Will Tumblr’s Dominion Over The Fediverse Be Automattic‽

If the Socialverse (social networks online) were the Star Trek universe, then the Fediverse would be The Federation: a union of multiple applications founded on the principles of liberty, equality, peace, justice & progress (ok, so maybe your’s truly borrowed some text from Star Trek).

Image Credit: From Star Trek, Deep Space Nine (image discovered via Memory Alpha)

What unites the Fediverse is the ability of different applications with different purposes, codes, philosophies, creators & business models to communicate using the ActivityPub protocol.

However, an ancient force in the Socialverse has appeared out of the WordPress Wormhole. This shape-shifting service can mimic many ActivityPub applications while serving a slice of ads on the side.

Known by friends, frenemies & foes as Tumblr, this recently acquired platform from Automattic can morph into:

Tumblr’s sheer size alone would dwarf the Fediverse, as the social blogging site boasts over 560 million blogs & 135 million monthly active users. Mastodon (currently the most prominent app in the Fediverse) has recently surpassed eight million accounts, of which approximately two million are active at least once a month.

From Tumblr Press

While Tumblr’s entrance into the Fediverse should be celebrated, its mere presence could result in Automattic dominating the Fediverse & potentially dictating the future direction of ActivityPub apps overall.

So how can current Fediverse apps compete when (not if) Tumblr enters their realm‽ By embracing their unique strengths & mimicking the tactics of rival platforms.

KISS: Keep Instance Signups Simple (AKA Easy)

Whether it’s Mastodon, Pixelfed, Pleroma, Misskey, Peertube, etcetera, many Fediverse apps are confusing newcomers (who are used to centralized social networks) by offering a decentralized sign-up process (basically asking people to choose a server).

Instead of offering a read the fraking manual response or sign-up guides for non-techies, Fediverse apps should drastically simplify the process by only offering two options:

  • Login or sign up with Fediverse.Yeah
  • Enter your existing server or domain

This would simplify the sign-up process for new people eager to leave centralized systems. Pixelfed is an excellent example of keeping sign-ups easy & straightforward.

Pixelfed Icon

To prevent servers from overloading with too many people, Federated apps could randomly rotate between a selection of servers (with permission from the respective server admins) as the first sign-up option with one caveat: The server must have the app name in the domain.

Requiring the full name of the software service in the domain will reduce confusion for newcomers, who might question why they are signing up for a site called Pxlmo.com (even though it is a Pixelfed server) & ditch the signup process altogether.

For example, if a person were signing up for Pixelfed, the first sign-up option would randomly rotate between:

Fediverse apps could also (via web or mobile app) detect the geolocation of the person signing up & offer a local option for users as the main signup option. A few examples would be:

As more people signup, Fediverse apps could begin referring to other servers without the name, but they should include a brief explanation in parentheses. Example: sign up to Pixey.org (a Pixelfed server).

Build An App For That

For better or worse, Apple’s App Store & Google Play will be the primary ways many people discover a Fediverse app. While having third party apps help, many people will be confused or skeptical without seeing an official app, something Twitter discovered years ago.

People everywhere should be able to access Twitter without friction or confusion. Careful analysis of the Twitter user experience in the iTunes AppStore revealed massive room for improvement. People are looking for an app from Twitter, and they’re not finding one. So, they get confused and give up. It’s important that we optimize for user benefit and create an awesome experience.

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve entered into an agreement with Atebits (aka Loren Brichter) to acquire Tweetie, a leading iPhone Twitter client. Tweetie will be renamed Twitter for iPhone and made free (currently $2.99) in the iTunes AppStore in the coming weeks. Loren will become a key member of our mobile team that is already having huge impact with device makers and service providers around the world. Loren’s work won the 2009 Apple Design Award and we will eventually launch Twitter for iPad with his help.

Official Twitter Blog

As many (if not most) people access their social networks via a mobile device, having an official app on Android & iOS can determine the difference between mass adoption & obscurity.

Having an official presence on Android, iOS & iPadOS is probably one of the reasons Mastodon is starting to gain popularity amongst the masses (compared to similar rivals), & Fediverse apps would be wise to adopt a similar strategy soon.

Taking Care Of Business

Unlike sites like Tumblr, most Fediverse creators behind Mastodon, Pixelfed, Funkwhale, Peertube, etcetera, do not have millions or billions of dollars, euros, etcetera at their disposal.

Although receiving donations from the Fediverse community is excellent, Fediverse creators should consider establishing freemium business models to compete against better-funded, centralized & decentralized rivals.

For example, Automattic (who owns Tumblr) heavily contributes towards WordPress, but they run their hosting service at WordPress.com (which helps further the development of WordPress overall).

Finding funding for Fediverse projects can come in a variety of flavors, & here are a few examples below:

  • Mastodon has a sponsorship page which many companies & individuals pay (note: yours truly is listed there) to have their name mentioned (this contributes towards further development)
  • The creator of WriteFreely runs a hosting service called Write.as which people can freely sign up upon but also pay for extra features. They also offer a premium app upon the App Store.
  • The creator of BookWyrm also offers managed hosting services (provided you are not a corporation).

While some Fediverse apps have found success primarily via donations (Framasoft, who develops Peertube, is a great example), creators—& even instance admins—should find a stable way to secure the necessary finances to compete against future rivals.

Future Frenemies To Battle With‽

Tumblr’s entrance into the Fediverse will increase the Fediverse Familia’s size. Still, the more significant interactions between apps and users will also increase the costs of maintaining servers & software applications.

It would not be surprising if Automattic fully integrates ActivityPub into other projects such as:

Other players like Flickr are pondering joining the Fediverse, which could inspire numerous companies to enter in the not-so-distant future (note: do not rule out Twitter joining as well).

To avoid a significant player or players entering the Fediverse, assimilating the ActvitityPub protocol & locking out long-time Fediverse applications, the Fediverse Familia needs to forge a bulwark against potential corporate bullies to avoid the fate of becoming legacy apps.