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The Case for the Fediverse

I truly enjoyed this piece by David Pierce, writing for The Verge, about the fediverse’s potential and how the ActivityPub protocol may be the key to turn the hand-wavy concept of “decentralized social media” into an ecosystem of dedicated products that are actually useful and interoperable:

In the world of ActivityPub, every post everywhere is made up of a sender, a message, and a URL. Every user has an inbox and an outbox for those messages. That’s the whole protocol in a nutshell. The simplicity is the point: since ActivityPub is not a product but a data format like PDF or JPG, what you do with those messages, those URLs, those inboxes and outboxes, is entirely up to you.

You could have a Twitter-like app that emphasizes text, or an Instagram-like one with a UI that shows photos first. Your federated YouTube could be full of everybody’s videos, or you could make TikTok by filtering only for short and vertical ones. You could use a WhatsApp-style messaging app that only cares about messages sent directly to someone’s inbox.

You could try to do all those things, or you could try to do something nobody’s ever been able to do before. You could build a news reader that only includes posts with links to news sites and automatically loads those links in a nice reading interface. You could build a content moderation tool that any fediverse app could use to filter and manage content on their platform. You could build the perfect algorithm that only up-ranks shitposts and good jokes, and license that algorithm to any app that wants a “Epic Posts Only” mode. You could build an app that’s just an endless feed of great stuff for NBA fans. You could build one that’s just for crypto true believers. You could build one that lets you swipe from one to the other depending on your mood.

As I wrote earlier this week, the more I read about ActivityPub and federation, the more excited I get about 2024. I’m fascinated by what companies like Flipboard are doing (for instance, they rolled out their federated video channel today, which you can follow on Mastodon as, and I’m seriously considering the different ways we could leverage various ActivityPub integrations in a future version of MacStories.

I didn’t have “get excited about social media again” on my 2023 bingo card, but here we are.