The Race to Restore Content Distribution

The ActivityPub work being done by Ghost and others is getting compelling...
Hold up, let us cook
Happy Saturday! Not sure where you are or what you’re doing, but statistically speaking there’s a good chance that you should be eating more fiber. So, you know, you should probably look into that. First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who left a comment on last week’s

Ghost has been running a blog about building out their ActivityPub support. It's a fun read both for the dad jokes/tone but also just watching them figure out how to do this in real time. I also appreciated their "explain this to me like I'm 5" section today for why this actually (could) matter:

We get it. Whether you try to read about this stuff online, or you've been following this newsletter, it's extremely difficult to escape the technical jargon. There's a lot of excitement about the technology, but if you aren't personally a software engineer then it's not especially easy to understand what the hell it's for.

To make it more tangible and specific, think about a social network you've used before like Medium, Tumblr or YouTube. People can publish content there, and they can also subscribe, like, comment and interact with other creators on those platforms.

ActivityPub fundamentally allows us to build the same functionality for Ghost, but in a way that is compatible across many different products rather than limited to just one platform. People on Flipboard will be able to interact with people on Ghost, who will be able to interact with people on Mastodon, and Threads, and WordPress, Buttondown, and many, many more.

The benefit of social networks to publishers has always been the distribution of their work. If you publish content on a popular network, there's a built-in audience.

The practical benefit of ActivityPub is the same: Distribution for your work to a wider audience — and, because of the open technology it's built upon, the ActivityPub network is ultimately going to give you access to a far, far larger audience than any other social network out there.

I've been publishing on the web for a long time – 20 years this coming November, in fact! – and it almost feels like it's harder than ever to get the word out when you actually publish something.

Back in the early 2000s, you could rely on some people to actually visit your site regularly (perhaps after you originally emailed them to tell them about it) because it was still an era where people were looking for new sites to check out. As your consumption diet grew, RSS was there to make it so that you could keep up with multiple sites in one unified place. That still exists, of course (here's my RSS feed, for example), but it's not a concept that has really translated across generations. And RSS as a technology is like email, a great catch-all, but many modern elements of publishing break it in various places so the experience often isn't great.

Anyway, the late-2000s brought a more modern form of distribution in the form of social media. Namely, Twitter rose to power as a place to share links. That worked well for about a decade, with a few other sites popping up here and there to aide in distribution. Even newsletters came back into fashion! But when Xitter came into being, it blew up that element of distribution as part of the ongoing self-ownership of that site. That shattered such distribution into about a hundred new places you had to share content. It's tedious. It sucks.

If all these ActivityPub efforts pay off, we may once again have the ability to simply publish and let distribution take care of itself. Well, not really take care of itself, but it will be a greatly simplified way to let people follow your work on platforms of their choice. Ghost, Flipboard, WordPress, etc.

It's all still a little obtuse for my taste right now, but it feels like it's coming more into focus. Especially as Xitter continues to flail about, trying to figure out what it is now. Soon, perhaps, it won't matter what it is now.