For the past two decades, our social networks and social media platforms have been universes unto themselves. Each has its own social graph that shows who you follow and who follows you. Each has its own flow, its own algorithms, its own apps, and its own UI (although they’ve all pretty much landed on the same aesthetic over time). Each also has its own publishing tools, its own character limits, its own image filters. Being online means constantly flitting between these places and their ever-changing sets of rules and norms.
Now, however, we may be at the beginning of a new era. Instead of half a dozen platforms competing to own your entire life, apps like Mastodon, Bluesky, Pixelfed, Lemmy and others are building a more interconnected social ecosystem. If this ActivityPub-driven change takes off, it will break every social network into a thousand pieces. All posts, of any type, will be separated from their platforms. We’re going to get new tools to create those posts, new tools to read them, new tools to organize them, and new tools to moderate them and share them and remix them and everything else besides.
All that change can be hugely exciting, but it raises a complicated question. If you’re a person who posts — and by “posts” I mean creating everything from tweets to TikToks for a trick or a living — what do you do now? For two decades, the answer has been relatively simple: if you want to post somewhere, you log into that platform, use its tools, and click publish. Going forward, in a much more open and decentralized world, how do posters post?
POSSE and the future of posts are also the topics of the latest Vergecast episode. Subscribe here.
The answer, I believe, lies in a decade-old idea of how to organize the Internet. It’s called POSSE: Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere. (Sometimes P is also “Post”, and E can be “elsewhere.” The idea is the same regardless.) The idea is for you, the poster, to post on a website that you own. Not an app that can disappear and take all your posts with it, not a platform with ever-changing rules and algorithms. Your website. But people who want to read or watch or listen to or look at your posts can do so almost anywhere because your content is syndicated to all these platforms.
There have been people talking about POSSE and practicing it on their own sites for years now. (For a good example of how it works, check out Tantek Celik’s blog — Celik is one of the early POSSE believers in the IndieWeb community, and his website shows what it looks like in practice.) But as the platforms grew and raised its garden walls ever higher, the open web gave way to centralized platforms in a big way. But in the past year or so, especially after Elon Musk’s Twitter acquisition alerted users to how quickly their platforms can change or die, POSSE has gained some traction again alongside ActivityPub and other more open ideas.
In a POSSE world, everyone owns a domain name and everyone has a blog
In a POSSE world, everyone owns a domain name and everyone has a blog. (I’m defining “blog” pretty loosely here – just like a place on the internet where you post your stuff and others consume it.) When you want to post something, you do it on your blog. Then your long blog post can be broken up into chunks and posted as a thread on X and Mastodon and Threads. It can all go to your Medium page and your Tumblr and your LinkedIn profile too. If you post a photo, it could go straight to Instagram, and a vertical video would whiz straight to TikTok, Reels and Shorts. Your post will appear natively on all of these platforms, usually with some sort of link back to your blog. And your blog becomes the hub of everything, your main home on the internet.
Done right, POSSE is the best of all posting worlds. “As someone who publishes, I want as much interaction as possible,” says Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and one of the most important people working on WordPress. (Automattic also owns Tumblr, another of the internet’s biggest posting platforms.) “So why are you making me choose which network it goes to? I should post it once, preferably to my domain, and then it goes to X and Threads and Tumblr and all the other networks that might have all their own interfaces and network effects and all that. But my thoughts should go to all those places.”
POSSE makes sense, both philosophically – of course you should own your content and have a centralized home on the web – and logistically. Managing half a dozen identities on half a dozen platforms is too much work!
But there are some big challenges with the idea. The first is the social side of social media: what do you do with all the likes, replies, comments and everything else that comes with your posts? POSSE is a good organizer for posts but breaks the engagement into countless confusing parts. There is also the question of what it means to post the same thing on a dozen different platforms. Platforms have their own norms, their own audiences, their own languages. How often do you really want to post the same things on LinkedIn and on Tumblr? And if you do, at what point can you no longer separate yourself from spam?
However, the most immediate question is simply how to build a POSSE system that works. POSSE’s problems start from the very beginning: it requires you to own your own website, which means buying a domain and worrying about DNS records and figuring out web hosts, and by this point you’ve already lost the vast majority people who would rather just type a username and password into some free Meta platform.
Even those willing and able to do the technical work can struggle to make POSSE work
Even those willing and able to do the technical work can struggle to make POSSE work. “When I started,” says Cory Doctorow, an activist and author who has blogged for decades and recently created a new POSSE-ified blog called Pluralistic, “I literally had an HTML template in the default Linux editor. I have Emacs keybindings on and I would literally open that file and save it again with a different filename, add today’s date, and then write a bunch of blog posts in this template, and then copy and paste them into Twitter’s thread tool, and Mastodon, and Tumblr and Medium, one at a time, individually editing as I went, and doing a lot of whatever, and then I’d turn it into a text file that I’d paste into an email that I’d send to a Mailman instance there I hosted a newsletter. And then I had full-text RSS, too, and Discourse for comments, which has its own syndication for people to follow you on discourse.”
Doctorow estimates that for a long time he spent less time writing his posts than he did figuring out where they would go. “And I made a lot of mistakes.” Now he has a more automated system, but it still involves a lot of Python scripting, dozens of browser tabs, and a lot more manual work than most people will do to get their thoughts out into the world.
In a post-platform world, there can be an entire industry of tools to handle cross-posting your stuff across the web. But we still live on platforms – and will be for a while. So for now, the best we have are tools like Micro.blog, a six-year-old platform for cross-posters. When you sign up for Micro.blog, you get your own blog (which the platform offers to connect to your own domain) and a way to automatically cross-post to Mastodon, LinkedIn, Bluesky, Medium, Pixelfed, Nostr and Flickr.
Manton Reece, the creator of Micro.blog, says he thinks of POSSE as “a pragmatic approach” to how social networks work. “Instead of waiting for the perfect world,” he says, “where all social networks can communicate and talk to each other and you can follow someone from Threads to Mastodon to Twitter to Facebook to whatever, let’s just accept reality and focus on post on your own site that you control – and then send it out to friends on other networks. Don’t be so principled that you cut off your content from the rest of the world!”
One thing that Micro.blog hasn’t figured out is the engagement page. Reece says he’s interested in building tools to collect and understand replies, likes, comments and the rest, but that’s much more difficult. But even this can one day become an industry in itself. Reece mentions a tool called Bridgy, which both allows for cross-posting and collects social media reactions and attaches them to posts on your website. This will forever be a struggle with the existing platforms, which have largely no incentives or tools to get engagement data out to the wider web. But some believe they can solve it.
When it comes to maintaining many different networks, Mullenweg believes POSSE is ultimately a user interface issue. And a solvable one. “I’ve thought a lot about what’s the right user interface for this,” he says. “I think there might be something like the first step is to post on my blog, and the second step is I get some opportunities to customize it for each network.” Where POSSE has gone wrong so far, he says, is by trying to automate everything. “I’m really interested in this two- or three-step publishing process to get around this.”
POSSE is really just one piece of the new social puzzle. Soon we may have a range of new reading tools, with different ideas on how to display and organize posts. We may have new content moderation systems. We might have an entire industry of algorithms, where people compete not to make the best posts but to display them in the most interesting order. Modern social networks are not a single product but a giant package of features, and the next generation of tools may be about fragmentation.
When I ask Doctorow why he believed in POSSE, he describes the excitement every poster feels on the modern internet. “I wanted to find a way to set up a new platform at this moment,” he says, “where, with a few exceptions, everyone gets their news and reads through the silos that then force you to ransom. And I wanted to use those there the silos to draw in readers and to attract and engage with an audience, but I didn’t want to be grateful to them.” The best of both worlds is currently a lot of work, but poster paradise may not be so far away.
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