Meta's decentralized social plans confirmed. Is Embrace-Extend-Extinguish of the Fediverse next?
Casey Newton at Platformer reports he has e-mail confirmation from Meta that:
[Meta is] exploring a standalone decentralized social network for sharing text updates. We believe there’s an opportunity for a separate space where creators and public figures can share timely updates about their interests (Source).
Their new app is codenamed P92, and according to a separate report by Moneycontrol:
… will support ActivityPub, the decentralised social networking protocol powering Twitter rival Mastodon and other federated apps (Source).
It will also:
be Instagram-branded and will allow users to register/login to the app through their Instagram credentials.
First, the good news:
This is a huge validation of the decentralized social network known as the Fediverse, built around a set of internet protocol standards that include ActivityPub, ActivityStreams, WebFinger as well as a set of commonly implemented unofficial extensions. The Fediverse has been around for some years, but recently came to more widespread prominence through its leading implementation, Mastodon, as the leading alternative of increasingly erratic (and increasingly many other things, but I digress…) Twitter.
That’s because only when alternatives are actually beginning to look like they might become serious threats to incumbents – and Meta is the market-leading incumbent in social media by far – do incumbents start paying attention and then connect to them. Or, as it may be the case here, simply leak that they might be connecting in the future but never actually will. We don’t know which of those will turn out to be true, but it doesn’t matter: both validate the Fediverse as a serious competitor to Meta.
This is on the heels of recent Fediverse adoption by companies such as Mozilla, Medium, CloudFlare and Flipboard. Apple now has Mastodon content previews in iMessage. Even Microsoft has been spotted in the Fediverse a few days ago.
I have some Brooklyn Bridges for sale. You get a Brooklyn Bridge for free if you believe that a company like Meta would connect to the Fediverse, and be a perfect citizen the way the Fediverse expects you to be today. Including:
- No ads;
- No tracking;
- No algorithms that favor business outcomes for Meta over your wellbeing;
- Respect for different cultures, minorities, non-mainstream behavior etc.;
- A rich toolset for filtering and blocking according what you decide you want to filter and block, not Meta;
- The ability to move from one host to another without having to build your network from scratch;
- The ability to pick who is your system administrator and moderator, from models that are essential centrally managed to full-fledged self-managed, user-owned cooperatives;
- The ability, and encouragement, to innovate with new apps;
- and so forth.
Instead, based on the history of technology, the chances are overwhelming that such an app would be used by Meta with an embrace, extend and extinguish strategy, at the end of which the Fediverse would either have become irrelevant or effectively been taken over by Meta. So the much-heralded alternative to Twitter would become … Meta? I sure hope not.
If you think that is unlikely, read up on some of the historical examples listed on that Wikipedia page. Merely being based on open standards and having a million+ strong user community does not protect you at all. Instead, I would say the attack happens every single time a network dominated by an incumbent (here: social media) is threatened by a more open network. And it succeed, at least partially, more often than not. Here it is Meta’s $100b+ business that’s under strategic threat, of course they will protect it and use any means they can think of to do so.
It does not help that the Fediverse today is chronically underfunded and has corresponding difficulty to compete at the same speed as somebody like Meta can. Actually, “unfunded” is a better term because the amounts are so small. There are many unpaid contributions, the Fediverse largely being open source and all, but I’d be surprised if more than $10m per year are spent in total on the entire Fediverse today, likely it’s far less. If Meta can burn more than $10b – that’s one entire annual fediverse spend every 8 hours! – on a very doubtful Metaverse project, they surely could find the same amount of money to protect their core business.
And that’s just one of the many issues we need to solve to protect, and grow, the beautiful thing we currently have with the Fediverse.
So what shall we do about all this?
(I welcome your comments – in the Fediverse! Find me at @email@example.com.)
(Also, I’m co-organizing FediForum, an online unconference at the end of March, where we will surely discuss this and other issues. And celebrate the Fediverse, because there is much to celebrate! Join us?)