Federating With the Devil
Tumblr will soon attempt to join the Fediverse, and I’m going to argue that this is - overall - a good thing.
I’m going to assume a consequentialist outlook, because I’m a consequentialist, and because other schools of ethical thought have no ability to do anything but argue over methodology.
I also want to avoid the temptation to consider what ’the fediverse’ should do, because there is no such place or person - the choices will be made by individual administrators, I have to assume that some administrators will federate, and others won’t. Even if we could all achieve something amazing by working together, it doesn’t mean that individual servers should do it - everyone instance makes the choice alone.
It’s better to be able to talk to more people than fewer. I have friends on Tumblr. Tumblr users would also be able to hook into other ActivityPub platforms, so they could follow Lemmy channels and Peertube accounts.
Bringing Normies to the Fediverse
It may cause a wave of people on Tumblr moving to Mastodon, once they see they can jump ship while following the same posts as before. According to Statista’s Tumblr page, that’s about 300 million users. If 0.5% of those users make an account somewhere on the Fediverse, that would result in 1,500,000 new people joining the fediverse - double the current numbers, which have already inflated due to Twitter’s collapse.
Peertube et al.
A lot of great channels on Peertube don’t have the follower-count they deserve, as people already go to Youtube for their content. A wave of people on ActivityPub could allow channels to grow, and every viewer raises their chance of increasing sponsorship.
Mastodon instances have already ballooned after the influx of new users, and Twitter ain’t dead yet. If Twitter actually collapses, we will see a tide which nobody is prepared to deal with coming, so Tumblr announcing that it might federate later but not exactly now, sounds like it could lead to a wave which nobody can deal with.
However, individual admins defederating won’t make much of a difference here - it will simply cut the instance off from a few people.
Tumblr makes its money from advertising, and does not have some hidden algorithm to decide which posts go where. (technically speaking, Tumblr users do enjoy a particular algorithm that staggers their posts so they don’t all show up at once on someone’s would-be chronological timeline, flooding the place with 5 ‘shares’/ boosts) Nevertheless, centralized control means Tumblr could change that at any point. The platform could decide whether or not to share user accounts (limiting them due to one political ideology or another), and generally behave like the other proprietary platforms.
However, I think this only makes Mastodon look more interesting to people. If someone finds that all their ‘defund the police’ posts are only shared with a quarter of their subscribers, they’re certain to join a Mastodon instance, to be able to send 100% of their messages, and will find it much easier to do so. The algorithms would only affect Tumblr users, and would feel much more obvious when compared to standard messages on standard Mastodon instances.
The Fediverse has a strong culture of alt-text and such, while Tumblr just got alt-text recently.
However, the Fediverse is already changing quickly, and will continue to change, so ‘random new culture’ isn’t really an inherent problem. Besides, ‘Fediverse Culture’ isn’t some ancient temple - it’s just the message-sharing habits of some protocol-nerds over the last decade.
Mastodon messages aren’t globally tracked, like other platforms. Anyone trying to get ‘all the data on Mastodon’ would have the impossible task of going to 10,000 difference VPS instances, raspberry pis, and random servers in people’s garages. Tumblr would change all that.
Well, not all of it exactly. Messages which are currently public have always been trackable - any third party wanting to know what’s public on Mastodon.social simply has to go there, and could comfortably scrape any instance once a day, or even all instances.
The private messages going to Tumblr could be tracked, and with so many users, some will certainly send would-be private messages to Tumblr. E-mail isn’t really decentralized any more, because it’s mostly Google/ Microsoft, so even if your e-mails seem secure, they’re going to Google anyway, because that’s where all the people are.
In order to see if an instance should federate with Tumblr, we can ask an easy question - ‘would anyone use an e-mail service that by design could not message anyone on either a Google or Microsoft platform?’. The answer is clearly ’no’, we wouldn’t want it for ourselves, and I think this shows that we don’t think we’ll be better off with that service, and similarly, neither will Mastodon users. We may not like sending messages to Tumblr’s servers in general, but people still want to do it sometimes because the cost to their privacy is worth the benefits of communicating.
Asking what to do with other users and their ability to communicate is futile - if someone on Mastodon wants to talk with someone on Tumblr, but the admin disagrees, the user will simply jump ship. Nobody stands to benefit from an instance defederating from Tumblr, and we shouldn’t try to make decisions on behalf of other users, because Mastodon users won’t let anyone do that.
We should feel fairly sure of the benefits in the short-term - people switching to protocols over walled gardens should always be a good thing.
In the long-term, nobody can be sure of what will happen.