ActivityPub, Decentralization - Do Users Care?

Jul 8, 2023

Threads was initially conceived as a social network that supports ActivityPub, a protocol used by Mastodon, Lemmy (a Reddit-style aggregator), and WordPress. ActivityPub promises portability between applications — allowing users to interact or follow Threads users from other applications.

The Threads launch announcement talks in detail about the benefits of supporting ActivityPub. Except Threads didn’t launch with any support for ActivityPub.

Allegedly, the launch timeline was accelerated by Mark Zuckerberg after Elon Musk made a mistake in enacting poorly thought-out rate limits for Twitter users.

Threads has passed 70 million users a day after launching. Users currently love the application. Without any decentralization, Meta has deployed the infrastructure to keep Threads running without much pain — a few bugs here and there, but extremely impressive for the world’s fastest scaling application ever. There isn’t an influx of bots or harassment (yet). Malicious users are banned or reported. There are no arbitrary fiefdoms or rules set by server moderators (well, Meta).

There is a vocal minority that cares deeply about decentralization, but the majority do not know about it or care about it. Users seem to care about uptime, network effects, low signup friction, real humans (not bots), and tools to curate their feeds. Some of these have been extremely difficult to design in decentralization-first applications (e.g., Mastodon, Lemmy). Will Meta follow through on its promise for ActivityPub in a material way? Do users care? Can you back in a different architecture (ActivityPub) to a highly centralized backbone (Instagram)?