ActivityPub is Paving the Way for a Decentralized Social Media Revolution

KEY TAKEAWAYS
ActivityPub is an under-the-radar protocol gaining traction as several tech giants invest in it, aiming to decentralize social media and provide users with greater control.
Mastodon, an ActivityPub-powered platform, is becoming a popular alternative for those dissatisfied with Twitter, signaling a shift in user preference towards a more decentralized social media ecosystem.
Decentralizing social media involves separating user interfaces from underlying data, creating a more interconnected social media landscape, in contrast to the current walled garden approach.
The primary challenge to the widespread adoption of ActivityPub is monetization, as the values of the Fediverse do not align with the traditional venture capital funding and rapid growth approach.
ActivityPub's future may involve a single platform becoming the default choice for users, with user identities potentially becoming universal across platforms, but concerns remain about whether it can expand without losing its open nature.

 

The future of social media might lie in ActivityPub, an under-the-radar protocol that has been around for years.

This technology is now gaining traction as several tech giants, including Tumblr, Flipboard, Medium, Mozilla, Meta, and WordPress, are investing in it.

Known as “the Fediverse,” it aims to decentralize social media and provide users with greater control.

Mastodon: A Glimpse into a Decentralized Future

Mastodon, an ActivityPub-powered platform, is quickly becoming a popular alternative for those dissatisfied with Twitter.

Although its user base is still small compared to Twitter or Facebook, Mastodon’s growth signals a shift in user preference towards a more decentralized social media ecosystem.

Decentralizing Social Media

The idea behind decentralized social networking is to separate user interfaces from underlying data.

This means users won’t have to rebuild their audience or find friends again when signing up for a new app.

Essentially, it aims to create a more interconnected social media landscape, where posts can be seen and interacted with across different platforms.

This vision is in stark contrast to the current walled garden approach, where platforms like Facebook restrict users’ ability to export their connections or content to other services.

The Origins of ActivityPub

Though ActivityPub has been a finalized standard since 2018, its roots can be traced back to the early days of the web.

Over the years, various protocols have attempted to open up social networking, but none have gained significant traction.

However, experts in the field believe that this time will be different. Mozilla’s Chief Product Officer, Steve Teixeira, predicts that the Fediverse could have a breakout year soon.

The Turning Point

Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter may have inadvertently contributed to the rise of decentralized social media.

After Musk’s controversial changes to the platform, users began seeking alternatives, prompting developers to create new products to meet this demand.

A New Vision for the Social Web

ActivityPub is built on the idea that users’ social connections should not be confined to a single platform or dependent on a company’s financial success.

Instead, it envisions a more interconnected and resilient social media landscape.

Currently, Mastodon is the most prominent example of this vision in action, but other decentralized platforms like Pixelfed and PeerTube are also gaining ground.

A Shift in the Social Media Landscape

As more companies integrate ActivityPub into their platforms, the Fediverse is expected to grow further.

Flipboard and Medium have already set up Mastodon servers and invited users to post there, as well as on their main platforms.

This trend signals a move towards a more decentralized and interconnected social media landscape, offering users greater choice and control over their online experiences.

Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter may have inadvertently contributed to the rise of decentralized social media.

Flipboard Integrates with Mastodon Through ActivityPub

Flipboard is now utilizing ActivityPub to integrate with Mastodon within its app. This goes beyond simply embedding posts on Flipboard pages, as it did with Twitter before losing access to the API.

Users can like a Flipboard post originating from ActivityPub, and the creator will see the like within their Mastodon app.

The same is true for comments, which will appear as Mastodon replies.

This seamless interoperation is a step toward a future where multiple social networks can work together based on ActivityPub, according to Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko.

The Fediverse’s YouTube Alternative: PeerTube

PeerTube is the Fediverse’s response to YouTube, reflecting the platform’s focus on creating alternatives to mainstream social media sites.

Developers and companies are betting on the growing awareness of the fragility of platforms like Twitter, which could lead users to seek more stable alternatives that give them control over their content. ActivityPub is thought to be capable of providing this solution.

As Elon Musk took control of Twitter and changed its moderation policies, the need for alternatives became more apparent.

Flipboard, along with other companies, began to consider embracing a new era of social networking.

The Open Web and Challenges of Monetization

The primary challenge to the widespread adoption of ActivityPub is monetization. The traditional path to success for social platforms often involves venture capital funding, rapid growth, and attempts to dominate the market.

The values of the Fediverse, however, do not align with this approach, as Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko has made clear.

Additionally, existing social networks have little incentive to support a more open model.

In the early days of ActivityPub, its creators attempted to engage major social networks, only to be met with silence or skepticism about the viability of federated social networks.

Identity and Usability Issues

Mastodon, while a popular platform, faces challenges in user experience, primarily due to ActivityPub’s lack of a universal system for identity management.

Users must select a server and find people to follow without any cross-server directory. Verification is also an issue, as there are no tools to confirm an account’s authenticity. Addressing these issues and improving the protocol’s usability is a priority for developers.

The Future of ActivityPub and Decentralized Social Media

One potential future for ActivityPub could involve a single platform becoming the default choice for users, similar to Gmail for email.

Mozilla’s mozilla.social aims to provide this service, allowing Firefox account holders to sign in to their Mastodon instance.

However, most experts in the field recommend users own their domain, ensuring a stable identity that will not be lost due to a company’s actions.

As ActivityPub gains traction as the underlying infrastructure of the social web, user identities could become universal across platforms.

The main concern is whether ActivityPub can expand without losing its open nature. The “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish” pattern has occurred in the past, with companies adopting open protocols before gradually shutting out the broader ecosystem.

Yet, many believe that the nature of a protocol-based system and the size of Mastodon will prevent this from happening.

As long as the open web continues to develop, it will be less susceptible to being controlled or manipulated by individuals like Elon Musk.

Craig Miller

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