Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Flipboard is taking its biggest step yet into the fediverse. The company announced on Monday that it is beginning to switch its user accounts to ActivityPub, which means that everyone curating stuff on Flipboard is now doing so in a way that apps like Mastodon can see and interact with.

Right now, only 25 accounts (including The Verge’s) have been federated with ActivityPub, but by March Flipboard says it plans to allow anyone on the platform to open their account to the fediverse and allow any Flipboard user to follow any fediverse account from within the Flipboard app. At that point, Flipboard will essentially be an ActivityPub-based platform like Mastodon or Pixelfed but with an interface designed for reading articles instead of bite-sized posts. It’ll be the biggest thing in the fediverse — at least until Threads shows up for real.

“Basically, we’re in the process of replacing our whole social back-end with ActivityPub,” says Flipboard CEO Mike McCue. “I think Flipboard is going to be the first mainstream consumer service that existed in a walled garden that switches over to ActivityPub.”

That’s a lot of technical jargon, I know. Let’s use The Verge’s account to try to figure out what it means. Starting today, every time we add something to one of our magazines on Flipboard, we’ll also be automatically creating a post that includes a link to the story we’re adding, a link to the Flipboard magazine, and any commentary that goes with it. That post is a standard ActivityPub post, like anything you’d see on Mastodon. From now on, you can follow our magazines on Flipboard or follow our Flipboard account in Mastodon or anywhere else you get fediverse content, and you’ll get the same feed of content either way. The only difference? Flipboard will look more like the reading app it is, and Mastodon will feel more like a timeline.

In spirit, a federated Flipboard shouldn’t feel all that different from, say, one of those Twitter users who would obsessively curate news or information around a specific topic. Flipboard has always relied on curators to find good stuff for users to read — the only difference is that now those curators can post to Flipboard and everywhere else in one fell swoop. Flipboard’s bet is that it can build the best reading and discovery tools, without forcing users to only operate inside its platform.

At first, these posts only go one way. The promise of the fediverse is that if you like or respond to a post, that is also compiled and synced across apps and services, but Flipboard hasn’t quite finished that yet. McCue says that’s coming in January.

McCue has spent the last year telling anyone who will listen (including The Verge) that ActivityPub, Mastodon, and the federated social internet are the future. Flipboard launched a Mastodon instance called earlier this year, and recently announced it’s no longer integrating with X and focusing instead on open platforms.

McCue is still careful to note that there is a lot left to figure out. Flipboard has a long history with content moderation tools and optimizing reading experiences, but there’s so much new stuff here. Should people curate articles through their Flipboard account, or should they also keep a Mastodon account for more standard posting? McCue says he’s keeping all his accounts for now, but says that “I think how these accounts relate to each other is an interesting question.” So much about the culture and interface of the fediverse is still unsolved, and McCue is convinced now’s the time to dive in and figure it out.

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