Its early days but we are now seeing a number of tech companies launching their own Mastodon instances in the last few weeks. Not so much the "big" techs just yet... maybe the "medium" techs - pun intended.
This includes Medium, Mozilla, and Flipboard.
Each allow login only via account credentials from the respective existing user accounts, which means you can't actually create a standalone Mastodon account on those servers on its own, you actually need to create for example a Firefox account to log into mozilla.social, or have a Medium account to log into me.dm.
Many of these companies seem to be keeping low key for now as they trial their instance. There is indeed a slight "beta" quality to them, with limited users, stock Mastodon and minor customization.
What could the big boys moving in mean for Mastodon, ActivityPub and the wider Fediverse?
- Adds legitimacy to Mastodon, ActivityPub and the wider Fediverse, in the eyes of the average person.
- Seemingly "legit" new servers to join, from big brand names, which might seem less intimidating to average people (e.g. the old "why do I need to choose an instance?" question), increasing user base of Mastodon.
- The more people join, the more seriously ActivityPub will be taken, as a true ubiquitous W3C endorsed standard, along side email and HTTP.
- For existing users of those services, they don't need to create another account... no small thing given the friction of having to "OMG, choose a server!?!?" that many new users suffer.
- Potential for a good default experience for new users (e.g. on Mediums instance, it could by default import your existing list of writers you follow).
- So far all of these instances appear to be mainly vanilla Mastodon, integrating with the Fediverse as per normal, and do not yet seem to have a motive to become siloed.
- Such instances may be more reliable and performant than some of the smaller instances (or even big ones... run by teams of one), being backed by a team employed by a big company.
- Mastodon falling under a GPL license means that anyone hosting must disclose source, which for now, keeps hosts somewhat more honest.
- Login is for existing user account holders only. This is understandable but also limiting. This also essentially links your Mastodon activity to your existing account, so not only are you are less anonymous, presumably your activity on their server is far more valuable to the host.
- Personal Speculation: these instances may be "beta" quality for now vs existing long running instances, given the long years of experience of existing admins, including living through the usage spikes caused by great exodus from Twitter.
- Currently each instance seems to be using fairly stock standard Mastodon, but I'm sure they will increasingly add their own branding and tweaks at minimum. However they might start to modify the original intent and design of the app. This might be both good or bad, e.g. useful features vs adding monetization, clickbaity algorithms, agenda pushing, or ads (e.g. Truth Social 👎). You can of course still chose to access the server using a different client (as long as its API is open).
- Eventually some of these companies may develop their own closed source ActivityPub service from scratch avoiding the GPL licensing of Mastodon. In this case, there is a lot less limit to what they can get away with while still being a part of the Fediverse. At that point they will try to lock in users to keep using their semi-closed system.
- Potential contagion from the "Dead Internet"? Big-tech interest could lead to a flood of annoying bots, clickbait and algorithmic AI garbage into the Fediverse. The good news is that there is a very high degree of control which should allow individual users and instances to keep it under control.
- These companies could decide to pull the plug at any time the instance no longer serves their interests.
What your your thoughts? So far I think the more the merrier, it gives people options if they want it. I think its inevitable too. Just like many big-techs provide their own @big-tech-domain.com email account hosting for users (email being the original widely-used federated service), we may well see them provide Mastodon or other ActivityPub service hosting as well.
All this may ultimately lead to a widespread, less toxic, algorithm riddled and siloed social media experience for all. At least in the short term... watch this space.