In 1991, Geoffrey A. Moore described the challenges of introducing new technology products as Crossing the Chasm. The chasm is this very real gap between the earliest adopters and the early majority adopters of any new technology. By crossing the chasm, the momentum gained usually enables the technology to find market fit.
Most protocols, standards, products and services experience this gap in adoption. Even the internet followed the lifecycle described by Moore. I think it can be said that ActivityPub, though fairly well implemented in a variety of services for several years now, is about to cross that chasm in 2024.
Moore’s book explains that for a technology to cross that chasm it must provide a “whole product concept”. Protocols alone do not provide a whole product concept – they are but the foundation upon which many things can be built. Most people wouldn’t be able to explain what ActivityPub is. But most can explain what social networking is. People can understand the whole product concept of a social network. In the near future, people won’t need to know that these services use ActivityPub – they’ll just browse around the web and follow whatever they want. I hope.
ActivityPub has momentum.
We’re beginning to see a bevy of uses of ActivityPub springing up. It isn’t just Mastodon. The momentum is such that in the coming year we will see many more, broader, interesting, and weirder uses than I or you can think of today. It is very exciting.
Just think of what we’ve seen just recently (in no particular order):
- Medium, a publishing platform that has been used by past Presidents, has its own Mastodon instance that is tied into their platform.
- Mozilla has their own Mastodon instance and has open sourced their contributions to many related projects.
- Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, acquired the ActivityPub plugin and is funding its development. They’ve already made the plugin available to WordPress.com members (millions of websites) and are working on making it available on Tumblr as well (millions more).
- Threads has been experimenting with ActivityPub in the open. Several Threads accounts can be followed on Mastodon, Pixelfed, and other services. The CEO of Instagram/Threads has detailed out their roadmap for 2024. Like Meta or not, they are a juggernaut and many people and companies will become aware of ActivityPub as a result of Threads’ implementation.
- Flipboard (millions of users) has recently announced that in the first-half of 2024 they will be making Flipboard fully ActivityPub compatible. This would allow people on other platforms to follow Flipboard content, and for Flipboard users to do likewise outside of the Flipboard platform.
- Discourse, a forum platform, has an interesting ActivityPub implementation that allows multiple Discourse instances (millions of users) to federate as well as to the wider fediverse. Cool.
- Publications (such as The Verge) are embracing ActivityPub, and other open web protocols and standards, directly on their own platforms. They are also using bridges like Flipboard to help. See this post from Flipboard CEO Mike McCue on the number of day one partners Flipboard has helped bring to the fediverse.
This list isn’t exhaustive and yet it represents hundreds of millions of ActivityPub-enabled accounts, publications, websites, people, organizations, and platforms that will be federating their content both into and out of their own platforms in 2024.
There is still some hesitancy apparent in some of these implementations. For example, Threads has said federation will likely be opt-in. WordPress’ and Discourse’s implementation is still a “just a plugin” (albeit first party ones). But that is how these things start.
Will we see ActivityPub be built into the core of more products in 2024? Will it no longer be a plugin or option? Will platforms that choose not to federate be left out in the cold? What will social networking look like in 12 months? Time will tell.
No protocols are perfect, but there is a lot to love about ActivityPub and the platforms that choose to embrace it. Yes, a lot of this could have been handled with existing protocols. The same could have been said about many technologies over the years.
Often it isn’t the best technology that wins. It is the one that crosses the chasm.