(2023-07-13) Thoughts On Instagram Threads & Fediverse Stuff

Since Elon Musk has acquired Twitter and has been kind of wrecking the place, many people have been looking for alternatives that could maybe have a chance to replace Twitter. Although no similar app has taken over Twitter yet, some alternatives have risen, and have had huge influxes of new people into them whenever Elon made some dumb change with Twitter.

The first alternative that people flocked to (heh) was the decentralized Fediverse (mainly Mastodon), which I wrote about over a year ago, though that was still when Elon was still in the acquisition process, which didn't complete until many months later. And only then did the biggest wave of people come in to the Fediverse, resulting in basically all the largest Fediverse servers being crushed by the load. It cooled off, with a few random manageable spikes in the following months.

Earlier this year, another Twitter alternative, this time something that is actually backed by ex-Twitter leadership, Bluesky, kind of randomly blew up. Many people were dying to join, but couldn't because you needed to get an invite code from someone who was already signed up to do so. This had the unintentional effect of making Bluesky feel like this super exclusive club that you had to fight to get into, even though the devs literally just wanted a small user base to test & trial something that was still a work in progress.

At that point it was just your standard centralized social media site, but the whole thing with Bluesky is it's supposed to be decentralized just like the old Fediverse. However, Bluesky has own special decentralized protocol that's supposed to be better than ActivityPub, which is what Mastodon and the rest of the Fediverse currently use. And apparently the early implementation of this only started to be rolled out pretty much when the hype was dying down. Though honestly, I didn't really pay close attention to Bluesky because I couldn't get in, but it was interesting to know about.

However, while all this was Bluesky stuff was going on a dark horse was emerging... Facebook (a.k.a. Meta) was cooking up a Twitter clone with the Instagram team. Rumours were swirling about this here and there, and later there were leaks that showed it being a separate app that was linked to Instagram and... it was planning on connecting with the Fediverse?? More on that later.

Meanwhile, Twitter remained unchallenged, but for whatever reason Elon decided that that he needed to make changes that could put an end to that. At the very end of June, Twitter required logins to see anything on the site, and later made it so you could only view a limited number of Tweets per day, with pretty low limits for the average power user. This shouldn't be a surprise, but Bluesky and the Fediverse had server overload problems right after this.

And here's where things really get nuts. Facebook's Twitter clone was in an incomplete state, but they decided this huge Twitter fuckup was a perfect opportunity that would pass quickly, and launched the app the week after, on July 5th, with the name "Threads". Threads got two million sign ups within the first two hours, and kept growing at a crazy rate after that. And I decided to sign up to see what was going on on the app. I didn't have an Instagram account, so I made one just so I could try threads.

Yeah... yikes, it was definitely not great. There was only an algorithmic feed, and the content was basically all awful normie slop. The only worse content I've laid eyes on is the YouTube homepage in a private browsing window. However, there were some cool writers, journalists, and YouTubers that I liked who signed up, and I followed them on Threads. They did show up on the feed when they posted or retweeted(?) something new, but after I got caught up, it was back to the normie slop. The app definitely was not complete, there were so many features that were missing like a basic follows-only reverse chronological feed or a way to search, uh, tweets(?). Though the Threads leadership did promise that these were being worked on and weren't present yet because they launched so early.

I kept checking the app a couple times a day, spending no more than a few minutes for each session because there wasn't much stuff being posted by my follows. It wasn't too bad of an experience, and I kind of wanted to see how the app improves over time, but that came to an end quickly. On July 10th, I opened the app and found out I was banned. My crime? Behaving like I'm a bot (sad beep boops). The only way I could get my account unbanned was to do phone verification, which I didn't want to provide to a Zucc app unless I really had to. So that was the end of my Threads journey.

That same day Threads reached 100 million users. Twitter actually has a serious competitor now. And Threads surprisingly didn't have many server issues with so many users. Scary what is possible when you have the infrastructure of an established social media giant. So anyways, on to the planned Fediverse interconnection thing that I mentioned earlier.

This is a really unusual decision. People speculated that the reason Facebook decided their Twitter clone should connect with the Fediverse via ActivityPub was to make it so that it there would be plenty of content and people available to follow when they launched. Other people thought that this could be something in response to upcoming European Union regulations that require big platforms to open up to intercompatibility with other applications. But unfortunately for Facebook, as soon as the news that Threads would federate spread around the Fediverse, a ton of people were very opposed to this, and many decided that they would immediately defederate with any Facebook thing as soon as it launched. Although many others were not opposed to federating with Threads, and this resulted in kind of a schism in the Fediverse.

Reasons for strongly opposing Threads federation were varied, but it all boiled down to basically Facebook has done a ton of bad things in the past (like a ton, seriously), and it's stupid to trust that they would do anything good this time. And honestly, at first I was like "how bad could things get"? But after thinking about it (and reading shit like this) I'm fully supportive of anyone who is preemptively banning Threads federation, though I wish more people would consider the "wait and see" approach that the Fosstodon Mastodon instance is taking, since it's not even known how Threads federation will work.

Eugen Rochko (creator of Mastodon) looks supportive, and I think he and Fosstodon make some good points about how Facebook can't really do that much bad through federating. But I do think that the overall benefits from federating with Threads do not outweigh the downsides. Even something as simple as the Threads community being able to quickly ruin or overwhelm the mainstream Fediverse community is a good enough reason to defederate in my book. But there is one point that I kind of have issues digesting and thinking about: the idea that Facebook could Embrace, Extend, and Exitinguish (EEE) the Fediverse.

How would Facebook be able to EEE the Fediverse? How exactly would EEE work at this point? First, they don't really have a great reason to "embrace" right now with the 100M users on Threads. Not sure what the order of magnitude fewer users in the Fediverse would do to benefit that. Next, I'm not really sure what Threads-exclusive extensions they would make to ActivityPub that the Fediverse developer community would adopt. This is kind of a big point because the current split in the Fediverse is mainly between those who oppose Threads federation, and those who want to see what happens, not those who think Zucc can do no wrong here. If Threads pulled an "extend" move, I seriously think that would result in defederation from most of the wait and see crowd and very few would seriously adopt those extensions. Finally, "extinguish"... so Facebook turns off Threads federation, and some people on the part of the Fediverse that decided to not defederate with Threads abandon the Fediverse for Threads?

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic and naive here, but I don't think that Facebook can really do much damage to the Fediverse. Again, I'm fully supportive of those who decide they will never have anything to do with Threads/Meta/Facebook. One thing I do find interesting though is looking at the "Moderated servers" section on the about page of the flagship Mastodon instance run by Eugen, seeing the reasons servers were suspended, and wondering if Threads would fit on that list. Threads already has explicitly sanctioned content that seems to violate the rules of this critical Mastodon instance which seems to be planning to federate with Threads when that happens. What will Eugen do, I wonder?

So yeah, that's it for all I have to say. What are your thoughts on Threads, the Fediverse, and all this drama?

Also, consider following my Mastodon. I've been posting there pretty often recently.

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