This is a copy of a thread I posted on Mastodon. For background, a rage thread is developing around the rumored launch by Meta of an app that is said to be interoperable with Mastodon, and a bunch of its current users aren’t happy of the prospect.
Today, fedi has 9.4 million total users and 1.4 million MAU (source: fedidb.org) across over 22 thousand servers. Of this, mastodon.social is 1.2 million total and 220k MAU — or about 15% of total and 5x the size of the next largest one. This is at once not very healthy, and completely to be expected in organic growth — whatever the size of the pool, there will be one fish bigger than the rest.
If any existing service, like Wordpress, or Tumblr, or Flickr, connected to fedi by default, unlike Wordpress’s currently opt-in, plugin-based solution, they’d immediately overtake mastodon.social by tens of millions of identities. This would be either disruptive, or a complete non-event, depending on perspective. Yes, they’d become the biggest fish in the now much larger pool, but because of the way ActivityPub works, also not visible, unless you’d choose to follow them.
They wouldn’t need to be fediblocked away, because unless you follow them, so what? There are billions of people with email, and you never hear from them, either. And this is the case with Meta and P92 or Threads as well. If you don’t want to interact with a person using Threads, then don’t. No one’s forcing you. It’ll add 3, 10, 20 million total users, and 1, 2 or 5 million MAU to the total of fedi.
Or perhaps they really put their weight behind it, and add a billion. Not likely, but even if they did, so what? Again, if you don’t want to interact with those people, then don’t.
“But they embrace and extend!!” — eh, why would they bother? If they WANT to be the biggest, they can become biggest without in any way disrupting the existing fedi. Why would they need to sabotage what’s here? Join a standard protocol to kill it? ActivityPub isn’t big enough to be a threat they’d need to kill.
It’s far more likely it’s a product bet they’re not really fully behind. It wouldn’t be the first one. Remember Parse? Credits? Deals? Slingshot? Riff? Rooms? Boomerang? Hyperlapse? I don’t blame you if you don’t. They’re all former Facebook/Instagram/Meta apps or platforms. Like any tech corp, they entertain side projects, as learning experiences, or for any number of other motivations. Threads is as likely to fail as any other side project.
But what if it’s a success? Then there will be 2x, 10x, or 100x more people on fedi. It doesn’t make the rest of fedi smaller — only that there’s a new biggest fish. It will bring challenges, but most of those challenges would have come anyway, if fedi is to grow. Moderation here is still rudimentary, for example.
It would also be an experience built on Meta’s surveillance marketing DNA. An algorithmic timeline interspersed with advertising. But again, so what? If you don’t like that, don’t use it. Here, you have a choice of experience. You don’t have to choose the Mastodon experience to choose to speak with Mastodon users. Many of you already don’t — third party apps are different. As for the surveillance bit, don’t think you’re not being measured already, anyway. You are.
For the surveillance marketing part to change, there will need to be proof that a social network can grow large without depending on surveillance marketing. I have the benefit of having been deeply involved with a (commercial) social media platform that had 10x the numbers of today’s fedi, that was primarily funded by user payments, and what advertising we did have, wasn’t based on surveillance. I know it can be done, but I also know Meta’s model IS more profitable.
For venture capital funded companies, as well as publicly listed companies, that profitability is a critical determinant. If you take that source of funding, you have to seek maximum profitability. No other way around it. So far, surveillance marketing has been the most profitable method. That’s the only reason even Netflix has introduced ad-funded plans. If subscription-based user revenue was more profitable, they wouldn’t have bothered.
But of course it’s not the only way to seek a sustainable existence. Not everyone has to follow the same model. Meta, or others, seeking that model doesn’t mean it is the mandatory model for those whose owners aren’t seeking maximum profit. And who knows, perhaps someone will show that another model can be as much, or more profitable. Not that long ago, it did look like for a moment subscription could be such a model.
But none of that will happen, if we don’t allow the experiments to happen. And if this network dies because of such an experiment, even if it is by Meta, well, then this network wasn’t sustainable to begin with. I don’t think that will be the outcome. I think growth and experimentation will lead somewhere new. There will be lessons — both good and bad. So, welcome, Meta. And if you choose to block me for that opinion, well, that’s your prerogative. Don’t bother telling me about it.
PS. I can certainly understand the notion that communication platforms shouldn’t be profit seekers. Sure, that’s a position you can take. However, it’s not a position that is well supported by history. Someone is needed for a number of non-trivial and frankly, not very fun jobs that need to be done. Moderating away ugly content and bad people. Fighting against technical adversaries and attacks. Simply running servers. Those activities need resources. Business is a way to fund it.
If you liked this, I also wrote also part 2.