Mastodon founder touts Threads’ federation, saying it makes his X rival ‘a far more attractive option’

Mastodon founder touts Threads' federation, saying it makes his X rival 'a far more attractive option'

Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko lauds Threads’ entry into the decentralized social media space, saying the move will make Mastodon — the open source Twitter/X rival — “a far more attractive option.” Mastodon’s app, which is powered by the decentralized social networking protocol ActivityPub, has gained more attention in the wake of Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, a network that’s been since renamed X to reflect Musk’s ambitions to turn the microblogging platform into an everything app encompassing creators, payments, video, live audio and shopping.

Those unhappy with Twitter’s changes have been scoping out other platforms, including Mastodon, an open source alternative, as well as challengers from other startups like Spill, Spoutible, Post, Bluesky and others. But with Instagram’s entry into the “Twitter clone” space, things have shifted once again. Now there’s a Twitter alternative with Meta’s sizable resources behind it, which helped it to grow to nearly 100 million monthly active users only three months post-launch. Mastodon today has just 1.5 million monthly actives, for comparison.

More importantly for Mastodon, Meta committed to integrating Threads with ActivityPub, meaning users would be able to find and follow both Mastodon and Threads users across both services. While many expected that integration wouldn’t arrive until early 2024, Meta surprised everyone by announcing yesterday that it would begin testing ActivityPub integration.

“Making Threads interoperable will give people more choice over how they interact and it will help content reach more people. I’m pretty optimistic about this,” said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post on Threads.

Zuckerberg didn’t explain how the integration would work, but Rochko cleared up the confusion with a post on Mastodon where he said federation — meaning the connection of Threads to the wider group of servers running decentralized social apps — was “one-way for now.” That means Mastodon users can follow “a few selected” Threads user profiles — like Instagram head Adam Mosseri — on Mastodon, but the reverse isn’t yet true.

Threads users’ profiles on Mastodon weren’t backfilled with their older posts before the integration went live. Instead, the profiles will feature posts from this point forward while a message instructs you that “older posts from other servers are not displayed.” A link to “browse more on the original profile” will take users over to Threads instead.

Rochko has been largely positive about having the tech giant embrace ActivityPub and decentralized social media, having earlier said, “The fact that large platforms are adopting ActivityPub is not only validation of the movement towards decentralized social media, but a path forward for people locked into these platforms to switch to better providers.”

The Mastodon founder also downplayed concerns that Meta’s entry could lead to an “embrace-extend-extinguish” situation for the ActivityPub protocol — a reference to how big companies enter markets with existing standards, then extend those standards with proprietary capabilities to squash competition.

“…even if Threads abandoned ActivityPub down the line, where we would end up is exactly where we are now,” Rochko pointed out in a blog post this summer.

Image Credits: Eugen Rochko on Mastodon

As the integration goes live, Rochko touted the move as “exciting,” and “huge for Mastodon,” saying in a post on the platform that it’s a “step towards the interoperable social web that we’ve been advocating for.”

In addition, he points out that having access to all Threads users from a Mastodon account makes the app more attractive, considering its other perks.

That same argument is being made by the Mastodon third-party client, Mammoth, backed by Mozilla, which believes that its app will offer a competitive user interface that will be more approachable for newcomers to decentralized social media, and a viable alternative to Threads, including for those users who don’t want to create an account with Meta. While Threads has distanced itself from news, saying it would not “amplify” news on its platform, Mammoth has embraced news partnerships and curation, which it expects may appeal to those leaving Twitter/X for other apps.

With Threads’ integration into Mastodon’s ecosystem, users will have more choice in how they want to engage with Threads users and content, including by accessing those accounts from an app of their choosing.

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