More on Preemptively Blocking Facebook’s Imminent ActivityPub Entry

My brief “Not That Kind of ‘Open’” piece yesterday struck a chord for some.

Chris Messina:

Not federating is certainly a choice admins can make, but it’s unlikely to have an impact considering that Threads is being bootstrapped off the Instagram social graph.

Would you rather keep the fediverse restricted to its current population of ~8M people or scale it to ~2.35B+?

I don’t think most Instagram users will even try Threads (or whatever it’s going to be called). But a lot might. And “just sign in using your existing Instagram identity” is a powerful enticement. If you already have an Instagram account, you’ll be able to jump right in. How to get started with Mastodon (or any of the other ActivityPub “Fediverse” platforms) has been an enormous obstacle to adoption. People find it confusing, and people don’t like being confused. “Just use your Instagram identity” is not confusing at all.

I think there are a lot of long-time Mastodon users who like the fact that it isn’t gaining mainstream traction, and want to keep it that way. But then don’t call it “open”.

Dare Obasanjo:

It’s a weird own goal for various Mastodon admins who are running a decentralized social network based on interoperable protocols to pledge that they won’t interoperate with services from existing social networks if built on the same open protocols.

It’s not even the hypocrisy, it’s just dumb and undermines the entire point of interoperable protocols.

The hypocrisy irks me, but I think he’s right that it’s foolish too. The Mastodon server admins who are preemptively promising to defederate Threads are effectively guaranteeing that users on their instances will be isolated from a potential majority of users on the overall platform.

Dave Winer, at Scripting News:

They will, in an instant, have millions more users than the existing ActivityPub services will, so the question really is — who’s being locked out? It was never a good bet that the architecture of ActivityPub would somehow be able to resist Silicon Valley-scale social networks. That doesn’t mean there are no answers, just that bluster isn’t one of them. You have to think.

But here’s some good news. There’s no guarantee that Facebook will be successful on terms that matter to them. Unless a half billion people use their service, it’s probably not worth continuing, for a company the size of Facebook. Podcasting has withstood countless attacks like this, and has always been left standing as unsullied as ever. But podcasting is “really simple” and the benefit of federation is well known to users. That’s been what’s kept it from being pwned by bigco’s all these years.

I cited email as an example yesterday of big companies running big instances and not extinguishing the openness that made the platform great. Podcasting is maybe an even better example. I don’t take podcasting’s future for granted, but 20 years in, it’s still thriving as an open medium, despite the presence of titanic players like Apple, Amazon, YouTube, and Spotify. Ultimately the involvement of these big companies has made open podcasting far more popular and enduring than I ever would have imagined 20 years ago, because they brought podcasting to the mass market. And there are some roles that we need big centralized players to play even on an open platform. Apple’s iTunes podcast directory, for example. Facebook’s Threads app could be something akin to Apple Podcasts for Mastodon.

Tristan Louis:

The anti-Meta #Fedipact can only achieve one thing: make sure that #ActivityPub loses to the Bluesky protocol. Is that what people here want?

As an #openweb advocate, I don’t.

Meta joining the Fediverse is like AOL joining the internet: something that will bring a mass amount of people in, create some friction, but ultimately make the net better as more people federating on #Mastodon, #kbin, #lemmy, #pixelfed and other parts of the Fediverse make open protocols that much stronger.

Kbin and Lemmy are to Reddit what Mastodon is to Twitter. Unsurprisingly, they’re both seeing an infusion of new users this month, but are both still tiny compared to Reddit.

One controversial aspect to this story is that Meta apparently invited the admins from several top Mastodon instances to brief them on their plans, under NDA. Tim Bray:

My take:

  1. The Fedi folks shouldn’t have taken the NDA’d meeting. Transparency is essential.
  2. It is not reasonable to expect ethical behaviour from Meta. It should be assumed that that if they can profit by disemboweling the Fediverse, they will.
  3. There is an opportunity to attract some of the ordinary decent humans on Meta because they don’t know anything better exists.

I probably wouldn’t de-federate. But only by about 51/49.

Of course such a meeting would be under NDA, for now. It’s an unreleased and as-yet unannounced product. Meeting with Facebook under NDA isn’t ipso facto wrong — although I do think the fact that they were invited shouldn’t itself be part of the NDA. Transparency is essential, but transparency can come after Threads is actually announced. The idea that NDAs are inherently nefarious is just conspiratorial tinfoil-hat nonsense. (Tinfoil hat nonsense is, alas, having a moment.)

On point 2, I’m fine with starting Facebook with two strikes against it. Put them on a short leash. They start fucking around, Mastodon instances should start de-federating from their product. I just don’t see why they should be blocked preemptively. The whole point of an open protocol like ActivityPub is that no one can own it. I’ll close this post with the same question I did yesterday: Is the goal of the Fediverse to be anti-corporate/anti-commercial, or to be pro-openness? I think openness is the answer. Others clearly disagree.