EEE is something we do to ourselves

Published on 2024-01-02

The prototypical counter-example to bring up when arguing if Facebook's entrance to the fediverse will be a net positive or negative is XMPP.

I would have been kind of young around the time everyone was serious about XMPP so I didn't experience much of the politics first hand, but here's how I've understood it from other people's retelling:

Google adopted XMPP as a part of Google Talk. At the time there was a relatively strong, decentralized XMPP community, and they were excited to receive the legitimization of a big player like Google. XMPP was about to get big.

Over time, Google started making some changes to their implementation of the standard that would break compatibility with the existing ecosystem. Developers of the decentralized XMPP network started dedicating more resources to maintaining compatibility with Google.

As the rate of change increased, Google sucked the air out of the existing ecosystem. Most developers' energy was being dedicated towards Google compatibility, and things were still breaking. Users were starting to see that Google, the big, cool, "default" way to access the network seemed to be the most stable.

In the end, Google ditched XMPP. The developer's energy was wasted, and the user base was gone.

I can totally see something like this happening to the fediverse. Well, except the last part. One thing really important to that story that seems to get painted over is that the developers kind of did this to themselves. They probably didn't see it coming, so I certainly don't blame them, but there's an important lesson to be learned.

The fediverse has grown organically for years without Facebook. I don't really think it's at its peak either; the fediverse seems more relevant today than ever before. However, Facebook does have a good reason to want to EEE the fediverse; even if we are a "rounding error," we provide a good service in a way fundamentally incompatible with their ideology. Our services are a gift, their services are a product. That is legitimately threatening, especially since people actually seem to understand the appeal of it

The thing that the XMPP story ignores is that there's still a strong community using XMPP today. It's a lot smaller, but they're still there.

It sounds like growth in the XMPP community slowed because the energy was wasted on Google Talk compatibility. That's what we "misfit loser zealots" are so worried about how much the leadership of Mastodon--the biggest ship in the fediverse, it seems--have readily embraced Facebook.

It sounds a lot like they're going to start spending a lot of time and energy trying to maintain compatibility with Facebook's new product, and if history tells us anything, the result is going to be a kind of shitty product.

The reason I'm not super worried is that I suspect that because I've surrounded myself with people who actively oppose Facebook's involvement, they'll be the XMPP servers still running long after the hay day of Google Talk. But it is sad to see, in as much as I care about something like the fediverse seriously being able to displace large social media platforms. Not enough people in the key leadership roles have learned from history, or care.

But, I suppose, it's not my Ruby on Rails application. The next instance I land on won't be Mastodon if I can help it.

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