03 Nov 2023 @ 3:40 PM 

There has been a lot of discussion about federation in the past year, and for the first time it actually starts to feel like a thing that may happen, as contrasted with previous news blips. Tumblr was one of the first of the legacy social media sites to promise future integration with ActivityPub, the protocol that undergirds Mastodon, Friendica, Pixelfed, PeerTube, Lemmy, and a variety of other fediverse platforms. It’s been a year since that promise, and it looks like it was actually bullshit.

Meanwhile, Jack Dorsey (formerly Twitter chief) finally launched his long-gestating new decentralized social media service, Blue Sky. Blue Sky is famously not going to support ActivityPub, despite AP being a W3C standard. Instead, Blue Sky will support the Authenticated Transfer protocol, which is open source but not an official standard of any unbiased group. Naturally, despite Blue Sky opening up membership to the point where even I have an account there, it is still restricted to a single site. It may be running on an open protocol, but there’s no way to tell that, since no other sites can federate with it.

Around the same time as Blue Sky launched via invites, Mark Zuckerberg’s micro-blogging platform Threads went wide. Threads is a subsite of Instagram, and recently its website became useful (previously, it was restricted to mobile apps only, much as Instagram was for a surprisingly long time). Threads is supposedly going to support ActivityPub one day. When? Don’t hold your breath.

The dream of a lot of older geeks is to go back to the days before SEO destroyed the egalitarian nature of the late 1990s web. But, the hazy memories inherent in nostalgic reminiscing obscure the problems that the old days of GeoCities and LiveJournal had. The barrier to internet entry back in the late 20th Century was significant. Now, with sites such as Facebook, it’s easy to get online and connect. It’s easy to write the longest rants you want, without needing to worry about coding. But, those easy sites are also incredibly limited. Facebook still, after more than fifteen years, does not support basic text formatting that LJ had in 1999. And, of course, we can’t forget that the various bots and employees of Meta can just randomly delete your post, or entire account, and there’s literally nothing you can do about it – it’s not your site. Here’s an interesting article about the promise of POSSE to own your own thoughts, but still connect to the greater social media world. I’ve attempted to use this paradigm myself over the years, with varying success – mostly failure.

Here’s the dream: I post here on AndySocial, and it gets reposted to all the places I want it to, and people can read my incredibly important thoughts no matter where they are. If the destination site has a character limit (and why do any have limits, are we using Nokia flip phones to access social media?), the syndicated feed could be just an excerpt with a link back to the original, or maybe automatically create a threaded series of posts. And then there’s the reality, which is much less functional.

Once upon a time, I could post here and it would repost to Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, and Medium. Any blogging platform that understood the RSS protocol (which was once dominant) could subscribe passively, and all would work great. The RSS feed is still there, but the death of Google Reader was just the most obvious sign of the death of people taking RSS seriously as a method of syndication. Facebook killed the ability to post to it from my site. Medium killed the ability to post to it as well. Twitter killed that ability almost as soon as Musk bought it. That leaves LiveJournal as the only site that I automatically reposted to for a while.

In the past few months, the owners of WordPress bought the clunky and barely-functional ActivityPub plugin for WordPress, and got it to be actually useful without requiring building things from source code. So, now I can automatically repost to any ActivityPub site. For me, that is my IndieWeb Mastodon account and my Venera Friendica account. Unfortunately, the number of people who actively use the ActivityPub-based fediverse is a tiny fraction of those on Facebook.

Network effects are a bitch.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 03 Nov 2023 @ 03:40 PM

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