Meta connects Threads to the Fediverse

Doing things outside the walled garden is kinda hard, devs admit

Meta's totally-not-a-Twitter clone, Threads, has joined the Fediverse.

The Social Network™️ on Thursday announced a beta that enables users in some countries – aged 18 or over and with public profiles – to share their Threads posts to other ActivityPub-compliant servers.

ActivityPub is a protocol devised by the World Wide Web Consortium that allows interoperability between social networks that implement it. The protocol has come to be associated with the "Fediverse" because it enables federated social networks – in which posts flow form one network to another, regardless of owner or operator.

Federation is not new – it's the concept that allows discrete email servers to exchange messages without the need for a central digital post office – but social networks mostly started life as private entities, so preferred to keep participants within their own virtual walls.

Open source social network Mastodon is a fine example of the Fediverse at work. Mastodon users join a server, but their posts can be seen by users of any other Mastodon server. The user experience is therefore a lot like using any other social network – you see a stream of posts from other users – but users' identities and data are tied to the Mastodon server to which they signed up.

Meta's ActivityPub implementation will mean opted-in users' posts will be viewable on other ActivityPub-compliant servers.

But replies to posts won't appear in Threads – users will need to visit other Fediverse servers to view responses to their posts.

Meta software engineer Christopher Su and security engineer Simon Blackstein wrote that more integrations between Threads and the Fediverse are planned, but that building them is hard.

"Take quote posts as an example," the pair wrote. "They're a popular feature across all social media, but ActivityPub does not have a formal specification for how to handle them yet. Thus, Fediverse servers have come up with their own methods of integrating and handling quote posts. Some servers allow for creating and viewing quote posts; others don't support the function at all."

The pair detail the workarounds some services make to handle quote posts, and explain their choice to use one created by federated microblogging project Misskey to make it possible.

Su and Blackstein reveal that Meta plans "a phased approach to Threads' Fediverse integration."

"In the future, we expect content to flow from the Fediverse into Threads. Federated Threads users will be able to see and engage with replies to their posts coming from other servers, or follow people on other Fediverse servers and engage with their content directly in Threads."

At some future point, Fediverse-enabled Threads profiles will "have one consolidated number of followers that combines users that followed them from Threads and users from other servers."

The two explained that Meta is doing this "so that people across services have the opportunity to experience the benefits the Fediverse offers via a fully interoperable experience, including reaching new audiences and fostering their community."

Which is a nice change from "making the world a better place."

It's also a nod to the fact that so-called "Twitter quitters" may have opened accounts on Threads and any number of other Fediverse servers. Interoperability will mean Meta stands a better chance of understanding their behavior – which it needs to do in order to monetize everything you do online, wherever you do it. Forever. ®

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