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The Fediverse, Meta, and Enshittification

·596 words·3 mins
fediverse

Meta Threads can connect to Mastodon. This leads to heated discussions in the Fediverse. In my view, Meta has the technological edge over the Fediverse and enshittifiction is ensured. Should the Fediverse still federate with Threads?

The ActivityPub protocol underpins Mastodon and other Fediverse eco-systems. ActivityPub is an open W3C standard. With Threads Meta has developed their own idea of how a Mastodon competitor should look like.

Meta Will Outcompete Mastodon in Technology

Meta already has the edge over many Mastodon instances with, for example, better search. And Meta will further out-compete Mastodon on the technological level. This should come as no surprise

  1. Meta has enough users to not depend on the connectivity to Mastodon to sustain a large user base
  2. Meta has pockets deeper than likely the whole Fediverse together
  3. Meta controls the whole value chain and technology stack of Threads

If Marc Zuckerberg wants Threads to have a feature that would be a breaking change to non-Threads users, he can absolutely do that. Meta does not need to think of other Mastodon users (#1), they can burn sums to big for hobbyists (#2), and any moral questions or bike-shedding can be resolved by a stern look or fired employee (#3).

Compared to the decentralized system of Mastodon where especially #2 and #3 will make any fundamental changes very, very difficult.

The Walled Garden and The Big Four

This out-competing will bring many benefits to the users of Threads. Better features, better integration into Facebook & Instagram, etc. If this will not draw more users to Meta, it will at least make it less likely that Threads users migrate to comparable mediocre Mastodon instances.

Meta will use this leverage to follow the classical pattern (with a fourth extra E)

  1. Embrace
  2. Extend
  3. Extinguish
  4. Enshittificate

We can already see #2 happening: Here (only for registered users) an admin of a Mastodon instance states that posts by Threads can consume a lot of storage. In the example only 7 posts total to ~30MB of media storage. Even if this is not an extension of the protocol, it is a extension of the expected user behavior. Each stored byte and each byte on the network cost money. Toots are duplicated across the Fediverse, so the total cost is amplified by the number of instances that a Toot reaches. For that reason Toots are meant to be short (small).

Many Mastodon instances do not intent to realize a profit, they are hobbyist instances. These large Toots will incur a huge increase in cost for these instances. A cost that they are likely unwilling or unable to pay. Leading to them either to give up (#3) or filter out Threads.

Quo vadis Fediverse?

I personally like the Fediverse for its core idea: decentral, censorship resistant, and "in my own hands". Even if hosting their own instance is not an option for 99.999% of all Fediverse users, the possibility to do so is liberating. I do not want to depend on a large company to sustain the tools I depend on. This is not for everyone. Most people do not care about the philosophy, FOSS, or even data protection & security. But I do. So it is my choice.

The biggest fear I have is that the Fediverse goes the way of the Dodo SMTP. In theory everybody can host their own mail server. In practice this means that you better call the recipient of an e-mail from your server beforehand, so they know that they need to look into their Spam folder.

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