It’s been long known that Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Web2’s biggest platform, would rather spend more time developing in the crypto world. . And Thackerberg is working on it again, this time with Threads, a new Twitter-like social media app from Meta. Threads is an app that harnesses the power of decentralization.
Honesty for the third time?
We witnessed Zuckerberg’s crypto envy in the failed stablecoin Libra. That sentiment was evident when Zuckerberg was inspired by the blockchain-based metaverse and made the (still stunned) decision to rename Facebook to “meta.” .
Mr. Zuckerberg gambled everything on a major turnaround that was clearly destined to fail, and now it certainly fails.
Zuckerberg’s third crypto-related venture may do better than his first two, if only because it’s far less ambitious. Like most of Facebook’s successes, Threads is a copy of an existing product.
Although not yet integrated, Threads will eventually use the same ActivityPub protocol as open-source Mastodon, according to Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri. ActivityPub is a protocol standard from the W3C, a very mainstream organization, and it provides the “data portability” that digital activists have been demanding for social media services for years.
The most direct influence on Threads’ backend design may have been Jack Dorsey’s experimental Twitter competitor BlueSky. BlueSky is developing its own protocol “AT Protocol” comparable to the ActivityPub protocol. Dorsey himself has no doubt been influenced by the decentralized social media trend in crypto, dating back to tokenized Steemit circa 2016.
A decentralized social media competitor, Nostr, has also recently gained popularity among bitcoin supporters, including Dorsey. Then there is DeSo (formerly BitClout), a blockchain-based, tokenized system that has yet to reach meaningful adoption.
Decentralization isn’t everything
But the notion that Threads is “distributed” could soon be overturned. Part of the reason is that decentralizing the backend doesn’t seem to stop doing what Meta loves: collecting user data for Threads.
According to the App Store disclosure, Threads collects whatever user data Meta needs to run its targeted advertising business model.
The fact that Threads has yet to launch in Europe is also suggestive. Probably because Europe’s privacy standards are much stricter than America’s.
This combination of decentralized backend and data collection frontend is exactly what Meta (then Facebook) was doing with Libra. Facebook touted the Libra protocol as decentralized. It was a dubious claim in itself, but had it come to fruition, most users would have been pumped into wallets that harvest data as diligently as Facebook.com.
It’s also unclear how “portable” Threads’ user data will be in practice. Critics say Mastodon, another platform that uses the ActivityPub protocol, is very inconvenient and unintuitive, making it particularly difficult to move from one server to another.
It seems to be in Meta’s hands whether or not to build a mechanism that allows users to easily leave Threads, but that would not be in Meta’s financial interests. And as a publicly traded company, Meta does nothing that is not in its best interests financially.
It is also highly unlikely that Threads will become a new hub for cryptocurrency discussions and people to form a corner of Twitter called “Crypto Twitter.”
One reason is that crypto has a very deep-seated hostility to the meta. The main reason is long-standing indifference to privacy. With the influx of users coming from Instagram, some analysts say Threads’ demographic will be “attractive but not smart.”
Elon Musk: An accidental decentralized hero?
Without Elon Musk, this would not have happened. Musk’s devastating takeover of Twitter, according to some measures, would erode Twitter’s corporate value by about $30 billion, something crypto insiders have warned for years. Finally convinced many people.
This means that user-generated media platforms with a single point of control are bad for users in the long run.
To be honest, I have experienced this tragedy myself. After using Twitter for more than a decade, it’s only in the last few years that he’s started to grow his following, only to be tripped up by Mr. Musk. From unproductive overhauls of authentication systems, to hostile harassment of trusted media, to blocking of certain external links, bad decisions are perpetual.
Mr. Musk’s decision has resulted in a noticeable exodus of users, culminating in browsing restrictions last week. Although the browsing restrictions have since been relaxed, the announcement was a turning point for many users.
We don’t know how many yet, but the past week has seen a wave of people preemptively saying goodbye to Twitter and debating which alternative platform to move to.
Mehta picked up the smell of blood and chose the right time to attack. “I’ve been hearing from creators and celebrities who are interested in a healthy platform,” a Meta executive, who asked not to be identified, told employees, according to tech outlet The Verge. The New York Times’ Mike Issac quoted an insider who said Threads had sped up its launch in an attempt to capitalize on Musk’s curfew.
Many (myself included) have joked that Musk’s debacle offers a perfect opportunity for Twitter-obsessed people to break free from the shackles of their digital addiction and get in touch with nature. If Twitter’s demise reminds us of the importance of a truly public, decentralized digital infrastructure, it will be an even greater boon.
Meta, a social media powerhouse and potentially devastating weapon, is certainly not the right person to bring such a vision to fruition, but neither does it need to.
Despite Libra’s failure, it did a great deal of justification for cryptocurrency technology. Likewise, Threads’ adoption of a decentralized backend is a huge endorsement of the idea and a strong boost to the broader ActivityPub ecosystem. Even if most Threads users don’t care at all.
｜Translation and editing: Akiko Yamaguchi, Takayuki Masuda
｜Image: Adrian Tusar / Shutterstock.com
｜Original: Threads is Libra and Meta All Over Again