Last Week in Fediverse – ep 66

Another busy newsweek in the fediverse: the EU pilot for the fediverse comes to an end, but the European Commission will stay on the fediverse; Ghost announces that they will support ActivityPub and build a fediverse news reading client, and Mastodon creates a U.S.-based non-profit.

EU Voice and EU Video ends their 2 year pilot program

The EU has had a presence on the fediverse with the EU Voice (Mastodon) and EU Vision (PeerTube) projects over the last 2 years. These two projects will get shut down next month, as no institution within the EU could be found that was willing to take on the responsibility. This problem was a long time in the making, with the EDPS already warning against this happening in fall 2023. The pilot project was supposed to run for one year, and was extended for second year.

The issue is that the EU fediverse project is currently run by the European Data Protection Supervisor. The pilot project as originally envisioned focused on showing that social networks that do respect individual rights are possible, which is why the EDPS claims the pilot as a success. However, as the fediverse grows and matures, the fediverse itself has moved from an experiment to a serious player in the space of social networks. Presence by the EU on the fediverse demands more serious attention and commitment from an organisation that specialises in this, and the EDPS feels that they themselves are not a good fit for facilitating the EU fediverse presence anymore. The problem is that the EDPS could not find another organisation within the EU that was willing to take on the responsibility.

The most notable fediverse account of the EU is the account of the European Commission, with some 100k followers. The account of the European Commission confirmed that they will stay active on Mastodon, stating:

“We are working on a solution to ensure our continued presence on your feeds, taking full advantage of Mastodon’s identity portability. And we are even growing the team behind our Mastodon presence, increasing efforts to engage with your comments on our posts. We are fully committed to being a real part of the conversation in the fediverse.”

My personal reading on the situation is that this is a necessary painful transition to go through, and the fact that the European Commission will stay active and increase their efforts is good news. The EU is a hugely diverse and complex organisation, to put it mildly, and I am doubtful that having one singular institute within the EU organisation that is responsible for all of the EU’s fediverse presence is going to work out. It is not surprising to me that the EDPS could not find a group or organisation within the EU that was willing to take on the responsibility of ownership. The sales pitch for taking ownership of the EU Voice is basically: “if things go great, you’ll have ownership and responsibility for social presence of a large number of EU politicians and organisations”. That does sound like a frightening amount of responsibility to take on, especially since it is unclear what this means in practice. The more logical way forward seems to me is to have many different EU fediverse servers, where each EU organisation becomes responsible for their own presence. That seems to be the direction that the account of the European Commission is taking as well.

Ghost and Buttondown announce plans to join the fediverse

Newsletter platform Ghost announced that they will soon join the fediverse, in a web page that basically amounts to a manifesto on the importance of the fediverse and ActivityPub, with plans to support ActivityPub in 2024. Together with Ghost, email newsletter service Buttondown also announced they are working on adding ActivityPub support, and that they are working together with Ghost on the implementation.

There are two parts to Ghost’s announcement, Ghost founder John O’Nolan explains: “We offer multiple methods of distribution for posts, the web, RSS feeds, email, and – soon – ActivityPub! So, publishers will be able to distribute their content easily to the ActivityPub network. Additionally, we’re building an ActivityPub reader client into Ghost, so publishers can also follow and subscribe to content from within their admin area.”

The first part is quite straightforward: ActivityPub will become an option to distribute posts made on Ghost. You can already follow long-form articles (such as from WordPress) with your fediverse account, and now Ghost and Buttondown will become two other options.

The second part is quite a few steps bigger, as Ghost is building a reader client that is based on ActivityPub, of which they showed a few screenshots on their website. It seems like Ghost is building a fairly direct competitor of the reader client that Substack offers. The fediverse does not have a great place to read native long-form writing yet, and Mastodon stands out in offering only fairly basic support for it, compared to other platforms. Ghost’s reader client might just become a great place to read WordPress, WriteFreely or Buttondown articles as well.

Ghost adding support for ActivityPub has been a top requested for years, and when I asked O’Nolan why now was the right time to implement it, he said that “it feels like we have a critical mass of momentum in 2024 with a significant number of platforms taking ActivityPub seriously – which is creating the type of consumer awareness needed for a new protocol to take off.”

Newsletter software Buttondown is also implementing ActivityPub, and Ghost’s announcement mentions them working together (as well as with Mastodon and others). Buttondown’s founder Justin explains that they are particularly interested in it simpler and easier for platforms to adopt ActivityPub down the line. Justin says that “Despite the great work done by early adopters and the spec authors, there’s still a lot of undefined behavior and non-obvious design decisions that must be made when onboarding to AP.” Both Buttondown and Ghost also mention the possibility of having premium or gated content as a project that they are collaborating on. The question of how to implement federation in combination with paid content is an open question with wider interest: in response to Ghost’s announcement, The Verge’s editor-in-chief Nilay Patel responded that The Verge is also interested in having paid newsletters that connect to the fediverse.

In the article on Ghost by The Verge, Nilay Patel says that “At this point I’m not sure any social platform that launches without an eye towards federation stands a chance, really.” I agree, but I think the example of Ghost provides an example new and interesting phenomenon: using ActivityPub as a differentiator to compete with existing products, in this case Substack’s news reader.

Mastodon forms a U.S. non-profit

Mastodon has formed a new U.S. non-profit organisation. The new non-profit is to facilitate U.S.-based fundraising, as well as promote Mastodon in there, Mastodon CTO Renaud Chaput says. The ‘operating structure is still the Germany-based Mastodon gGmbH’, Chaput also said. Mastodon also reveals that their non-profit status has been revoked in Germany, which they have appealed. Mastodon says they do not know why it has been revoked. The organisation also has gotten large individual donations of $100k each, from Stack Overflow co-founder Jeff Atwood and Mozilla, which has allowed Mastodon to hire a third full-time programmer.

Mastodon also announced the five board members for the U.S. non-profit, of which two has led to some critical comments within the larger fediverse community: Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and legal advisor Amir Ghavi. Ghavi is involved in Blockchain and AI Technologies, technologies that the fediverse community is critical of, and Mastodon CEO Eugen Rochko himself is also has spoken out against. Both Ghavi and Stone are involved in the space of venture capital, which also has drawn criticism within the community, as they feel that it goes against the values of the fediverse.

The News

IFTAS, the organisation for Trust & Safety in the fediverse, has published their Spring update to give an update on all the projects they are working on. Their biggest project is an opt-in content classification system, that allows instance admins to send their media to IFTAS for a hash-scan for CSAM. Another major project is the FediCheck/CARIAD project, their moderation-as-a-service domain federation app. With FediCheck instance admins can have an automatically updated block lists that covers the basics. FediCheck is not intended to provide a fully complete block list, instead it is a starting point that covers the worst instances, so that new instance admins do not have to start with a blank slate.

Streaming software Owncast has published their recent newsletter, in which they announce that Owncast is available again on the Roku store. The Owncast Directory allows you to browse through the Owncast channels that are currently live (and opt into being part of the directory), and it is now available as a Roku channel as well. This is after a brief hiatus after Roku discontinued the publishing system that Owncast originally used.

Digiday, a trade magazine for online media, writes how the US ban on TikTok creates instability in the current state of online platforms. It describes how some platforms, such as Flipboard, Threads and Ghost are moving to the fediverse instead. Most notable is their citation of The Verge’s editor-in-chief Nilay Patel, who is quoted saying that ‘The Verge says it also has plans to federate its own site to have more ownership over its content and audience’.

Pixelfed creator Daniel Supernaut has shared some more information about the upcoming short video platform Loops: the onboarding flow, a short description of the algorithm that is used by Loops, and a first (non-federating) Loop itself.

The links

  • The DotSocial Podcast by Flipboard’s Mike McCue talks with two people from Threads.
  • WeDistribute’s podcast Decentered interviewed WordPress’ ActivityPub plugin creator Matthias Pfefferle.
  • WeDistribute wrote about ActivityPods, a combination of the Solid and ActivityPub protocols.
  • A development update for upcoming platform Memory, which is based on ActivityPods.
  • A development update for PieFed for April 2024.
  • Cross-server Interactions in ActivityPub, a blog by Evan Prodromou.
  • TheNewStack talks about identity management in the fediverse.
  • FediGames allows you to play some simple games over ActivityPub.
  • A new roadmap for Lemmy app Mlem.
  • A migration guide for moving from Mastodon to Sharkey, which explains how you can keep all of your content (including posts and lists) when you move.
  • For the people interested in protocol development: Evan Prodromou posted new documentation for ActivityPub Miscellaneous Terms.
  • Mastodon for the Nintendo 3ds?
  • RSS reader app feeeeds latest update has ActivityPub follows.

That’s all for this week, thanks for reading!