It wasn’t all that long ago that you could only send and receive text messages from people on the same mobile carrier as you. Even worse, if you wanted to change carriers, say from AT&T to Verizon, you’d need to get a new phone and a new phone number!
Thankfully, technology, regulations, and consumer behavior has changed that and now you can communicate freely to basically anyone with a phone number, and if you don’t like your phone carrier, you can change (relatively) easily.
What does this have to do with social media? Well, today, if you sign up for a service, you can’t easily move to another one, and you certainly can’t communicate between them. There are no comments that flow from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to anything else - each is an individual island controlled most likely by a corporation.
For all its warts and rough edges, this is why I like Mastodon. Mastodon is built on a number of standards, including one called ActivityPub. So what?
First, within Mastodon, you can pick and move between any server you’d like and take your followers with you. So if you sign up on the server I run, worldkey.io, but later decide you don’t agree with the way I run the server, no problem. You can easily create an account on any other server and move all of your followers to that server. Your followers and presence belong to you, not the server operator.
But the real exciting part here isn’t just moving between servers. It is that entire services can talk to one another. Mastodon is having its “moment” right now, but there are other services that already use ActivityPub. Pixelfed is one such service. It is similar to Instagram. Because it supports ActivityPub, anyone on Mastodon can follow me on Pixelfed, like posts, comment on photos from Mastodon, and they show up on Pixelfed! There is another network called Peertube, which as it sounds, is similar to YouTube. Post a video there, and you can boost (retweet) it to all of your Mastodon followers to see and get comments and likes. Other existing social networks, like Tumblr, have announced they are working on ActivityPub support. Micro.blog is an existing blogging service that supports it. All of these can “see” each other, eliminating the need to have multiple accounts and reducing lock-in to a specific service.
It’s exciting to see other networks like Hive and Post get attention too. But why aren’t they supporting ActivityPub right out of the gate? Why would I want to post my content there if it will then be forever locked into their platform and I can’t easily leave due to any followers I build up? How are they going to make money - and what if I don’t agree with that plan?
A lot of this admittedly gets pretty technical, and it is still early days of this technology. But should this continue to grow and evolve, the use of standards based networks could make this the last time there has to be a migration from one platform to another. Whether it was AOL, MySpace, Friendster, or now, Twitter, moving pain and lack of interoperability need to be things of the past.