Flipboard joins the Fediverse with a Mastodon integration and community, plans for ActivityPub

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Magazine app Flipboard joins the Fediverse – the group of interconnected servers powering a range of open source, decentralized applications, including new popular Twitter alternative Mastodon. Starting today, the Flipboard app for iOS includes a beta feature that allows Mastodon users to visually scroll through their timeline to view posts from the people they follow, just as they’ve been able to do with Twitter. But the company’s Fediverse ambitions extend beyond a product integration, as Flipboard is launching its own Mastodon instance, flipboard.social, to provide Flipboard users and magazine curators with an easy way to participate in the decentralized web. It also plans to support ActivityPub, the underlying protocol that powers Mastodon and other federated apps.

Access to the new instance is limited to invite-only Flipboard curators for now. But Flipboard says it’s aiming to get more users on board the Fediverse through its agency over time.

The news follows a similar announcement from blogging platform Medium, which launched its own Mastodon community for its authors last month. Other companies considering Fediverse integrations include Tumblr and Flickr, both of which have also discussed adding support for ActivityPub.

For Flipboard, the new Mastodon integration serves to close a potential gap in its service. The company understands that the lengthy Twitter integration could become unreliable due to Twitter’s API changes under Elon Musk, which has already affected a range of third-party apps, including many Twitter clients. Flipboard, which started life as a social magazine where users could read their news feeds alongside updates from social apps like Twitter, knows that its time with Twitter may now be limited.

“We don’t know how long this will be alive,” Flipboard CEO Mike McCue said of the app’s Twitter integration.

He says the company no longer has a contact at Twitter in case of API issues, although it has not yet experienced a major outage. Still, he says, what will happen next is “everybody’s guess.”

By integrating with Mastodon, Flipboard users can continue to browse a feed of short updates from the people they follow in the Flipboard app. This includes Mastodon posts with text, images, and link previews, just like Twitter offered. They can also use the integration to compose their own Mastodon posts with their own links and photo uploads. In addition, they can reply to, like and promote other people’s posts, as well as click on hashtags to follow larger topical discussions, among other things.

Flipboard curators can also “flip” (add) Mastodon posts to their magazines using the plus button, as they were previously able to do with Twitter. And Flipboard’s newly added Notes feature, which allows curators to include original content in their journal, can be turned into Mastodon text messages.

While it’s not a full-featured client — as apps like Ivory, Mammoth, or Ice Cubes are — Flipboard offers an easy way to keep up with your Mastodon community alongside other news and stories.

But Flipboard’s Fediverse ambitions extend beyond a Masoton integration. McCue believes in the Fediverse’s potential to reshape the web, where power today is centralized to a few major technology platforms.

“What’s so powerful about ActivityPub [the protocol powering the Fediverse] is it a W3 standard. It’s not tied to crypto, it’s not tied to encryption — it’s really trying to solve one problem, which is just a common social graph and common namespace that people can use to be effective in an open social web,” says he.”That possibility is the most exciting thing I’ve seen since the early days of the Internet. I really think it’s a big deal,” McCue added.

Until now, companies like Facebook (Meta) owned the social graph, but ActivityPub’s promise is a way to build a variety of services on this new social layer. Currently, McCue points out that we are seeing many clones of existing apps appear, such as Mastodon, a Twitter clone, or PixelFed, a federated Instagram clone. But over time, he says, other services will emerge and grow.

Flipboard is among those exploring how best to embrace ActivityPub as a core capability for its social tier. This will allow users of Mastodon and other federated apps to eventually follow Flipboard’s curators and magazines in their feeds, while Flipboard users will also be able to follow users and feeds from other services, such as Mastodon, PixelFed, and PeerTube.

Image Credits: Flip board

The company is also investing directly in the Fediverse by opening its own Mastodon instance at flipboard.social. The CEO describes the instance as a “high-performance, scalable instance that will be highly moderated, fast, secure, and reliable.” The company’s own moderation team, now a staff of seven, will be responsible for moderating the instance in addition to their existing duties.

Today, Flipboard will begin inviting its top curators to join, but everyone else can join the waiting list on the flipboard.social website. Initially the instance is open to a few hundred, but will scale over time at a slow and steady pace to the single-digit thousands and then the tens of thousands. The instance, which runs on Flipboard’s proprietary infrastructure, will be subsidized by the company’s existing revenue, but McCue believes it will create a business model for the Fediverse that will allow companies to self-sustain, moderate and scale.

“I think that’s going to have to be sorted out at some point, but I think it’s the kind of thing to do collectively with people who are in the Fediverse,” he says.

The addition of Flipboard to the Fediverse has the potential to add a large number of users if the community chooses to embrace this new frontier. The company previously said it has “millions” of magazines on its app, though only 25%-50% of that number are active in any given month. It also claims 100 million monthly active users, but this figure includes newsletter subscribers, not just users of the app, so it’s not an accurate picture of how many active contributors. But even if a small percentage joined the Fediverse from within the Flipboard community, it could be a great boost to the decentralized web, which today has about 2.56 million monthly active users.

The latest version of Flip board for iPhone now includes the Mastodon feature and the waitlist for the instance is live today on flipboard.social.

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