Mark Zuckerberg on Threads & ActivityPub

I watched most of the interviews at and around the Code Conference, which happened to be around the same time as Meta Connect this year. So my world has been filled full of decrypting what tech CEOs are actually saying. One of the stand-out stars is this open and frank conversation with The Verges Alex Heath and Mark Zuckerberg is well worth a listen or watch.

I’ve pulled out some quotes from the transcript I found interesting. I focussed on the first portion of the interview on Threads and ActivityPub because I don’t really have any interest in AI or Metas new products. However, I do care about their open protocol ambitions.

an equally important part of designing any product is how it makes you feel, right? What’s the kind of emotional charge of it, and how do you come away from that feeling?

There was obviously some shade thrown here Elon and twitters way (I am still not calling it X). But there is a lot of truth in what he says about the way people use social networks is often dictated by the way they are designed. He goes on to say that “Twitter indexes very strongly on just being quite negative and critical” which is absolutely true. Not that the designers ever wanted to achieve this, but by leaning into fast-paced, post anything, get engagement from the whole user base, this is always where you end up. Something that gets worse with no work on curation and Elons ‘free speech’ nonsense.

how you seed the networks and the culture that you create there, I think ends up being pretty important for how they scale over time.

Mark and Adam Moseri have the luxury of building a network from the start, bootstrapping it to one of the ones they already have for a user base, and then leaning on their ability to scale up. No other network in history has had this, and Twitter certainly did not have the luxury of creating a culture. Sure, Threads might be building while the plane is in the air, but Twitter is bailing out a sinking ship.

a lot of people just don’t want to use an app where they come away feeling bad all the time, right? I think that there’s a certain set of people will either tolerate that because it’s their job to get that access to information, or they’re just warriors in that way. They want to be a part of that kind of intellectual combat.

As someone who got a lot of value from Twitter for years, and then didn’t any more, I knew exactly what Mark was saying here. It always left me feeling bad about the world, and no amount of curation and blocking could fix it.

Even when the world is moving towards richer and richer forms of sharing and consumption, I think that text isn’t going away, it’s still going to be a big thing. But I think how people feel is really important.

By all measures, text-based things should be dead by now. So many times have we been told voice first this, short form video that. Yet, text-based interaction just will not die.

ActivityPub

There as a whole load of quotes about ActivityPub and Threads. Many of which cover the same ground, so I might not comment on them all.

I’ve had our team at various times do the thought experiment of like all right, what would it take to move all of Facebook onto some kind of decentralized protocol? And it’s like that’s just not going to happen. There’s so much functionality that is on Facebook that it’s way too kind of complicated.

Interesting that Mark would at least claim to have thought about moving Facebook more open. His statement makes sense, but the constant closing down and siloing of information speaks for itself. I don’t think Mark is lying here, but words are easy to say.

one of the interesting things that’s evolving around this kind of the Twitter competitive space is a lot of the others. There is a real ecosystem around that and I think it’s interesting.

my view is that the more that there’s interoperability between different services and the more content can flow, the better all the services can be.

I actually think that we’ll benefit and we’ll be able to build better quality products by our products, making sure that we can have access to all of the different content from wherever anyone is creating it.

I think making it so they can use an alternative but can still interact with people on the network will make it so that that product also is more valuable. You can increase the quality of the product by making it so that you can give people access to all the content even if it wasn’t created on that network itself.

There is something encouraging about these statements, but they all feel a little too spun. I think there’s a shed load of advantages to Meta being able to point to ActivityPub interoperability, not least when questioned about timeline sorting and content moderation.

maybe for phase one of social networking, it was fine to have these systems that people felt a little more locked into.

There’s kind of this funny counterintuitive thing where I just don’t think that people like feeling locked into a system. So in a way, I actually think people will feel better about using our products if they know that they have the choice to leave.

This is more about enticing people in whilst also letting them consume other’s content than it is about users leaving and going elsewhere.

in a way that actually makes people feel more confident investing in a system if they know that they have freedom over how they operate.

if we can build threads on this, then maybe we can over time, as the standards get more built out, it’s possible that we can spread that to more of the stuff that we’re doing.

I think Meta see themselves as creating something that grows and expands on top of ActivityPub. I’ve said before that they would look to become the ‘blue bubble of new social media’, that offers more if you move to their Federated server – and then they can monetise your attention.

This whole conversation makes me feel more confident than ever that Threads will open up, but just a little. There are numerous moving parts, and they still do not really know where they stand with the EU and being outlined as a ‘gatekeeper’. So it’s a wait and see game, just don’t hold your breath.


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