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Posts tagged with "Fediverse"

feeeed: Embracing Feed Diversity and Personal News Curation

With The Iconfactory launching Project Tapestry this week, I was reminded of an indie app that I first started testing a few months ago. feeeed – that’s with four ‘e’s – by Nate Parrott is a feed reader app unlike any other I’ve seen on iOS.

Today, with our favorite content scattered across social media platforms, apps, blogs, and newsletters, it’s honestly really hard to keep up, and there is clearly a demand for an app that could juggle with all of them. feeeed is an attempt at embracing that diversity, and letting you build your own feed, merging all those sources into one continuous and beautifully designed stream.

I was excited about this app when it originally came out, and for the past week, I have once again given it a prime spot on my iPhone Home Screen to properly try it out as my main reading app.

Let’s jump in.

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Tom Coates on Integrating Threads with the Fediverse

Just before the holidays, Meta held a meeting at its San Francisco offices with members from the fediverse community about its plans to use ActivityPub to integrate Threads with Mastodon. Last week, Tom Coates wrote a detailed post about everything covered during the meeting from Meta’s roadmap for Threads to Meta’s motivations, content moderation, and Threads’ algorithm, which is lengthy but well worth reading in its entirety.

Coates described Threads’ roadmap as follows:

  • December 2023 – A user will be able to opt in via the Threads app to have their posts visible to Mastodon clients. People would be able to reply and like those posts using their Mastodon clients, but those replies and likes would not be visible within the Threads application. Threads users would not be able to follow or see posts published across Mastodon servers, or reply to them or like then.
  • Early 2024 (Part One) – the Like counts on the Threads app would combine likes from Mastodon and Threads users

  • Early 2024 (Part Two) – replies posted on Mastodon servers would be visible in the Threads application

  • Late 2024 – A “mixed” Fediverse and Threads experience where you will be able to follow Mastodon users within Threads, and reply to them and like them

  • TBD – Full blended interoperability between Threads and Mastodon

The schedule struck Coates as both optimistic given the complexities involved and likely to be controversial because the early stages are lopsided in favor of integrating Threads into Mastodon and not the other way around. As Coates explains, there are technical, legal, and regulatory reasons for that, but that won’t make it any less contentious.

Scale is quite literally another huge problem for Meta that could easily lead to unintended consequences that cause problems for Mastodon users no matter what Meta’s intentions are. As Coates explains:

The community that Threads is planning to participate in is that of Mastodon servers federating with one another via Activity Pub. The estimates of this community are that there are about 9,500 separate mastodon instances participating in this ecology, with roughly 1.5 million Monthly Active Users (MAUs). This is a fairly substantial number but of course it pales in comparison to Meta more generally, which has closer to three billion active users. Or to put it another way, Mastodon users represent about 1/2000th of the number of people using Facebook/Instagram/Threads/WhatsApp etc. worldwide.

Threads itself has only been around for a few months now and it still towers over the rest of the Mastodon community in terms of users. It’s based on the Instagram user base, and Instagram users can opt in to use Threads with a single tap. Because of that—as of a recent earnings report—Meta can currently claim around 160 million total users and about 100 million MAUs for Threads alone. So, again, maybe we shouldn’t be thinking about Threads ‘integrating’ with the fediverse and instead think about Threads attempting to engage with the Fediverse without entirely crushing it in the process.

The entire post is worth reading because it explores interesting ways to deal with distributed content moderation, identity, public education about federation, and all the other large-scale problems that Threads will bring with it into the fediverse by virtue of its size and commercial goals as an ad-funded company. None of these issues will be easy to solve, and the meeting happened before an upturn in objectionable content served by the Threads algorithm to many users. However, I’m still encouraged by Coates’ overall reaction to the meeting and the teams at Meta who are working on integrating Threads with the Fediverse:

But I can report that in my opinion the teams building it and the integration seem to be decent people, trying to build something they’re excited by, wanting to be part of something new and truly federated, and wanting to be respectful and careful about how they do it. And whether or not you think their arrival in the space is a good thing, that apparent good faith and care has mitigated at least some of my concerns.

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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 flipboard_videos@flipboard.video), 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.

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Flipboard Begins to Federate

Flipboard founder and CEO Mike McCue, writing on the company’s blog about Flipboard going all-in on the Fediverse and ActivityPub:

Today we are beginning to open Flipboard to the Fediverse, a rapidly emerging part of the Web which includes social services like Mastodon, Threads, Pixelfed, Firefish and PeerTube all built on a revolutionary open protocol called ActivityPub.

What does this mean for you? In the next few months, everyone using Flipboard will be able to discover and follow a whole new group of writers, vloggers, artists, scientists, explorers, political leaders and millions of others who are posting content and conversing in the Fediverse. If you curate on Flipboard, not only will you have a lot more content to curate from, there will be millions more people to enjoy the Magazines and Storyboards you are curating. If you’re a publisher, creator or brand on Flipboard, you’ll start to see new visitors and engagement as people discover and share your content across the growing Fediverse.

If you’re already using the Fediverse, you’ll be able to discover more articles, videos and podcasts thoughtfully curated by Flipboard’s many publishers and curators around the world. You’ll also be able to follow and converse with them directly from Mastodon, Threads and other ActivityPub apps.

I haven’t used Flipboard in years (even though I really liked the app back in the day), but I am so fascinated by this pivot, and I want to keep an eye on what Flipboard is doing.

The way I see it, if done correctly, Flipboard could become a fast, intuitive way for a lot of people to “get on the Fediverse” without the overhead of picking a Mastodon server and other technical jargon. Just grab the Flipboard app, create an account, and start following people from, say, Threads, Mastodon, and other ActivityPub-compatible sources. Once their multi-phase rollout is complete, you’ll have a federated account on flipboard.com that will be able to (I assume) read and post content on the Fediverse. Based on what McCue is saying, it sounds like that’s exactly what the future of Flipboard will be: a well-designed client for all kinds of federated sources.

In January we will release a new version of Flipboard that will show follows, favorites and boosts from the Fediverse. It will also enable replies to and from the Fediverse as well as blocking, muting and reporting.

I’m very keen to see how Flipboard will differentiate itself here from the typical timeline experience of clients such as Ivory and Ice Cubes, or even the Threads app. I’m also curious to understand if and how the new ActivityPub-infused Flipboard will be profitable (and I hope it will be).

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Making ActivityPub Your Social Media Hub for Mastodon and Other Decentralized Services

For many people who have stepped away from Twitter, Mastodon is their first experience with a decentralized social network. There’s a lot that can be said about the pros and cons of decentralization, but I want to focus on one very specific technical feature that Mastodon shares with a growing list of other services: ActivityPub.

ActivityPub is a W3C-recommended standard that was published by its Social Web Working Group almost five years ago and defines a decentralized social networking protocol for client apps and servers that connect them. The benefit to users is interoperability among services that adopt the protocol.

In practice, that means users of one ActivityPub service can follow and interact with users of a different service, which opens up some interesting possibilities. Tumblr seems to agree. The company plans to add ActivityPub support, so its users can interact with Mastodon’s users. That news piqued my interest in ActivityPub, but I’m not patient enough to wait for Tumblr to add support. I wanted to take two ActivityPub services for a spin now, so I set up a Pixelfed account on pixelfed.social.

Following Federico using Mastodon's web app (left) and my Pixelfed profile viewed from Tapbots' Ivory Mastodon app (right).

Following Federico using Mastodon’s web app (left) and my Pixelfed profile viewed from Tapbots’ Ivory Mastodon app (right).

Pixelfed is sort of like a decentralized version of Instagram that has adopted the ActivityPub protocol. Users can post photos, follow other users, and send each other messages. The service recently started beta testing an iOS app that is available on TestFlight, so I downloaded it, set up an account, and posted about it on Mastodon.

Because Pixelfed and Mastodon servers both comply with ActivityPub, anyone can follow my Pixelfed account from Mastodon without having to create a Pixelfed account or download the app, which is exactly what Federico did:

In practice, following someone’s Pixelfed feed is even easier. Instead of searching for my username, Federico could have searched for the URL for my Pixelfed profile in a Mastodon app and followed me that way. It’s worth noting, though, that not all Mastodon apps support searching for non-Mastodon servers. If you have trouble adding someone to your Mastodon feed, try Mastodon’s web app, which I’ve tried and know works. Also, be patient because some Pixelfed servers like pixelfed.social are struggling with an influx of new users that have hurt its reliability.

Photos posted from Mastodon (left) appear in the Pixelfed app too (right).

Photos posted from Mastodon (left) appear in the Pixelfed app too (right).

As the owner of a Pixelfed account, ActivityPub provides me some additional benefits too. First, I added my Pixelfed account to Ivory, the Tapbots Mastodon app that’s currently in alpha testing. That lets me post photos and respond to followers in the same app I’m using for Mastodon, which is nice. I’ve also followed my Pixelfed account from my Mastodon account, which allows me to view my posts from my Mastodon feed and boost them to my Mastodon followers, creating the equivalent of cross-posting on two services without actually posting separately to both.

Although there are a growing number of services that support ActivityPub, including PeerTube, a YouTube alternative for video, micro.blog, which supports parts of the protocol, and many others, it’s still early days for the protocol. However, with Twitter reminding users of the peril of relying on a centralized service provider, the pace of ActivityPub adoption is picking up, which should make 2023 a very interesting year for the open web.


MacStories Is on Mastodon with Its Own Server

As of today, MacStories is officially on Mastodon with its own server for each of its properties and team members. You can find us here:

The new MacStories Mastodon account.

The new MacStories Mastodon account.

We’re not closing down our Twitter accounts (yet), but as you may have noticed, they haven’t been active lately and won’t be going forward. That’s because we’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the direction the company is heading. If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, I highly recommend Casey Newton’s recent piece on Platformer. Casey’s perspective and reasons for winding down his personal and business presence on Twitter are very close to our own.

Although I’ll miss what Twitter was at its best and always remember what it’s meant to me professionally, I’m excited to be moving on too. I don’t know if Mastodon will be the next big thing, but it doesn’t have to be. It gives us a place to experiment and expand the places we connect with the MacStories audience, which we’re eager to do.

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