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Making Sense of Meta’s Move to Join the Fediverse 

Threads, Meta

Decentralization may be coming to social media’s walled gardens, and that means the future of social commerce could be more fediverse than it is metaverse.

But what exactly is the fediverse?

At a literal level, the fediverse is short for “federated universe” and it represents an alternative model for social networking that prioritizes decentralization, interoperability, privacy and community-driven development — harkening back to the early days of the internet, when developers were focused on building protocols, not platforms.

 This, as on Thursday (March 21) Meta announced it was integrating its Threads product into the fediverse — making the X competitor Meta’s first app for decentralized social networking. 

“First post in the fediverse!” Meta CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Threads post on Thursday, celebrating the news.

“We’re making progress integrating Threads into the fediverse and launching a beta in a few countries that lets people choose to federate their posts. If you see this and turn it on from your profile, you’ll see likes from federated platforms appear on your posts here,” he added.

Per the company’s own statement, the goal behind Threads was “always” to build a decentralized social networking app within the fediverse, where federated networking gives people greater control over their online identity and the content they see. 

Threads leverages ActivityPub — a decentralized, open social networking protocol built by the World Wide Web Consortium(W3C) – to connect to the fediverse. Meta’s initiative to bring the platform into the fediverse may have a downstream impact on the creator economy, allowing creators greater autonomy over their content and monetization strategies.

Read moreThreads Is Social Media’s Newest Nepo Baby, but Does It Have Staying Power?

Driving Social Commerce With Protocols, Not Platforms  

The internet as we know it today is very different than the internet as it was originally designed and built. The fundamental difference boils down to the development of open protocols versus private platforms.

For example, the early internet was based on instructions and standards that developers were able to build compatible interfaces atop of. These include such fundamental tasks such as emailing, which was done using SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), or chat, which was done over IRC (Internet Relay Chat). The World Wide Web was its own protocol, the HTTP, or HyperText Transfer Protocol.  

What happened in the decades since was that platforms leveraged existing open protocols to build private platforms. Gmail, for example, is based on open email protocols like SMTP that Google built its own features on top of to lock users in versus providing an interface. The benefits of this — for Google — is that by building a privately controlled online platform, companies can control and profit off of it while also rolling out new features and bug fixes in a more streamlined and agile way.

The fediverse already consists of a wide range of platforms catering to different types of content creators. PeerTube is a YouTube-style video hosting app, and Pixelfed is a decentralized Instagram. Mastodon — which is one of the fediverse’s biggest protocols — is a microblogging service and already boasts interoperability with Threads. 

Flipboard, a news aggregator and social network, announced in December that it was moving its entire platform over to the fediverse, a migration that is projected to finish this April.

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An Interconnected Social Platform Ecosystem

“The creators will decide which interface is better, where do they get better monetization rates, where do they get better engagement, where do they get higher quality engagement, and that will either start to create a network effect over at Threads, or it will decay very fast,” Amias Gerety, partner at QED Investors, told PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster in an earlier discussion about Meta’s Threads platform.

And some observers see in Zuckerberg’s move to the fediverse — and his statements that decision was based on helping Thread content reach more people — the fact that users may not be engaging with the social platform as much as expected. 

After all, while Threads has 130 million monthly active users as of Meta’s latest quarterly earnings report, its growth trajectory hasn’t been spectacular. X, formerly Twitter, boasts 25 times the amount of daily users as Threads.

About three weeks after the launch of Threads, on July 28, Threads had lost over half its users and rolled out its first major update of the app.

“We are looking at adding more ‘retention-driving hooks’ to entice users to return to the app, like ‘making sure people who are on the Instagram app can see important Threads,’” Chris Cox, chief product officer at Meta, said at the time. 

It appears that interoperability via the fediverse may shape up to be one of those “retention-driving hooks.”