Related question: “Can the Fediverse fall to ruling class / corporate control?”

For those who don’t know about EEE, I highly recommend reading at least the Wikipedia article, which includes many examples of Microsoft intentionally trying to do it to open standards like CSS and Java.

As an open standard with relatively few developers, most part-time/casual, spread over many applications, ActivityPub seems like an inevitable target once as it continues to grow.

Take a hypothetical example where Elon Musk owning Twitter continues to cause a sustained rush to Mastodon, causing one of Google/Microsoft/Facebook/Twitter to use their large amount of organized resources to clone Mastodon’s software, rebrand it, fix the most popular issues in the to-do list, make the server more efficient to host, allow bridging to Twitter (if it’s Twitter making it), host it on their fast infrastructure, hire professional moderators and add many of the denied feature requests for making it more Twitter-like. With those companies’ capital and established tech teams, most or all of those can be done rapidly.

So, I predict if they did, many users and even some hosts would be encouraged to use this extended ‘better’ software or it may even be advertised and popularized as the simplest, easiest and fastest option, centralizing the bulk of ActivityPub users. They can then use this dominant position to extend ActivityPub in various ways, making various competitors incompatible and increasingly unable to federate. Extend beyond Fediverse competitors’ reach, and extinguish them by excluding them from a gradually closing garden filled with activity and popular content producers. Sure, it won’t affect the more passionate ‘early adopters’ here as much who are more than merely annoyed by centralized services, but it’s an issue that could potentially prevent these alternatives from gaining a popular audience among the more mainstream crowd who would enjoy the benefits provided it didn’t require much sacrifice.

An interesting (even if not truly qualifying) example is Gab, a Mastodon fork aimed at an alt-right audience.

I recall on Fediverse stats sites, there were a few tiny pods of Gab instances and a small but real network of federating Pleroma and Mastodon instances.

I found a comment made over a year ago saying “Gab ripped their federation code a while ago. Also, when they were federating, they never cared much about properly federating. They used federation as an argument to switching platforms but they didn’t care about it.” and some users on a Pleroma instance that formerly federated with Gab was mocking them as recent as one hour ago as “quit[ting] the fedi because they were getting made fun of [by actual free speech platform users]”. Gab seemingly embraced the concept, unintentionally, of Embrace and Extend and then privatizing, although with (I assert) no intent nor capacity to extinguish. But what if they did have that intent, either financially or politically? What if they were a purely profit-driven project that saw the Fedis as a threat?

How can these projects counter EEE?

I don’t think outpacing is a feasible approach, due to constraints that these non-profit, anti-exploitative projects are bound by.

note: This does work both ways, to a degree, in that for-profit projects will need to have annoying things like ads or dodgy manipulative practices to survive unless they want to run at a significant loss, as an investment. I’m not sure how much most people care about those normalized annoyances, so I don’t think that should be relied on. FOSS projects aren’t well-known for being successful in the mainstream through their purity and ideals.

Boycotting and ostracization (like, to generalize, Mastodon with Gab, then Gab with Pleroma) might be effective so long as they don’t gain an independent dominance through bringing more external users and continuing to dilute the values of the Fediverse. But if their new platform becomes more productive and fun then the Fediverse, then the Fediverse will remain only a niche.

I don’t have faith in a legal solution, but that is my naïve view, I don’t know enough about anti-competitive laws, especially internationally.

I’m interested to hear what approaches there might be to what I see as a potential and increasingly imminent threat. Links to existing conversations are welcome too: no need to invent the wheel for me ;)

This is an interesting writeup on the phenomenon. I’m not really sure what solutions exist beyond publicizing these predatory business practices.

This is a concern I hadn’t really thought of before.

Stuff I read in the past that I think is important here:

As per Drew’s article, I think the main defense we have is the idea of finite scope. In a free alternative to twitter (or another social media platform), there is not an infinite set of features that are desirable. If we pick our feature set wisely, we can build a platform that feels as though nothing is missing, and if we do this, they won’t be able to do the “extend” part because it would be obvious that anything they could add would be making the experience worse, not better. Some of our solutions may have already achieved this - if that’s so, the strategy becomes convicing enough people of that.

For one example I’d name quote tweets. This is a feature that I think is probably an anti-feature. Compared to replies, it is a “third person” form of engagement, which naturally breeds toxicity rather than understanding in disagreement, and encourages people to engage with the worst people on the platform. It also biases people toward having less realistic and less optimistic views of those who disagree with them by showing them only the worst members of the opposing camp. See Shamus Young’s “This Game is Bad For You” - very insightful on this topic.

If we can identify and avoid all such anti-features, and convince enough people to see them as such, we foil the middle E in EEE.

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