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Threadiverse vs mailing lists

“Threadiverse”, a.k.a. group servers on Fediverse like, Lemmy, and kbin (compatible with each other to some extent) are all based on the premise that each community (kbin calls communities “magazines”) is hosted on one instance, but users and posts can come from all over.

So it’s like any normal phpBB–style forum, except you use your own user instead of having to register and check everywhere.

Makes sense to me, and I’m not suggesting that they’d do it any other way (trying to “distribute the hosting of a community” sounds like a nightmare. Matrix is an example of a protocol that tries to do that. We don’t need to go all the way Baran intended when a simpler pencil solution solves the problem), but this is exactly like mailing lists work. A mailing list is hosted on one server but users, threads, and posts originate from all kinds of mail servers.

And, just like with the threadiverse, you don’t need to go to all sites to check. They just pop up in your normal inbox.

It’s also similar to the forums that have both a web view and a mailing list mode, like lobsters’ backend, Discourse, and Public Inbox.

Discourse is an especially good comparison since, like mailing lists and Fedi, you don’t need to create a whole new account for every forum, they have some of interoperability between forums so you can still use the same account on different places, sorta—I’m not sure how it works. Discourse is also working on ActivityPub support, but that is currently very far off.

The reason I bring this up is that group servers on Fedi is still janky as all get-out. Missing posts, delayed posts, missed notifications. It feels weird and sad that we’re redoing something that worked rock solid in the nineties.

There’s this gag in one of the Austin Powers movies where in the sixties, they have perfect video calls because in sixties spy shows that was science fiction tech, while in the nineties, the video calls are flaky and laggy and glitchy because in nineties spy shows, it was product placement of real products.

That’s how it feels now, except minus the science fiction part. Thirty years ago we actually did have rock solid tech, now we have flaky and janky tech.

But maybe one day this’ll all be sorted out again and hooked up so that email and ActivityPub can interoperate and that things will be a li’l more stable & reliable.

I don’t mean to slag all the hard work that’s going on in the ActivityPub space. I’m grateful and amazed. We’ve already come so far in just a few years, and the momentum (in terms of userbase) is there and is a treasure. It’s not like email happened overnight, either. Email might’ve been pretty great in the nineties, but it started in the sixties. It’s not easy getting these things right. And every generation wants to NIH it, thinking they’ve found a “simpler” way.