Despite delays, the plan to connect Tumblr’s blogging site to the wider world of decentralized social media, also known as the “fediverse,” is still on, it seems. Over a year ago, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg — whose company acquired Tumblr from Verizon in 2019 — posted on Twitter that the site would “soon” add support for ActivityPub, the protocol powering Twitter/X rival Mastodon and other decentralized social apps. But as time lapsed since that pronouncement, it wasn’t clear if Tumblr was still moving in that direction.
To complicate matters further, Tumblr recently cut a number of staff, relocating many to other projects within its parent company Automattic, which runs WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Pocket Casts and more, including the recently acquired Texts.com. The re-org was meant to ease the financial pressures Tumblr has been under, as the site continued to lose money. But it also led many fediverse advocates to wonder if Tumblr’s plans to join the world of decentralized social media had also been scrapped.
In addition, a post by a Tumblr employee seemed to indicate the project was now on the back burner as they said the fediverse plan had been moved to Tumblr’s testing grounds, Tumblr Labs.
Now, CEO Matt Mullenweg is clearing up the status of Tumblr’s fediverse ambitions in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) shared on his own Tumblr blog. In response to a question from TechCrunch, Mullenweg explained that despite the re-org, which will see many Tumblr employees move to other projects at the end of the year, Automattic did switch someone over to Tumblr to work on the fediverse integration, which will continue in the new year.
Still, Mullenweg cautioned that, so far, Automattic hadn’t yet seen outsized user demand for federated social media.
“The Activity Pub and Friends plugins for WordPress are both from Automatticians, and have allowed us space to play in this space and understand the community and protocols, and also gauge user demand,” Mullenweg wrote. “Right now both have under ten thousand users, so there hasn’t been a big user push for this yet,” he noted.
But he said that folks will “dig into Tumblr’s codebase” to see what it can do about moving forward with federation.
Reading between the lines, it seems the company isn’t ready to place a full bet on ActivityPub — though Mullenweg generally supports a more open internet.
“I remain a huge believer in open standards and user freedom, though I don’t claim to have the truth on which particular standard is better or best, to serve our customers we will support everything we can in good faith to give users more freedom, choice, and avoid lock-in,” he also said in his AMA. (Mullenweg told us earlier in the year the company was also evaluating other protocols, like Bluesky’s AT Protocol and nostr, for what it’s worth).
Though Mastodon today only has around 1.5 million monthly active users, ActivityPub is seeing more momentum as of late — especially now that Instagram Threads, another Twitter/X competitor, is pledging integration with the fediverse. Many in the community expect that to arrive in the early part of 2024. In the meantime, Threads users are able to verify their profile on Mastodon as an initial step. Other startups, like the Mozilla-backed app Mammoth and indie apps like Ivory, have also launched to make the fediverse more approachable for newcomers, while companies like Flipboard and Medium have embraced Mastodon, too. That could give Tumblr a needed push in 2024 to determine if ActivityPub is worth its time, and whether or not it will make technological sense to bring Tumblr blogs to Mastodon.
In other words, even though there’s work being done on Tumblr’s fediverse integrations, it’s far from being a done deal at this time.
In another AMA response, Mullunweg also noted that a larger effort to migrate Tumblr’s half a billion blogs to WordPress on the backend is something he’s also contemplating in the new year.
“We will tackle it, but I’m not sure when,” the exec said.