ActivityPub might be a transitional technology

I've written about federated social media before.

Activitypub could be the future
This is an older post brought back from a dead blog. It has an informal followup in the form of my post on Bluesky, Mastodon, and federated networks in general. Beyond Mastodon and Bluesky - Toward a Protocol-Agnostic FederationYou’ve heard of stuff like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Make an
Beyond Mastodon and Bluesky - Toward a Protocol-Agnostic Federation
You’ve heard of stuff like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Make an account on one, and it only works there. You can’t send a DM to your friend on Twitter from Facebook Messenger. You can’t browse your friend’s Instagram feed from Twitter. Each one is closed off

The trouble with trying to predict the future is we only have the past to guide our predictions. I didn't expect Facebook to create Threads and for millions of people to make accounts there. I didn't think much of Bluesky: at best, I thought the AT Protocol might survive the inevitable collapse.

I didn't really know much about the people behind Bluesky, so I didn't know how they thought about social media, and I didn't know how serious they were about the driving principles that originally created the project under Twitter.

Here in the future, Bluesky continues to shed the problematic aspects of its origins. Jack Dorsey is out.

Bluesky Is Building The Decentralized Social Media Jack Dorsey Wants, Even If He Doesn’t Realize It
There was a bit of news in the world of decentralized social media over the past few weeks. It kicked off with the announcement that Jack Dorsey had left the board of Bluesky. This was followed by …
In this chaos, Bluesky became a sort of weird hybrid approach. It started out building for that first scenario (Twitter’s gonna bring the audience) and ended up having to do the second (build something new and hope the users come) all because of the third scenario (Elon bringing complete chaos to the ecosystem) suddenly opened up a new opportunity for the second scenario.
In other words, in the past, Bluesky was supposed to be the protocol, with Twitter being one platform using Bluesky’s protocol. But when Elon killed everything, Bluesky also had to step up and replace the Twitter part — the service part — itself, offering a reference app built on the protocol.

I figured Bluesky would die off, and someone working on ActivityPub would pick up the pieces of AT protocol to shore up the deficincies of ActivityPub. In particular:

  • Lack of account portability
  • More important, no way to move your account when your instance dies

Bluesky still kind of has this problem. Not many people run a PDS (equivalent to Mastodon's instances) and if there's a way to migrate your data from a dead PDS to a new one using what's stored in a relay, it probably involves a console and a bunch of commands no ordinary user is going to bother with.

What's changed is I believe the Bluesky people are thinking about and working on this, and will eventually get there. Stackable moderation has sincerely made all the difference in my social media experience. For example: there was a filter list for GIFs the day Bluesky added them. People could post their annoying, useless GIFs, and I could continue to have a functional timeline free of them. Paired with Aegis and the screenshot filter, it's a very usable, low stress experience.

Feeds also made a difference. These filter the firehose of posts coming in from relays and give you different lenses into the mass of posts swirling around this nascent non-ActivityPub fediverse. If I want to look at furry art, I can do that. If I want dinner ideas, there's a feed for that. There's a feed for all time top posts, and a feed for when I want to laugh at my own jokes.

Kye Fox (
Kung-Fu Fighting and Ballroom Blitz are the same event told from different perspectives.

I thought these concepts could come tougher with ActivityPub and make a useful, robust multi-protocol system that benefited from the user base of one and the technology of the other.

The thing is: ActivityPub is Mastodon, like it or not. Most of the users are on Mastodon. Most of the platforms have to play ball with quirks and self-interested decisions in Mastodon's implementation of ActivityPub. All the while everyone but a handful of people just kind of pretends everything is fine, and that it's good and normal for one platform to drive what's supposed to be an open network six years into Mastodon's deployment of ActivityPub.

Threads from FacebookMeta is on its way to becoming what Mastodon is now at an incredible scale: a driving force that doesn't have to listen to anyone when deciding what to do. People are in denial about it, but it's inevitable Facebook and any other big tech company that follows along will come to dominate the specification and its direction the way they have with the web.

You thought it was bad when the well-intentioned but sometimes bullheaded Eugen ran the show. Now you get Mark Zuckerberg. ActivityPub will probably be fine for now, but it's going to increasingly become a glue protocol between enormous proprietary platforms, then get phased out as they remember why they phased out or hid RSS and XMPP: no one's figured out how to sell ads to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a month on open protocols.

Don't be surprised if smaller platforms, including those with or adding support for ActivityPub like and Ghost, start adding AT protocol support over the next few years the same way Mastodon started with OStatus, then supported both OStatus and ActivityPub, then switched entirely to ActivityPub. AT isn't necessarily better in any fundamental way, but the coherent simultaneous development of protocol and platform, plus the game-changing concepts built on to the open protocol like stackable moderation and feeds make it better.

And now I believe the people behind it are devoted enough to this vision to see it through.