Substack rival Ghost confirms it will join the fediverse in 2024

Ghost, an open-source rival to Substack’s newsletter platform, has confirmed it will this year officially join the fediverse — or the open social network of interconnected servers that includes apps like Mastodon, Pixelfed, PeerTube, Flipboard and, more recently, Instagram Threads, among others. Last week, the company teased its plans by surveying its users about how they may want federation to work.

Founder John O’Nolan had explained in a post on Threads that there are many potential ways that Ghost could leverage federation in its software, but wanted to know how users would expect things to work.

According to some replies, the hope was that Ghost’s blog and newsletter authors would become fediverse accounts, while each of their posts would be federated to the fediverse. This would allow users to follow Ghost’s authors from their preferred app, as well as like and reply to their posts from the fediverse. These replies could then be posted back on the author’s site as a blog comment. Ghost said it expects to add tens of millions of users to the fediverse when integration is completed. In total, the fediverse is expected to reach 170 to 200 million users by this summer, when including Instagram Threads in the total.

This setup is similar to how WordPress federated with ActivityPub, the protocol powering the fediverse, after acquiring an ActivityPub blog plug-in. When enabled, WordPress blogs can be followed by people on apps like Mastodon and others in the fediverse and then receive replies as comments on their own sites.

Ghost’s announcement last week set off a flurry of activity, including outreach from Mastodon CTO Renaud Chaput who offered to help out with the ActivityPub integration.

On Monday, Ghost officially confirmed its plans to federate its service in 2024 and detailed how it would work.

The company explained that Ghost publishers would “soon” be able to follow, like, and interact with one another in the same way as they normally would on a social network, but from their own website. Plus, they’ll be able to follow, like, and interact with users on other federated services like Mastodon, Threads, Flipboard, Buttondown, WriteFreely, WordPress, PeerTube, Pixelfed, and others.

Meanwhile, an ActivityPub-powered feed will be built into Ghost so users can follow the people, publications, and topics of interest to them from around the web. They’ll also be able to subscribe to these sites via ActivityPub, in addition to RSS. And when Ghosts’ authors publish, their posts will appear on networks like Mastodon and others.

Ghost’s announcement detailed the benefits of an ActivityPub integration, noting that each platform could design how it wants to present its content while still being compatible with other services. Readers will also have more choices in how they want to subscribe to an author’s content — via email subscriptions, RSS, or ActivityPub. Gated access for sites with paid subscriptions can also be managed through ActivityPub, but Ghost hasn’t yet shared exactly how this aspect would work, only that it will do its best to “create a seamless experience.”

“And, because this technology is all open, you remain in full control of your subscribers,” the blog post states. “When you publish a new piece online, your distribution comes from your own website rather than needing to depend on third parties.”

Ghost has generated increased interest in recent months as more high-profile authors have made the switch.

Notably, Casey Newton, formerly of The Verge, left Substack and migrated to Ghost instead over concerns about how Substack moderated — or rather didn’t moderate — some of the content on its platform. Garbage Day left as well. Other popular publishers include 404 Media, Buffer, Kickstarter, David Sirota’s The Lever, and Tangle, to name a few.

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