With the launch of Threads by Meta marking a major shift in the social media landscape, it is essential to understand the context in which this new application fits, especially with regard to open source and decentralized technologies, such as Mastodon, ActivityPub and Fediverse.
Last year was marked by an earthquake in the world of social media: Elon Musk bought Twitter, and made a big mess of it. Faced with this new situation, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, was quick to react. His answer ? Threads, a newly arrived application, with the ambition to take its share of the cake by offering the most important alternative to Twitter.
At the heart of this application, technologies still unknown to the general public, ActivityPub and the Fediverse, promise a new way of conceiving social networks. But what is the ActivityPub? How does Fediverse work? And above all, what are the challenges of integrating Threads into this decentralized universe?
ActivityPub: the universal language of decentralized social networks
At the heart of how Mastodon works, we find the protocol ActivityPub. ActivityPub is an open source communication protocol based on the JSON-LD format that makes it easy to create, update, and delete content on the web. Designed for social networks, it allows different servers to interact and share information, including posts, images, videos and other types of content.
It’s a standard defined by the W3C, the organization that develops the protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web. It makes it possible to create a decentralized social network where each server can communicate with the others, regardless of the platform or application used.
Fediverse: an expanding universe of interconnected social networks
THE Fediverse, on the other hand, is a network of independent and interconnected servers, which communicate with each other through open source protocols such as ActivityPub. It is a federation of several social networks, blogs and content sharing services, which together form a universe of decentralized platforms.
The Fediverse is therefore a set of independent instances or servers that can interact with each other. That’s what makes it so powerful: there is no central point of failure or control. Each instance is free to define its own rules, and users are free to choose the instance that best matches their values and needs.
ActivityPub and Fediverse are not in competition, quite the contrary. ActivityPub is a communication protocol, while the Fediverse is the set of instances that use this protocol (or other similar ones) to communicate with each other. In other words, ActivityPub is the language that allows the various players in the Fediverse to understand each other and exchange information.
Threads and the Future of Fediverse
Let’s come to Threads. Unlike Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp, Threads proposes to be part of the decentralized social web, using the same standard protocol as Mastodon, ActivityPub. However, at launch, Threads does not yet include support for Fediverse or ActivityPub.
This means that, for now, Threads users are isolated from other Fediverse instances. But Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, announced that support for ActivityPub will be integrated into Threads in the near future.
The large number of users that Threads has registered since its launch, however, raises questions. The app registered 22 million users in just 12 hours, which is well beyond Mastodon’s estimated 2-3 million users. This situation has raised concerns within the Mastodon community, which fears that the massive arrival of Threads will upset the balance of the Fediverse.
These concerns are completely understandable. Indeed, each instance of the Fediverse has its own moderation rules, its own advertising policies and its own standards of conduct. Compliance with these rules is essential to maintain harmony within the network. If Threads becomes an instance of the Fediverse and brings with it millions of users accustomed to different standards, it could cause conflict and tension. One of the biggest French authorities linked to Mastodon, Piaille, has already taken preventive measures by blocking Threads: We necessarily oppose the use of this application, and wish to dissociate ourselves from Meta. We will thus block all sites using it. “.
Piaille’s decision shows the magnitude of the challenge of integrating Threads into the Fediverse. However, if Meta manages to properly integrate ActivityPub and respect the principles of decentralization and independence that are at the heart of the Fediverse, Threads could help further democratize these technologies and make them accessible to a wider audience.
It should also be noted that the absence of Threads in Europe is not related to these issues, but rather seems to be a matter of compliance with data privacy rules. You can still register on Threads all the same, we explain how here.
Anyway, you can follow me on Threads, @ulrichas well as CssTricks obviously @frandroid_off.