(This is an extended version of one of the most widely re-shared post I have ever written on Mastodon.)
The new "Threads" app by Meta (Facebook) is just the old 4-E strategy strategy to destroy Mastodon:
- 1. Embrace:
(what they are doing now) launch a competing but compatible service with that of Mastodon. The vast majority of users, most of whom don't care about the privacy and intimacy of the Mastodon network, will go with the brand with the most name recognition. The number of users already signed up for Threads shows this to be true.
- 2. Extend:
make their service appear to be better with features like search, which they have the resources to do, but the rest of the Mastodon network does not. Also include features for tracking and advertising, sell this as a good thing, "a better place to grow your personal brand, your business." When people think about joining either Facebook Threads or some other Mastodon instance, which will they choose? "Oh, Threads users can also talk with Mastodon users so they are basically the same? Well, why not just use Threads then?" The one with the most name recognition will always win.
Then comes the blogs and YouTube videos about, "I tried Threads, Bluesky, Mastodon, Pixelfed, each for 1 month, here is what I learned" type videos in which the author decides Threads or Bluesky is best because they have better features and you don't have to decide which instance to join.
- 3. Extinguish:
after attracting a critical mass of users large enough to decimate the user base of the competing Mastodon network, and temporarily making appear to have better features like search, quietly remove compatibility with the Mastodon network.
This might effect only 10% of Mastodon users because the other 90% will be on Threads. Then people will think, "who cares if we lose contact with that tiny minority of old Mastodon users, they should have just joined Threads by now anyways, they still can. It has search, and more people voted for it with their patronage. And you don't have to think about what instance to join, its easier!"
At this point, people begin to wonder what the point of Mastodon even is.
- 4. Enshittification:
without any real competition to keep people from leaving for an alternative, start exploiting users for more and more content for ad revenue, while also exploiting advertisers with ever-increasing costs of ad revenue, while also cutting costs on the quality of their service until it becomes unusable. But at this point it is too late for Mastodon, the momentum it once had is now long gone and no longer a threat to the Meta corporation. Their investment paid off.
Meta is one of the worlds largest corporations that has made most of its money not just through advertising but from gathering and selling people's personal information. They are scared to death about losing control over the Internet that they had gained over the past 15 years or so, and they are fighting to take that control back for themselves.
We built this, but now a corporation like Meta/Facebook feels they have the right to exploit it for all its riches until it is destroyed. Don't let it happen. Join the Fediblock cause, it is the only way to protect our home-grown community from corporate take-over.
Eugene Rochko thinks Threads is good, he is wrong
Eugene Rochko who developed Mastodon as a Twitter-like app based on the ActivityPub protocol, has a blog post explaining why he thinks federating with Threads is good for Mastodon.
We have been advocating for interoperability between platforms for years. The biggest hurdle to users switching platforms when those platforms become exploitative is the lock-in of the social graph, the fact that switching platforms means abandoning everyone you know and who knows you. 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. Which in turn, puts pressure on such platforms to provide better, less exploitative services. This is a clear victory for our cause, hopefully one of many to come.
No, Threads will get people to leave Mastodon in droves. Really all
Facebook is doing here is leaching users away from Mastodon. The
average user doesn't know or care about the
non-Facebook Mastodon instances that Eugene is talking about. They
will go with the service with the most name recognition every time,
rather than trust an independent, small-time instance operator.
Threads is just Facebook with ActivityPub compatibility and extended Facebook's ads and tracking. The goal is to pull people away from decentralized networks and back to being under their control. Then the network effects Eugene is talking about will kick in, but moving people away from Mastodon and toward Threads.
History repeats itself again
We have seen all this before. Google did something similar when they first embraced support for the open and federated XMPP protocol in their Google Talk (GChat) app, and exactly the situation I described above happened. Eventually Google shut it down, and started calling the original XMPP apps "unauthorized third-party apps," although in fact Google was itself originally a third-party to the existing XMPP services that existed before GChat was invented.
People can and do still use XMPP, and I would encourage you to use it as well for video/voice/text chat. But all that momentum and popularity was extinguished, and was never really regained, at least not in the 9 years since Google extinguished it. So Google was successful in destroying a community of federated services using a popular communication protocol that made it difficult for Google to track and control people on the Internet.
We know for sure what Facebooks goal is not: they do not want to do something good for the various communities of people that have organically sprung-up around Mastodon and the other ActivityPub-based federated social networks. Mastodon does not need to make this mistake with Facebook Thraeds.
Mastodon and ActivityPub are important
Mastodon became most popular in the wake of Elon Musk buying out the Twitter corporation. Calling himself a "free speech aboslutist," which sounds as though he believes everyone should have a voice online no matter how unsavory that voice might be, quickly proved to be anything but a proponent of free speech, quietly censoring his critics and the political groups he hated, while giving a voice to everyone else, including (seemingly enthusiastically) giving a voice to racists and hate speech.
This happens every so often, although not always with the amount of drama churning around a single central figure such as Elon Musk. People see how dangerous it is that the communities we form over the Internet can only actually exist at the whims of an impersonal corporation that might at any point go insane and destroy their communities. When an Elon Musk event happens, then the problem becomes clear to everyone: they had been putting their faith into a monarch and/or despot like Twitter, and now it has turned against them.
The solution to this is, and always has been, the democratic approach, which in this case is Mastodon. Do not allow any one authority to have aboslute control over the plane of existence. Allow people to opt-in, and give them a say in how their community is run. Trust that people are smart enough to understand what is in their own best interest, and allow them to make their own decisions and cast their own votes. This is how ActivityPub and Mastodon work. But if a democracy is not careful, it can easily be overwhelmed and elimitated by the well-equipped armies competing for their resources.