Flipboard is the latest service to embrace Mastodon as Twitter becomes increasingly chaotic under Elon Musk. The news reading app, whose founder was once on Twitter’s board of directors, is now going all in on the Fediverse.
The company announced that it’s integrating Mastodon into its main app, so that users can browse their feeds much the way they can “flip” through their Twitter timelines. Flipboard is also starting up its own Mastodon instance in an effort to encourage broader adoption among its user base.
According to Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, the two updates are the first “very initial steps” of a broader plan to embrace the decentralized social networking protocols that have been popularized by Mastodon over the last year. Instead of relying on the “proprietary social graphs” of services like Twitter and Facebook — both of which have become increasingly hostile to outside developers — Flipboard could instead be centered around ActivityPub, the open source protocol that powers Mastodon and the rest of the decentralized services that make up the “Fediverse.”
“As we embrace ActivityPub at Flipboard, we’ll effectively allow anyone who's on Mastodon to follow a user on Flipboard, and to follow a Flipboard magazine, and vice versa,” McCue says in an interview. “What ActivityPub enables is a common, open social graph.” This means that services like Flipboard and Mastodon could eventually be interoperable with other platforms that have pledged to adopt ActivityPub, like Tumblr.
The shift is especially notable for Flipboard given its once deep ties to Twitter. McCue served on Twitter's board of directors between 2010 and 2012, and Twitter once reportedly considered buying the app. But now, McCue says the current state of Twitter “is quite sad for a lot of people who were advocates and participants in the whole Twitter ecosystem.”
And, with Twitter set to end its free API, it’s not clear how much longer Flipboard will be able to maintain any kind of functionality with the service. “It's total chaos over there,” McCue says, referring to Twitter since Musk took over the company. “The writing on the wall is that I don't see [Flipboard’s] Twitter integration lasting much longer.”
But McCue describes Mastodon and the Fediverse as a kind of antidote to the Musk-induced chaos. “We need to get out of this world where one person can basically dictate how these communities of people are interacting with each other,” he says.
Of course, there are still questions about whether Mastodon will ever be more than a relatively niche Twitter alternative. The platform has seen explosive growth since last spring when Musk announced his takeover bid for Twitter, but the growth has since leveled off. And the decentralized nature of the platform isn’t necessarily intuitive for newcomers. McCue acknowledges that the Fediverse is still waiting for its “Netscape moment” (he was an executive at the browser company in the late ‘90s at the peak of the Web 1.0 era), but he predicts that other mainstream services may start looking at Mastodon more strategically as well.
“I think you're going to see, in the coming months, companies like us start to integrate ActivityPub and advocate to publishers and content creators that they should build a presence in the Fediverse,” he predicts. “Once that starts to reach critical mass … then I think you're gonna get that Netscape moment.”