KBin and Lemmy Trying to Make Reddits Pain the Fediverses Gain

Could lightening strike twice with the drama on Reddit? Two projects are hoping to make that happen.

Is this just a bump in the road for Reddit or is this the beginnings of a major shift in the internet? It’s very unclear at this stage, but the opening stages have a disturbingly eerie similarity to the continuing downfall of Twitter.

As the chaos in Canada meant that I couldn’t cover this story from the beginning, let’s rewind things a bit. Weeks ago, Reddit announced that it would no longer offer access to it’s API. Access to its API means that third party apps can use the platform and offer things like enhanced features and grant improved accessibility features among other things. In short, it makes the core web service more attractive to users. The problem is that for some in the business of turning profits, its hard to see how the service can turn a profit thanks to its third party app ecosystem even though it clearly benefits the service overall.

So, in a similar fashion to the decision made by Elon Musk on Twitter, the decision was to monetize access to its API, degrading the overall service quality as a result. Twitters decision to monetize its API led to many features getting disabled. Impressively, this affected Freezenet as we suddenly got cut off from automatically sharing news links. While it wasn’t the sole reason for the platforms decline, it did certainly accelerate it. Musk’s poor decision making has led to the rapid rise of Mastodon, a decentralized app (fediverse) on the ActivityPub protocol.

Mastodon’s rise at the time effectively turned the client from a niche project into a serious contender in the main stream. It is quickly becoming a household name at this point. Had it not been for Musk destroying Twitter, Mastodon might still be a niche project used by a smaller subset of users. It truly was a moment of lightening striking. The idea that a prominent social media platform would suddenly implode like this is exceedingly unlikely, yet it actually happened.

It’s what makes the drama on Reddit eerily familiar. CEO’s deciding that they should monetize their API and getting significant backlash for it from their own community. One app that was unable to pay for access to Reddit is Apollo. While there are numerous apps caught up in the midst of all of this, Apollo seems to have become a major flashpoint in the controversy. Essentially, Reddit demanded $20 million so that the app could continue operating. The Canadian developer behind the app said that he was unable to make such a payment and announced that he would shut down and discontinue the use of the app.

That development, among others, set off a massive firestorm on Reddit. Moderator teams banded together and said that they were going to partake in a massive blackout protest by turning their communities private. The entire platform began to seize up as the community found that it is they who are in charge of things. From TechDirt:

On Monday we wrote about the changes that Reddit was making to their API pricing, causing some services to shut down, and leading thousands of subreddits to choose to blackout (some temporarily, some indefinitely). Apparently, all those sites going private resulted in… Reddit itself falling over.

According to Reddit, the blackout was responsible for the problems. “A significant number of subreddits shifting to private caused some expected stability issues, and we’ve been working on resolving the anticipated issue,” spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt tells The Verge. The company said the outage was fully resolved at 1:28PM ET.

The issues started Monday morning, with Reddit’s status page reporting a “major outage” affecting Reddit’s desktop and mobile sites and its native mobile apps. “We’re aware of problems loading content and are working to resolve the issues as quickly as possible,” the company wrote on the status page in a message at 10:58AM ET. At 11:47AM ET, the company said that “we’re observing improvements across the site and expect issue to recover for most users. We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

That’s… not a good sign for Reddit. The details show that over 8,000 subreddits, with the backing of nearly 29,000 mods have participated in the blackout.

Some of those moderators said that they will be going 48 hours. That ended up being a controversial decision because it effectively signalled to the administration that all they had to do was wait for the protests to burn itself out and they can carry on with business as usual. The thing is, without access to these third party apps, many users find the platform to be either borderline or actually unusable. Some of the apps allowed power users to more easily access Reddit. Other apps allowed moderators to more effectively run their communities. So, it is a situation that goes far beyond just a few minor changes to the overall experience and people not liking change.

The game of just waiting it out seems to be the play here and an e-mail sent out by CEO Steve Huffman suggested that this whole thing will pass over. From TechDirt:

As you likely know, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, desperate to show Wall St. that his company can make money, decided to lock away the information on Reddit behind a paywall by turning Reddit’s free API to paid, creating quite a mess. In response, thousands of subreddits went dark on Monday, with a plan for most (though not all) to come back today.

But, on Tuesday, Huffman’s internal email to Reddit staff leaked to the Verge, in which Huffman continued with the same dismissive attitude towards Reddit’s users that he showed in last week’s AMA.

There’s a lot of noise with this one. Among the noisiest we’ve seen. Please know that our teams are on it, and like all blowups on Reddit, this one will pass as well. The most important things we can do right now are stay focused, adapt to challenges, and keep moving forward. We absolutely must ship what we said we would.

Perhaps because of Huffman’s dismissive attitude, a bunch of subreddits are saying that they’re no longer planning to reopen today, but will follow r/Music’s lead and stay dark indefinitely:

“Reddit has budged microscopically,” u/SpicyThunder335, a moderator for r/ModCoord, wrote in the post. They say that despite an announcement that access to a popular data-archiving tool for moderators would be restored, “our core concerns still aren’t satisfied, and these concessions came prior to the blackout start date; Reddit has been silent since it began.” SpicyThunder335 also bolded a line from a Monday memo from CEO Steve Huffman obtained by The Verge — “like all blowups on Reddit, this one will pass as well” — and said that “more is needed for Reddit to act.”

Ahead of the Tuesday post, more than 300 subreddits had committed to staying dark indefinitely, SpicyThunder335 said. The list included some hugely popular subreddits, like r/aww (more than 34 million subscribers), r/music (more than 32 million subscribers), and r/videos (more than 26 million subscribers). Even r/nba committed to an indefinite timeframe at arguably the most important time of the NBA season. But SpicyThunder335 invited moderators to share pledges to keep the protests going, and the commitments are rolling in.

So, the fight is continuing to carry on.

The thing is, something else seems to be brewing beneath the surface of all of this. Reddit alternatives appear to be popping up on ActivityPub. The idea seems to be to offer a similar experience to Reddit, but utilize the power of the decentralized nature of the fediverse. In the midst of the boycotts, users have seemingly started joining these alternatives. So far, two of the leading alternatives are Lemmy and KBin. While this may, on the surface, sound like this is bringing on a host of problems, there is some important differences compared to what you might think of in the situation like this.

If you have two services cropping up to try and take on a dominant player, not only are those two services trying to compete for attention and users with that dominant player, you also have the competition between each other. This technically breaks the community apart even further, making long term survival and prominence difficult. AS a result, the dominant player still has the advantages regardless of controversies surrounding it.

What’s different here is that the suggestion is that both of these services are part of the fediverse. It suggests that it is at least compatible with Activitypub. Because of this, at least in theory, if someone posts something on KBin, a user on Lemmy can access that same content. That alone is a major game changer on a fundamental technical level because you are now no longer competing for traffic and users. The resources are democratized and shared.

As you can probably see where this is going based on the references to Mastodon, Mastodon is also part of the ActivityPub fediverse. As a result, if you are on Mastodon, you can theoretically access the content posted to KBin and Lemmy as well. Likewise, users using Lemmy and KBin can access the content posted via Mastodon. The advantage here is that the users who were already on Mastodon as well as Mastodon users who were part of the massive Twitter migration is indirectly helping to fuel the potential for both Lemmy and KBin to also be successful. That is huge in and of itself.

The practical implications for this for users is that choosing between a service like KBin and Lemmy is not that far removed from basically choosing what skin you like for your app (the overall look and presentation). There are some technical aspects that throw some complications into the mix, but that is how things would technically work in theory.

Now, things aren’t exactly a bed of roses for both KBin and Lemmy. There is going to be a teething process involved. Some users are struggling to figure out how they can access content between these three parts of ActivityPub. There’s already an influx of users hitting which means servers more closely associated with the two services may struggle for a time. Luckily, thanks to the decentralized nature of ActivityPub, it’ll be easier to distribute the massive load of usage to multiple services. Indeed, Mastodon users experienced the occasional issue here and there when Twitter started going down in flames, but the unresponsive moments and downtime was surprisingly minimal, all things considered. So, it’s more than possible that similar minor bumps could happen along the way.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we are still in early days. It’s possible that this war between the C-Suite and its users over on Reddit could be much shorter lived then expected. One side could concede to the other for all we know (we’ve seen disappointments before). However, the longer this war drags on, the more opportunity there is for users to start embracing ActivityPub related alternatives. MastodonUserCount, a bot account tracking the growth of Mastodon, has already been seeing a major influx of users already:

It’s early days, but the conditions seem to be suggesting that it could happen. Lightening could strike twice for apps compatible with ActivityPub. Yes, we are in very early days of these developments, but it’s not impossible that this could be huge for the fediverse.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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