Friday, April 12, 2024
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Flipboard becomes first app to support Bluesky, Mastodon and Pixelfed all in one place

Social magazine app Flipboard is continuing its investment in the federated social web with today’s news that it’s integrating with decentralized social networks Bluesky and Pixelfed. The move will allow users of the Flipboard mobile app to visually browse through posts and photos from both networks, comment, favorite, reply and scroll through custom feeds, like Bluesky’s “What’s Hot” feed of popular posts. Notably, this also makes Flipboard the first major tech company to integrate with Bluesky, the up-and-coming Twitter alternative that remains in an invite-only private beta, as well as the first mobile app to support all three decentralized networks.

According to Flipboard, the Bluesky integration will begin rolling out to users on iOS and Android today, while Pixelfed support will roll out in the days ahead.

Much like with Flipboard’s earlier support for Mastodon, users will be able to visit the app’s accounts section (on the Following tab) to add their Pixelfed and Bluesky accounts, which includes using an app password for Bluesky for additional security, instead of their main login credentials.

Image Credits: Flipboard

After setup is complete, Flipboard users can effectively use the app as a Pixelfed or Bluesky client to flip through others’ posts, photos and articles; browse individual profiles; and reply, like and repost content; as well as read replies and comments from others. Bluesky users will also be able to browse the “What’s Hot” trending feed and, in the future, any other custom feeds that end up being supported.

Though by default, Flipboard opts for a more visual layout where you flip through posts, there is an option in the settings to switch to a scrollable feed if you want a more Twitter-like user interface for browsing the Bluesky timeline. (Or “skyline,” as its users have dubbed it.)

The new integrations are part of Flipboard’s larger efforts to embrace the future of the social web, which includes now a push toward decentralization.

Since its founding over a decade ago, Flipboard has focused on building a platform that lets users discover content from around the web and create “magazines” devoted to their interests by curating content from media sites, blogs and various social networks. But with Twitter’s takeover by Elon Musk, Flipboard’s ability to curate from the microblogging app was impacted by the changing policies around Twitter’s API usage and pricing. Twitter then shut off Flipboard’s access last month.

Image Credits: Flipboard

At the same time, interest in decentralized social networking began growing, as users looked to Twitter alternatives, such as the open source, decentralized platform Mastodon, to serve their needs. Seeing the potential in a decentralized social web — or “fediverse,” as it’s called — Flipboard announced in February it would add support for Mastodon in its app, launch its own Mastodon server and eventually integrate with ActivityPub, the underlying protocol that powers Mastodon and other federated apps, like Pixelfed, a decentralized Instagram alternative. The ActivityPub integration has been underway for a few months and will take several more to complete, Flipboard notes.

In the meantime, Flipboard has been slowly growing its Mastodon instance, flipboard.social, which currently requires an invitation to access. And Flipboard users are now able to interact with their Mastodon network in the app, much as they could with Twitter before it.

Image Credits: Flipboard

But unlike Mastodon and Pixelfed, Bluesky is developing its own decentralized protocol, the AT Protocol. While some have criticized this decision when a fairly well-established W3C-recommended option exists with ActivityPub, Bluesky has different ideas around account portability, user identity and algorithmic choice — so the team felt it was necessary to start fresh.

Today, that means users who want to browse both decentralized networks — the AT Protocol-powered Bluesky and the ActivityPub-powered Mastodon (and the wider universe of federated apps) have had to use different apps to do so.

Now, they can interact with both networks directly from Flipboard’s app.

Flipboard CEO Mike McCue isn’t worried about the competing standards, as he believes the problems will be resolved over time.

Image Credits: Flipboard

“The power of the social web, I think, is definitely going to happen,” he says. “The specifics of the AT protocol, the ActivityPub protocol, and how all those things come together, will ultimately get worked out. Those are just sort of like tactical friction points…but this is happening.”

Plus, he notes, Flipboard is teaming up with other developers to try to collaborate on building a bridge between the two protocols.

“That way, users on ActivityPub could follow users on Bluesky using AT Protocol and vice versa,” McCue explains.

For the time being, he wanted Flipboard to work with both protocols without upsetting the user experience.

“What we’re doing here is very reminiscent of what email clients used to do when you had POP3 and IMAP — two different email protocols. It’s still email. And users mostly didn’t care. The client just integrated both protocols and made it work. That’s really what we’re doing here with Mastodon and Bluesky,” McCue says.

However, for the time being, Flipboard is currently integrating with the Mastodon and Bluesky APIs — not their respective protocols. That work is ongoing for ActivityPub. And the future for the AT Protocol, including possible connectivity to ActivityPub via a bridge, is unknown.

Image Credits: Flipboard

Plus, though both networks are accessible through the Flipboard app, users aren’t yet at the point of being able to post once to have their content shared to both platforms. (That means you may see double posts from those who cross-post the same content to multiple places.)

Longer-term, Flipboard sees the possibility of bringing its curation expertise to the decentralized social web, as well. Already, it’s begun running editorial “desks” on Mastodon to help people discover interesting content and people to follow. In time, it could introduce its own custom feeds for the decentralized web, too.

“Flipboard has amazing feeds…We have feeds powered by AI, feeds that are powered by users — with the curation that they do. And we have blends of those two,” notes McCue. Flipboard’s AI engine can analyze all content being posted on Mastodon, Bluesky, Pixelfed and other supported integrations, like RSS and YouTube, then classify it by topic and by who’s curating it, and turn it into a high-quality magazine, personalized to the user’s interests.

“It’s a really powerful capability,” McCue says. “Now, this is only available in the Flipboard app, but you can imagine that this feed would be something that we could make accessible to users on Bluesky,” he hints.

Those custom feeds could ultimately present new business models, as well, either through advertising or subscriptions, or others that have yet to come to pass. But that’s further down the road, the exec says.

The new integrations will arrive on Flipboard’s iOS and Android apps, starting today.

Flipboard becomes first app to support Bluesky, Mastodon and Pixelfed all in one place by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

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