Check on your social media owners because 2023 has been a crazy time for social platforms. TikTok’s CEO went to Congress to defend his social media platform, Elon Musk felt a few bumps taking Twitter private, and Reddit is still imploding from a community revolt.
All that craziness has masked a potentially seismic shift for social, the move from commercially owned platforms to a “Fediverse” or federated and distributed network, that brings more power back to the people. If you flocked to Mastodon or any other open-source platform after rage-quitting Twitter, you might not realize it, but friend, you are part of the Fediverse.
The Fediverse, unlike commercially controlled platforms, uses an open protocol called ActivityPub to create a decentralized network. If you picture Twitter as a town with a monarch who controls everything, the Fediverse is a federated or distributed network of towns, each with its own set of rules. Unhappy with the moderation rules in Bob’s town, pick up and move to Greg’s town down the street with rules that better align with your views.
By using ActivityPub, anyone can create a node in this federated world. Its server-to-server API will keep these nodes in sync and pass along information, messages, and notifications allowing anyone to communicate across a sprawling network of individual towns, regardless of where they might live. So if you’re a Trekie like me, you can join a Mastadon instance like Ten Foward, named after the bar in Star Trek the Next Generation, but still, see messages or send direct messages to anyone on any of the many distributed servers that make up Mastadon. You also can stay private or limit messages within a particular node, or town, versus sharing with anyone, anywhere.
Adoption of ActivityPub has swelled recently with groups like WordPress.com owners Automattic buying a plugin that allows any WordPress site to become a node in the Fediverse. WordPress becomes a bigger deal when you remember that the content management system (CMS) accounts for 45% of all websites, making a large chunk of existing sites ready to become nodes in this federated world by just installing a plugin. Also jumping on the bandwagon are upset Reddit community members who have joined decentralized Reddit-like platforms, such as Lemmy, as they run to escape draconian moderation rules.
Will these platforms eclipse the commercial ones? It’s possible, but who knows? Embracing open protocols like ActivityPub, allow anyone, including a company, to spin up a server and reach deep into this more extensive open and decentralized network. Unsurprisingly, that’s precisely what Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, has planned. Rumor is Meta’s new product works like a gated community or a gated town with its own set of rules. Members of that town can always open the gates and visit the more extensive network of towns, but others are kept out or at least limited in what they can see over the large ivory gates. Meta’s gated community could provide exclusive content, access to celebrity content creators, or tools unavailable elsewhere. Meta could also consume large swaths of public posts and use those posts for AI mining, ads, or whatever they like – who knows what they might do.
As you can imagine, this has caused quite a stir. After all, decentralizing the networks should free us from corporate overlords and give us greater control over our data and privacy. Now a new question has come to the Fediverse, should it embrace or distance itself from Meta and other companies hoping to join the distributed network?
Being truly open means facing both the positives and negatives of a truly open environment. I welcome Meta’s contribution to the Fediverse and hope it becomes a launch pad for many ideas on expanding and embracing a wildy open, free, and distributed network. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are fully closed networks and if we can force them to open by making them present a value proposition to a larger community – that is a huge win.
🚀 P.S. Jack Dorsey, one of the founders of Twitter, launched a decentralized social network named Bluesky. I continue to hear many positive comments on Bluesky, and it reminds people of Twitter’s old days. The app is free, but access requires you to join the waitlist.
⏳Bluesky uses an open protocol that is similar to ActivityPub named, Authenticated Transfer Protocol (ATP). While similar in goal and concept, the two have some core differences that make them incompatible. (If you know anyone) I’m still waiting for my invite…
In 2007 Google purchased DoubleClick, an acquisition that 15 years later has the EU and US governments suing the company for breaking Antitrust rules. At issue is how Google has become the center of the digital advertising world by working on both the demand and supply side of the world, effectively owning both sides of the market and having significant control over the cost of all digital advertising.
To understand the EU’s concerns, you must understand how digital advertising auction networks work and Google’s role on both sides of the network.
On the left, we have the DSP or Demand Side Platform. Many DSPs exist, but Google’s DoubleClick, now known as Google Marketing Platform, is a behemoth and one of the biggest brokers for advertisers. As a DSP, Google works out relationships with the world’s largest advertisers and helps create a compelling platform to reach users across the Internet, including Google’s sites, such as YouTube and Google Search. Much of this platform works on an auction system that lets advertisers bid to place ads per CPM (Cost Per Million) impressions or by CPC (Cost Per Click). This bidding process is called programmatic or programmatic advertising, where buyers can list how much they’re willing to pay for clicks or impressions, and the highest bidder wins or gets preferential placement. What makes this market so amazing is the ability to drill in and buy ads based on a customer interacting with an ad (clicking), knowing who the user is (demographics), and targeting them where they go based on the content they’re looking at – this targeting allows for a user who knows its audience to see great ROI on ad spend.
SSP, also known as Supply Side Platforms, enables publishers to showcase their advertising inventory on digital platforms. If you own a website or a personal blog, you may use a tool like Google Adsense, which allows you to get a cut of these ad sales in exchange for placing ads on your website. Creators who collect revenue from ads on YouTube videos also benefit from ad sales through an SSP. Google also operates DoubleClick for publishers, rebranded as Google Ad Manager, one of the largest ad inventory managers used by huge web properties. Many ad networks fall back on Google Ad Manager to fill gaps in ad supply when they need help to fill them with first-party ads.
No matter where you come across ads, a very high percentage of these ads, be it top news websites, publishers, streaming content, or others, come from the Google Ad network. The only place you won’t find them is the social network space, largely owned by Meta.
What makes Google unique is that it competes as both a DSP and an SSP. It’s also such a big SSP that other DSPs have to work with Google, the company they compete with, because it represents one of the largest ad inventories available on the market. At the same time, it’s such a large DSP that most SSPs or publishers feel forced to work with them.
That is enough to see how Google’s ad business could be monopolistic. After all, if you control both sides of the market, you can set ad minimums and inventory values. Google has also been accused of opening other DSPs’ secret auction ballets to prioritize its DSP sales or undercut the market to crowd out its competition. In short, Google is accused of price-fixing the entire ad market to seek out the most revenue it can while reducing overall competition on the advertiser and publisher sides of the market.
If the EU has its way, we might see Google spin off DoubleClick or erect a massive firewall to keep the DSP and SSP sides separate businesses under one umbrella.
The Social Cage Match 🥊
In my 2023 Bingo, I definitely missed Musk vs. Zuckerberg being a headliner, but here it is. If I must call it, I have $100 on Zuckerberg, but I’m waiting to see if they bet a business or business line – Twitter for Oculus sounds fair.
⚡️More links to tech & things:
♟️Have you played the password game