Flipboard joins the Fediverse with a Mastodon integration and community, plans for ActivityPub

Magazine app Flipboard is joining the Fediverse -- the group of interconnected servers powering a range of open source, decentralized applications, including the newly popular Twitter alternative Mastodon. Starting today, the Flipboard app for iOS will include a beta feature that will allow Mastodon users to visually flip through their timeline to view posts from the people they follow, much like they've been able to do with Twitter. But the company's Fediverse ambitions extend beyond a product integration as Flipboard is launching its own Mastodon instance, flipboard.social, to provide an easy way for Flipboard users and magazine curators to participate in the decentralized web. It also plans to support ActivityPub, the underlying protocol that powers Mastodon and other federated apps.

Access to the new instance, for the time being, will be limited to Flipboard curators on an invite-only basis. But Flipboard says, over time, it aims to onboard more users into the Fediverse through its instance.

The news follows a similar announcement from the blogging platform Medium, which last month launched its own Mastodon community for its authors. Other companies weighing Fediverse integrations include Tumblr and Flickr, both of which have discussed adding support for ActivityPub, as well.

For Flipboard, the new Mastodon integration serves to plug up a potential hole in its service. The company understands its longtime Twitter integration may become unreliable with Twitter's API changes under Elon Musk, which has already impacted a range of third-party apps -- including many Twitter clients. Flipboard, which began its life as a social magazine where users could read their news feeds alongside updates from social apps like Twitter, knows that its time with Twitter may now be limited.

"We don't know how much longer this is going to stay alive," said Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, about the app's Twitter integration.

He says the company no longer has a contact at Twitter in the event of any API issues, though it hasn't yet experienced a major disruption. Still, he says, what's going to happen next is "anyone's guess."

By integrating with Mastodon, Flipboard users will be able to continue to browse a feed of short updates from the people they follow within Flipboard's app. This includes Mastodon posts with text, images and link previews, just as Twitter offered. They can also use the integration to compose their own Mastodon posts with links and photo uploads of their own. Plus, they can reply to, like, and boost posts from others, and click on hashtags to follow larger topical discussions, among other things.

Flipboard curators can also "flip" (add) Mastodon posts to their magazines using the plus button, the way they've been able to do with Twitter previously. And Flipboard's newly added Notes feature, which allows curators to include original content in their magazine, will be able to be turned into Mastodon text posts.

While it's not a fully featured client -- the way that apps like Ivory, Mammoth or Ice Cubes are -- Flipboard offers an easy way to keep up with your Mastodon community alongside other news and stories.

But Flipboard's Fediverse ambitions extend beyond a Masoton integration. McCue believes in the Fediverse's potential to reshape the web, where today power is centralized among a few big tech platforms.

"The thing that's really powerful about ActivityPub [the protocol powering the Fediverse] is it's a W3 standard. It's not attached to crypto, it's not attached to encryption -- it's really trying to solve one problem, which is just a common social graph and a common namespace that people can use to effectively be in an open social web," he says. "That opportunity is the most exciting thing I've seen since the early days of the web. I really think it's a big deal," McCue adds.

Until now, companies like Facebook (Meta) have owned the social graph, but ActivityPub's promise is a way to build a variety of services across this new social layer. Currently, McCue points out that we're seeing a lot of clones of existing apps emerge -- like Mastodon, a Twitter clone, or PixelFed, a federated Instagram clone, for example. But over time, he believes, other services will materialize and grow.

Flipboard is among those exploring how to best embrace ActivityPub as a core capability for its social layer. This will ultimately allow users on Mastodon and other federated apps to follow Flipboard's curators and magazines in their feeds, while also allowing Flipboard users to follow users and feeds from other services, like Mastodon, PixelFed and PeerTube.

Image Credits: Flipboard

The company is also directly investing in the Fediverse by opening its own Mastodon instance at flipboard.social. The CEO describes the instance as a "high-quality, scalable instance that will be highly moderated, fast, secure, and reliable." The company's own moderation team, now a staff of seven, will be responsible for the instance's moderation in addition to their existing duties.

Today, Flipboard will begin to invite its top curators to join but everyone else can sign up on its waitlist at the flipboard.social website. Initially, the instance will be open to a few hundred but will scale up to the single-digit thousands and then the tens of thousands over time at a slow and steady pace. The instance, which runs on Flipboard's own infrastructure, will be subsidized by the company's existing revenues, but McCue believes a business model for the Fediverse will emerge that will enable companies to sustain themselves, engage in moderation, and scale.

"I think that at some point that's going to need to be figured out but I think that's the kind of thing to collectively do with people who are in the Fediverse," he says.

Flipboard's addition to the Fediverse has the potential to add a good number of users if its community chooses to embrace this new frontier. The company said previously it has "millions" of magazines on its app, though only 25%-50% of that figure are active in any given month. It also claims 100 million monthly active users, but this figure includes its newsletter subscribers, not just its app's users, so it's not an accurate picture of how many are active contributors. Still, even if a small percentage joined the Fediverse from Flipboard's community, it could be a good bump for the decentralized web which today counts around 2.56 million monthly active users.

The newest version of Flipboard for iPhone will now include the Mastodon feature and the waitlist for the instance is live today on flipboard.social.