Automattic's Tumblr/ActivityPub integration reportedly shelved

25/10/2023

When Twitter changed hands and Mastodon had its 15 minutes of fame, on October 2022, it seemed that we were on the verge of a digital revolution based on ActivityPub, the open protocol that powers Mastodon and other apps in the so called fediverse.

A lot of people got excited. Among them, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic. In a conversation on Twitter, Matt announced that Tumblr, owned by his company, would get ActivityPub compatibility.

Almost a year later, nobody talks about it anymore and it seems Matt’s promise succumbed to project issues and lack of interest.

In July, someone replied to Matt’s original post and asked if Automattic was still working on integrating ActivityPub with Tumblr.

“It’s a little depressing to think Facebook of all companies might beat you to it”, he said, referring to Mark Zuckerberg’s promise — also not yet fulfilled — to bring ActivityPub to Threads.

“Yeah 😕”, Matt replied. “They are orders of magnitude bigger and better capitalized than us. Not an excuse, just reality.”

The reality, however, may be a little worse than Matt’s answer implied.

A few days after this exchange, Javier Álvarez López, a software engineer from Spain, former Automattic employee, suggested on Mastodon that the project to bring ActivityPub to Tumblr had been shelved.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Javier left the team responsible for Tumblr in May and, in September, left Automattic. Today, he holds a position at Yoast, a popular SEO plugin for WordPress.

Then, Javier echoed a post by Cyle Gage, a Tumblr product person, answering a reader’s question on his blog.

“Matt [Mullenweg] announced it impromptu in a single tweet and never talked about it again”, they wrote. “I just assumed it’s been canned now, or at least, significantly delayed, is there a reason activitypub integration was never properly announced on tumblr?”

Cyle’s complete answer was:

it’s been delayed, but it’s something in our list for @labs and we’re evaluating it.

my concern, re: activitypub, is that while federation is a really great idea, it’s never had a good product. it doesn’t really fulfill a widespread need, it’s very niche. nobody is joining threads or bluesky because it will federate someday. so i don’t think it would help grow tumblr at all. actually i think it would likely end up costing more than it makes, which is a concern.

but stay tuned!

In another post on Mastodon, Javier revealed the behind the scenes of Matt’s untimely announcement:

I was working for tumblr when the Twitter thing happened and we scrambled to put together a project. I was the one supposed to do all the web UI work.

Once my backend counterpart did some initial investigation and scoping, and it became obvious it was a complex task and that it would become a cost center without any chance to generate any cashflow, the project was quietly put on long-term hold.

In 2023, Automattic acquired an ActivityPub plugin then in development for WordPress, hired its developer, Matthias Pfefferle, and together they have already released a 1.0/stable version.

In October, they released the integration with ActivityPub to all WordPress.com blogs, Automattic’s commercial WordPress hosting arm.

Tumblr users, on the other hand, are still waiting for the ability to talk to Mastodon and other fediverse users.

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