Our ActivityPub Projects
Since joining the fediverse as a user in 2017, then starting to produce ActivityPub software in 2018, I've made the decentralized social web my home. It just feels right — as “right” as a digital space can be — and so I want to help it grow.
Here are some things I'd like to see, and some of the projects we're building at Write.as to help the ecosystem along.
Better usability. Right now, you need to learn some implementation details in order to get full use out of the fediverse. Ideally, end users wouldn't be burdened with that at all, and the details would be abstracted away into human-friendly interfaces that anyone can use. The biggest issue for me today is cross-instance interaction; I'd love to see new desktop and web clients that make this easier.
New concepts of social spaces. Instead of simply decentralizing the siloed social web, I'd like to see entirely new digital social spaces built around a different worldview. E.g. instead of cheap, superficial “likes,” we might deepen or split this digital interaction into completely new ways to participate. Instead of worldwide scale, we might think smaller (@firstname.lastname@example.org, for one, has done some great work in this area).
Wider connectedness. I don't want to see the fediverse grow into a monolithic Facebook-size network. Such a large scale doesn't seem to make sense for people, whether you're a member of the network or the one overseeing it. Instead, I'd like to see more small, self-contained communities that use ActivityPub as the “road” connecting each other. Here the focus is slightly shifted: local first, wider network second.
There are several ActivityPub projects I'm interested in building. Sticking with the “new concepts of social spaces,” I'm approaching them from the utilitarian side instead of the social, and keeping their scope limited to “doing one thing well.” To keep the projects usable, we present them to non-tech-savvy users first, usually as a centralized, hosted service where we can iterate quickly. And then we make the service open source and get small organizations on board.
Write.as / WriteFreely. [In development, v0.11.2] The publishing component. Instead of expanding horizontally into tangential functionality like comments, likes, forum, store, and advanced content management, we've kept it to publishing. That includes distribution via web, RSS, ActivityPub, social media, gopher, email, internal community, API, and webhooks (some already built, others coming in the future). Then in reality, we're finding use for this software not just in digital communities, but also in public libraries and the classroom — places where people don't need to live online; they only need a writing tool.
Read.as / ReadFreely. [Paused development, v0.2] The reading component. The scope is extremely limited as I'm not sure what it'll become yet, but the first step is to build a quiet reading experience on ActivityPub. Social components in the future could include peer recommendations and full publications made from curated content.
Submit.as / SubmitFreely. [In development, prototype phase] The submission management component. It allows people to collect, review, and publish creative work from others. Again, this is meant to be an online complement to offline activities. Currently, we have a public library and some digital publications using this, and next we'll improve support for presses, literary magazines, and so on. In the future, SubmitFreely could assist in running platform-independent fediverse publications.
Besides creating these useful projects, I'm hoping these different ideas inspire new fediverse projects. Besides working to decentralize the social network, I also want to help diversify the design of the platforms we're building. After all, these tools determine what we're even capable of doing in these new social spaces. We have to remember to build not just for the cool tech, but for the many human activities our tech enables and encourages.
On a related note, in the past year, Write.as has grown beyond me into a full team of people. Now we're starting to look for new sources of funding beyond our hosting business to fully realize this vision.
As always, we'll continue to operate a completely independent business, free from the misaligned incentives of venture capital. But we'd like to work with more organizations who share our goals to build out these creative free software projects — from prioritizing features they need to providing our expertise as they implement it on their own.
If you're interested in advancing the development of certain features or entire projects — whether you're an individual or an organization — please get in touch with me or reply directly to this post in the fediverse — @email@example.com. I'd also love to hear from you if you want to provide early feedback that'll help make these projects useful to organizations. With your help, we can make a ton of progress on these projects in 2020.
P.S. You might've noticed the
@handle@instance mentions in this post. Those are native ActivityPub mentions, which are now live on Write.as, and coming to everyone in WriteFreely v0.12! Follow @firstname.lastname@example.org for updates.