Threads, Bluesky and the great race to monopolise ActivityPub

Last week Mark Zuckerberg's Meta launched an app called Threads that would be attached to Instagram administratively while directly rivalling Twitter in form and function. There are three things to know about Threads at this point that will prove relevant in the near future:

  1. Threads has not launched in the EU due to privacy concerns and Meta is blocking EU users to prevent legal complications

  2. There is already a start-up called Threads, which is why Meta could not obtain the Threads.com domain and went with Threads.net instead

  3. Threads promises to join Mastodon and other apps on the Fediverse in the near future

The low-down

The first two points are concerning by themselves for legal and ethical reasons (the word "thread" has been in use on Twitter for years now to refer to a string of related and continuous tweets) but the third point is the most puzzling. Why does Mark Zuckerberg---a man known for relishing complete control over his platforms and salivating about harvesting personal data from his users---want to join a decentralised model of social networking that clearly works to his detriment?

At the moment it appears that Threads embracing the Fediverse via ActivityPub, the same protocol used by Mastodon, is merely simply Meta signalling that they may be trusted. After all if everything the Fediverse claimed about its safety, decentralisation and privacy are true and Threads will be on the Fediverse, should Threads also not be similarly trustworthy?

Bluesky as a new Twitter

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey started Bluesky as a protocol atop which the next generation Twitter would be rebuilt. It turned out to be the same as ActivityPub in spirit with small differences. These were mostly differences that would suit Twitter itself in handling user data under the guise of giving users better control. (More control at the cost of choice, since Bluesky might not be as interoperable with ActivityPub.) In any case, it was better than Twitter as advertised.

Things did not go as planned. With Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter, the Twitter--Bluesky connection was swiftly severed, forcing Mr Dorsey to step up his efforts and make a new platform out of Bluesky rather than just a new protocol. That should tell us where Mr Dorsey's heart lies: what he really wanted was a new platform, not a new protocol. It was all about exploiting the protocol to gain better control of the platform.

Although Bluesky remains in closed beta it has already come under the scanner for some questionable content moderation practices which has made it look like it simply dragged its baggage with it from Mr Dorsey's days at Twitter. With the Fediverse, the moderation might in fact be more effective, but if Bluesky becomes somewhat more closed than ActivityPub is, it would be to the detriment of most internet users. As with Mastodon and other Fediverse platforms built on ActivityPub, the onus lies on server users to create a welcoming environment for everyone.

Opportunism is in the air

While Meta's exact plan can be anyone's guess, it seems to me like they want to exploit the Fediverse---just like Bluesky but with less effort---by allowing people glimpses of its platform---specifically the public profiles and posts that the Fediverse allows---while putting everything else behind a 'server wall' that would entice people to use Threads as their main server from which to access the rest of the Fediverse.

If the Fediverse is a meadow, Meta wants Threads to be a wire-fenced garden in the middle of it. This would keep Threads accessible to the Fediverse but its unique, server-specific features would require that users make Threads their go-to server on the Fediverse, and within that server of course Zuckerberg would reign supreme. Ads could continue to run, private data could continue to be harvested and specific sections could well be put behind a 'server wall' so being on the Threads server alone would afford access to these.

Should you join Threads, or Bluesky for that matter? What this whole entrepreneurship is for Meta, Zuckerberg, Bluesky and Dorsey is simply opportunism. They want to get ahead of the curve because they realise that the Fediverse is the future of social networking on the internet. Joining Threads would simply mean getting a more familiar start to the decentralised social web, especially for those who find Mastodon confusing. Joining Threads would not do any more harm than joining any other social network, but once Threads joins the Fediverse you would be wise not to throw caution to the wind and try to set yourself up on a more trustworthy server. 

Let Meta's and Bluesky's eye candy pass you by while you choose a safer, more welcoming server centred around your interests. Maybe just stick with a more boring but a perfectly effective, completely safe and certainly more promising Mastodon server instead.

You just read issue #12 of Confluence. If you liked it, there is more. New issues are sent out roughly every fortnight. Please consider subscribing to this newsletter.