opportunity for the network to become more relevant and gain new user engagement, while others fear Meta’s size will lead to undesirable changes in the direction of the Fediverse. In fact, some users have even started circulating a pact to preemptively block content from Threads’ servers from appearing on their own.

The arrival of Meta has jolted the Fediverse community into action. Developers are working to improve their projects, applying for grants, and making enhancements in areas such as security and user experience. The community is engaged in furious meetings, with everyone pushing for better everything.

The divergent views on Meta’s involvement reflect different visions for the future of the Fediverse. Some believe embracing Threads is necessary to revitalize the stagnant growth of the network, especially after Elon Musk’s chaotic takeover of Twitter sent many users searching for new digital homes. Others argue that a larger user base will flood the Fediverse with uncontrollable content, compromising the values of openness and safety that have defined the community.

The founder of Mastodon, Eugen Rochko, sees Meta’s interest as a victory for the Fediverse. The company’s vast resources and reach hold the potential to inject new life into the decentralized movement. However, not everyone shares this perspective. Users like Vanta Black, who found a supportive community on Mastodon, feel betrayed and fear that Meta’s content moderation policies, as well as its role in human rights abuses and global conflicts, will negatively impact the Fediverse.

As debates rage within the Fediverse, Johannes Ernst from the W3C’s ActivityPub group highlights the complexity of the situation. While sympathizing with those who wish to defederate for personal safety reasons, he acknowledges the potential benefit of attracting Meta and its large user base. The Fediverse’s relative smallness can be isolating for those seeking connections outside the niche world of distributed online services. Meta’s presence could provide access to hundreds of millions of users, bringing an entirely different dynamic to the network.

How Meta implements ActivityPub in Threads will shape the future of the Fediverse. Meta’s decisions regarding integration with other servers, migration of accounts and networks, and content broadcasting will have a profound impact on existing users and app developers. Mastodon currently plays a similar role on the network, but the relationship with other Fediverse developers may not be replicable with a giant for-profit corporation like Meta.

While Meta executives have stated that ActivityPub integration is a long way off, there is optimism that this time the implementation will happen. With regulators increasingly focused on interoperability, it makes logical sense for Meta to work with a protocol managed by the W3C. However, the extent to which Meta prioritizes interoperability remains uncertain.

In the meantime, members of the Fediverse like Dmitri Zagidulin and Vanta Black are taking action. Zagidulin’s cooperative server plans to hold more votes to determine the best course of action. Splitting the community across two servers, one communicating with Meta’s empire and one remaining independent, is one possibility. However, Black is more skeptical about managing the divide, preferring the status quo over a divided community.

As Meta’s Threads app sparks debate in the Fediverse, the future of the network hangs in the balance. The decisions made by Meta and the response from the community will shape the path forward, determining whether the Fediverse can maintain its values of openness and user control while also benefiting from a potential influx of new users.