I got you with the clickbait headline. I mean it’s true, but as with most things, the real answer is: It depends. I read with excitement David Pierce’s article on POSSE for The Verge, as if it were some new technology to change the internet. The framing of the article aside, it is rare to see such excitement about boring indie web things like ActivityPub from the tech media. It feels as if one of the founding ideas of the internet, that one’s personal website should be the cornerstone, has returned like the proverbial prodigal son — and I love it!
This is a topic that is very close to my heart, one that has existed for decades but is gaining more traction since the demise of Twitter and the rise of X. I intentionally write about those two things as separate entities as I believe the start of one signalled the end of the other. David’s post is because of a wider spark and interest in the things that should have been building the web for a long time, as we escape from the web silos that have kept our content for themselves.
The idea is simple, it’s right there in the name, you Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. So everything that you want to post — whether it be an image, an article, a link, whatever — goes on your website. Whether you wish to call that a blog or not is up to you, but the salient fact is that you post it to a space you own. We could go deeper into the fact that you’re just renting space online from more gatekeepers, but I am not ready for that just yet.
In theory, this makes the most sense. You own all the content you put online, your Twitter thread that should have been a blog post, now is a blog post. Should the site you posted to go away, or you choose to leave, you still have the thing you posted. The problem is: The idea starts to break down when you consider that very few areas of the internet let you do this, and even if they do, it isn’t really correct and it’s far too much work.
Networks have different audiences, different people, different norms, different ways of engaging with the system. At some point, if you’re just posting to a bunch of places all at once, aren’t you basically spam? — David Pierce.
Dave Winer wrote the initial response I stumbled upon, who points out this fact articulately. There is an issue when POSSE is often synonymous with cross posting to different websites, and that relies on them all supporting the content you want to post in the same way. Should they do so (they don’t) you now need several accounts scattered across the web to do so, and frankly that is too much work.
Cross Posting vs ActivityPub
Since reading Dave’s post, numerous retorts have sprung up, with good arguments for and against the ideas in POSSE — and a few missing the point entirely and ranting about something else. I agree, there are plenty of nuances here. As above, I think the idea is sound and makes perfect sense, I just think there is too much onus on the person to do the running around and manage the services. You can’t treat a social network like an RSS feed that people subscribe to. I guess you can, but that sucks a bit, doesn’t it.
Social media is, and should be, a two-way street. Yes, there are bots, and if you are intending your POSSE to be one, then be explicit about it, but you should really be managing replies and comments on everywhere you post. Otherwise, it feels like social media ghosting. As I wrote about in 2022, posting as if you are there, and then not checking in feels horrible. Micro.blog is still littered with people that put in their RSS feed years ago, so it appears as if they are posting, but they left a long time ago.
This is where ActivityPub gets it right. This isn’t cross posting, it’s consuming the same post in several places. The replies are the same, and it doesn’t matter where they come from. The post I write on my blog, syndicates everywhere, it isn’t cross posting. My blog post is the Mastodon post (or wherever else works with ActivityPub), not a facsimile of it that I never see. I don’t have to go and check everywhere else it appears, I don’t even need an account anywhere else. My blog post is all that’s needed, and that is how it should be.
Not everyone agrees, of course. Manton Reece, who David interviewed for his POSSE post and subsequent podcast, thinks your posts should be able to be consumed everywhere. That’s simply because we don’t live in an ideal world where everything supports ActivityPub. It remains to be seen if Meta will actually bring it into Threads. So cross posting is all we have. It just requires some thought, and I am not convinced everyone needs to cross post everywhere. Unless you live off the clicks, it’s far too much work.