Again, something I originally posted as a thread on my experimental self-hosted fedi server last week, but that’s in a bit of a state right now, so I wanted to put this where it could be found easier. Since I originally wrote this, a couple of additional items have come up: Meta has been making reach-outs to the admins of larger Mastodon servers, and is rumored to federate with only a subset of them (while many Mastodon admins have already declared they will not federate with a Meta entity).
Part 1 is here. In this posting, I’m going to speculate what a Meta product might focus on, and why it likely is not at all like the open-source fedi services — nor do I think Meta would necessarily be bothered to even chase a “Twitter killer”, though being able to position a product as such for PR purposes is something they’d likely use anyway.
Mastodon has scaled amazingly well over the last year, and many other more-or-less compatible software systems are trailing. However, none of them are close to the point of what would be expected from a polished social product yet. For the purposes of this post, I’ll note three weaknesses.
- Tools for moderation are still rudimentary
- The infrastructure is at a point where people who want to build a community need to have both technology and social skills and resources — a rare combo
- A lot of the activities needed for community growth are unsupported, and even looked at in hostile light
Meta’s own moderation gets a whole lot of deserved flack, but focusing on that disregards that for several years, their focus has been on enabling groups built and moderated by unaffiliated people for the communities’ own purposes. They have a lot of experience on what those influencers want. Very, very few of them want to run their own Mastodon server — and that’s even before they’d face the inevitable hostility around here for anything that has a whiff of commercial activity.
Furthermore, there’s no defensible moat in building an app for end users. Sure, there’s still a lot of improvement to be made in apps, but ultimately the end user app, and the end-user servers the apps are connected to, are interchangeable. What’s not interchangeable is the host of a moderated, growth-focused community group operated on a platform that is friendly to commercial activities. What do we have for that today? A Mastodon hashtag? A Lemmy community? Kbin magazine? Misskey channel? It’s not hard to imagine something better — and once you get traction on one of those, they’re hard to move. Just ask Reddit mods.
A lot of people run a Facebook Group. Groups are pretty well known for being one the the sticky features for Facebook — you might otherwise be willing to ditch, but there are people and discussions in a Group of several you don’t want to miss. Certainly was that way for me, until I decided to ditch nevertheless.
Notably, for Instagram, groups are still a fairly new thing, and Threads is an Instagram project.
If I was the product lead at Meta for Threads, that’s what I would be focusing on. Build a system that is focused on good group management and moderation toolset for people who want to run groups for Instagram users. Opening the groups for members of fedi in addition to Instagram is just something to latch some PR on to, get some additional attention for being the “Meta Twitter killer”.
Federating the content out of an Instagram Group / Threads to subscribed fedi users is no big deal, but it does bring the group owner a possibility to manage fedi as a feature of their Instagram group — and that takes a meaningful chunk of uncertainty off the table of someone who wants to maintain a comprehensive reach-out strategy. There are a lot of people on the fence today on whether and how to join fedi. They’d jump on a chance to get it hosted by Meta.
Many current Mastodon users have declared ahead of the launch that they’ll be blocking Meta’s product from their view. In one sense, that is understandable, as most of them have specifically sought out a social experience out of Facebook and Instagram (as well as Twitter). However, if I’m right about the focus of the product, blocking it in entirety means you’d also block:
- your local newspaper
- a national or local government entity migrating off Twitter
- the businesses you’re a customer of
And what if your server defederated from Meta, as many Mastodon admins have declared they will? They’d be blocking all their users from seeing the above, and more, multiplied by the number of locales their users originate from. Not very user friendly, I’d say.
And could Meta make that even harder? Well, yes, of course they could. If Threads ALSO enabled the group owner to present their group not as a firstname.lastname@example.org, but under their own domain name, that’d both make it even more attractive to a number of people who’d like to run something social.network.europa.eu (the official server for EU govermental bodies), but technically harder to defederate, because you’d need to block an ever-growing list of domain names.
And there’s more. If Meta also allows the group owners to publish their group under their own domain name, Meta would win a pretty significant Section 230 (neutral service provider) defensive point against calls for their own moderation to get involved. And because they’d still be hosting the groups anyway, they could still proceed with all the typical surveillance data they’re so used to working with. In fact, the group owners would demand they provide analytics on content distribution. They’d just be providing a service asked of them.
I have no insider knowledge of what Meta is planning. It’s likely they’re so swamped with whatever else they’ve been working on, and this whole fedi thing is actually so low on their priority list the haven’t really planned this much in the first place. Whatever their real plans are, we’re not likely to find out until after launch of Threads, if then. Meanwhile, we can speculate, so this is mine.