The Rundown: Threads finally takes a step toward the fediverse

It’s official. Meta’s Threads is finally testing integration with ActivityPub, the same service that supports Mastodon, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday. That means Meta is one step closer to fulfilling its initial promise to make Threads compatible with the open social networking protocol that houses platforms like Mastodon. 

“Making Threads interoperable will give people more choice over how they interact and it will help content reach more people,” Zuckerberg said in a Threads post. “I’m pretty optimistic about this.” Meta did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

This also means the fediverse, what could be the next phase of the internet, is one step closer to going mainstream. Should that happen, it could connect brands looking to be culturally relevant with the new, untapped communities of the fediverse — something that’s become more important to marketers in light of Elon Musk’s turbulent takeover of Twitter, now X.

As a refresher, ActivityPub is designed to facilitate the fediverse, an ad-free, community-owned series of decentralized social networks. (Read our WTF is the fediverse explainer here.) Thus far, the likes of Tumblr, Flipboard, Medium, Mozilla and, now, Meta are working with ActivityPub.

What you need to know

  • In addition to opening Threads to European countries, Zuckerberg announced Wednesday Meta’s newest social media platform is beginning a test in which posts from Threads will be available on Mastodon and other services that use ActivityPub protocol.
  • Meta launched Threads, its answer to a flailing X, back in July with the promise to make the new text-based social media platform compatible with ActivityPub, an open, decentralized social networking protocol. It’s one step closer to making good on that promise. 
  • Starting this week, people with accounts on Mastodon and other platforms that support ActivityPub will be able to follow Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, and a few others from the Meta team. Testing doesn’t appear to have rolled out to general Threads users yet.

Threads in the fediverse

It’s a plan that’s been in the works since Threads’ inception that Meta has been chipping away at, according to Meta’s press blog. Back in August, Threads inched closer to its goal after rolling out the ability to verify links to Threads profiles on platforms like Mastodon. Effectively, this latest move would allow Threads users to transfer content among other platforms that are using ActivityPub. For example, a post on Threads could theoretically appear on Mastodon, should all go according to plan. 

As it stands now, each social media platform is its own gated community. Meaning, what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook, what happens on X stays on X, and so on. As far as major social media networks are concerned, Meta is a first-mover here, opening up the aperture for the next generation of social media, where content flows more freely from platform to platform. That’s not to say platforms are totally landlocked. Some content can be shared from platform to another. For example, TikTok allows users to share videos directly to Instagram Stories. Often, users themselves work across platforms, sharing TikToks to X, or X posts to TikTok.

When it first launched, Threads saw monumental growth, achieving more than 100 million users in its first five days of existence. That growth has since petered out, with speculations that Threads will have 23.7 million active monthly users in the U.S. by the end of the year. Although, earlier this week, Mosseri mentioned Threads has 100 million monthly active users. Still, Meta joining the fediverse could get more mainstream social media users interested in what so far has been home to niche online communities. 

“When you first joined Threads, it was really, really easy because you just used your Instagram profile to create a new one. No one else will be able to have that kind of a head start as they join the fediverse,” Martin Pagh Ludvigsen, director of creative technology and AI at Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, said on the Digiday Podcast. “But the bigger the volume of user profiles that exist in the fediverse, the more interesting it becomes for someone else to set up a platform there, including a brand.”  

Bumps in the road

While Zuckerberg himself is “pretty optimistic about this,” the announcement of Threads joining ActivityPub drew mixed reactions. Sure, Meta’s massive infrastructure could help scale the user base of other social networks within AcitivityPub and the fediverse, causing its popularity to surge. However, fediverse users worry the social media behemoth will overshadow smaller networks, bringing a surplus of ads and an unwelcome shift in the fediverse, which has around 11 million users. 

“Meta will use all the data they can gather from the fediverse to sell and run through AI,” said Mastodon user Michael Bishop in a post. “How can we block all interactions with Threads and other big tech?”

On paper, Meta’s push into the fediverse is to be a first-mover, “ushering in a new era of diverse and interconnected networks,” Meta stated in a blog post earlier this year. But with Meta’s track record as a walled garden with a lack of transparency around data collection, the utopian idea of interconnectedness may be a tough sell for some. 

In other words, it could be a counter play to Meta’s recent privacy woes, Ed East, co-founder and group CEO of influencer marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy, said in a previous Digiday story.

“Sceptics may say it’s yet another PR play from Meta to reposition their brand as ‘for the people,'” East said, “but personally, I think it could be smart as the onset of fediverse is the early wave of how Web3 technologies will impact creators and social media.”

It’s early days for Meta’s activity within the fediverse, and it’s taken longer to roll out than Meta initially thought it would, per Mosseri’s Thread’s posts. “This is just a baby step. We have a lot more work,” he said in a post. “This work is taking longer than we thought given our safety work, given our compliance work and given all the scrutiny on our company.”

Next year, there are plans to add the ability to post from Threads to other servers on ActivityPub, show replies natively and, eventually, follow accounts on other platforms from Threads, he said. Should Meta manage it (and marketers gain a better understanding of the fediverse), Threads could become the missing link between brands and the scalable, untapped communities of the fediverse. 

Given the chaos that ensued when Elon Musk took over Twitter, marketers have been more thoughtful about their social media presence and the brand safety on these platforms. After Musk gave the proverbial middle finger to advertisers at the DealBook conference in November, advertisers like IBM, Apple and Disney said they’d be taking their ad dollars elsewhere. 

In the fediverse, theoretically, brands may not be able to advertise yet, but they can own their data, communication and content instead of relying on a third-party platform. If nothing else, following Threads into the fediverse invites brands to join what could be the next phase of the internet.

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