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Hi jordigh! (Historically) lead developer and co-founder of MediaGoblin here (and ActivityPub spec co-author/editor, so I have more than a bit of insight/bias I think).

You're not wrong. And neither is the parent post! MediaGoblin is in "unofficial retirement", but that's because we made progress unexpectedly in other ways, which is good, but not where we realized we were going. Allow me to lay out what happened and what the history is here.

About four (or was it five?) years ago, MediaGoblin was still a very active project and a lot of it worked, but we still didn't have working federation support. At the time we were looking at a lot of different protocols and it wasn't clear which approach was the right one, but Evan Prodromou had written up the Pump API document: https://github.com/pump-io/pump.io/blob/master/API.md

Even though pump.io didn't have the highest uptake, it seemed to have the cleanest design and addressed many issues that OStatus had. Evan did StatusNet which is what's also now called GNU Social, and has done more work to advance the federated social web than anyone else, and given how clean the design looked and that I trusted Evan, I thought this was the right approach. So we used the funds from the second crowdfunding campaign we ran and hired Jessica Tallon, who had written PyPump (and understood the practical details better than me at the time, I was learning as I went), to do the implementation. We got as far as getting MediaGoblin and Pump.io to talk to each other and pump.io clients to even work on MediaGoblin.

But there was still a problem... nobody else was using the Pump API but our two projects, and at this point all these different projects on the fediverse were speaking different protocols (and sometimes not even compatibly speaking the same protocol)... what I would call in talks as a "fractured federation". I heard Evan Prodromou mention he was going to be co-chairing the W3C Social Working Group and I asked that Jessica and I could participate, and we were brought in as what are called "invited experts". At this point Erin Shepherd had transformed the Pump API document into a prototype W3C spec document called "ActivityPump" and that was the direction Jessica and I got pulled in to.

There were a lot of smart people in the group, and my assumption was, they probably all knew what they were doing and I told Jessica "we can just show up for an hour a week to make sure they're on track and doing what we need and then we can focus on MediaGoblin". I didn't know the phrase "revolutions are run by the people who show up" but I certainly do now... Jessica and I got drawn in as co-editors of the ActivityPub standard. We had raised enough money from the second crowdfunding campaign to pay Jessica for a full year (I didn't take any money from that campaign) but we stretched it out to two years by Jessica and I contracting for Open Tech Strategies part time (great people, btw). This was helpful because when one of us was working on standards stuff, the other person could do some work on MediaGoblin as a project, and there was a lot to do.

But as time went on and deadlines became more urgent, standardizing ActivityPub grew more and more in time consumed. Eventually it became my full time job; I would work 40-50 hours a week on ActivityPub and do 10-20 hours of contracting on the side to pay the bills. It was clear we were doing something important and there was a real opportunity.

But ActivityPub grew to three and a half years of standardization work and as I said, we only could stretch out paying Jessica for two, so she had to find paying work and it wasn't possible for us to split our time to manage both. In the meanwhile, even though all this stuff was happening for MediaGoblin, I found less and less time to work on the project. Even worse, Gitorious (which we had previously been hosted on) went down, and we were unsure where to move to. A community member volunteered to do the work to move us to Savannah and we took it. MediaGoblin wasn't using Gitorious's issues/merge request tools anyway; the way people would make contributions is make a new git branch, publish it anywhere, and then link that branch on the issue tracker where we'd do the code review and then eventually we'd merge it in. In that sense we were already using git in a more distributed manner (the way that git was intended I'd even argue)... but actually I do think we lost something in the move from Gitorious to Savannah. What we lost is that many people didn't know where to host branches, and Gitorious (along with many other such services) tend to offer a one-click easy process to fork, where you don't have to learn or debate over how/where to host things if you don't already have a preference. Our server infrastructure also languished... we previously had some volunteers helping with the infrastructure but they ran low on time, there was a server migration that went badly (it's still in a bad state tbh), spam filled up our wiki and trac instances, and it was all a huge headache that I didn't really have time to deal with. And I wasn't there to help steward the project the way I used to... I did appoint a co-maintainer (Breton) who did great work but I guess I did help drive a lot of the energy for the project and so when I stopped working on it actively, the community languished. We went from dozens of active contributors to practically none over the course of ActivityPub's standardization.

It wasn't clear that it was worth it; towards the end of ActivityPub's standrdization it looked like we wouldn't even make it and I thought I wasted years of my life. Then Mastodon picked it up, then Peertube, then etc etc and we suddenly had dozens of ActivityPub implementations. It turns out it was worth it, and finally we had a fediverse that did talk to each other. It turned out MediaGoblin did make a large contribution to the federated social web, but it wasn't in the way I expected... it was a driving force, rather than the project people ran.

Still, afterwards I came back (and with a more strong sense of how finite and fragile time is than ever) and I had to debate: should I pick up and run full swing with MediaGoblin again? The project could pick up and with effort, merge the languishing federation branch, I could try to drum up excitement in the community again, we might even make it.

But the webdev world shifted and so did I. IPFS and Webtorrent didn't exist when MediaGoblin started, and Peertube did the smart thing of integrating those into their project and it felt like they handled our ideas better than we did there. There were also all these other projects (Pixelfed, Funkwhale) which, while not delivering all the media types in one package (why the heck not? I still don't understand that) which seemed to be doing the same thing we were and actually were already federating... with the protocol we built for our own needs with MediaGoblin no less! And web applications aren't typically built as request-response type systems any more (and I for one was tired of it and had become disillusioned for my interest/belief in for Python being a great asynchronous language), and I just didn't feel excited about the codebase anymore. What to do?

I had another idea, and I called up several of my closest free software friends to make sure that the path I was suggesting wasn't an awful one. The main success I have had turned out to not be in the applications I built but in the way I showed how to grow distributed systems, and I now understand even the deficiencies (but how we can improve building on the base we have) on the current federated social web. So that's where Spritely came from, and why I'm building it as a series of demos (more here:) https://dustycloud.org/blog/spritely/ (first documented demo here:) https://gitlab.com/spritely/golem/blob/master/README.org

So what lead to MediaGoblin's "unofficial retirement"? I think that it's both true that a) the standardization effort of ActivityPub, while done for MediaGoblin, accidentally lead to a loss of energy in MediaGoblin's community b) there was a falloff in code/infrastructure hosting and other challenges related to that c) other projects picked up on what MediaGoblin was doing and arguably did it better, using ActivityPub even, and finally d) I still believe there are serious problems and deficiencies in the current federated social web that are addressable, and so I started the Spritely project to document and demonstrate a path forward there.

You could focus on just any one of those, but I think the story is clearest when it's told all together.

Anyway, it's free software! If someone is interested in revitalizing the project and community, I'm still interested in that happening.. maybe reach out to me and we can figure out how to continue. I'm easily found: https://dustycloud.org/contact/




Would you consider copying this to a blog (or maybe the Mediagoblin website)? Seems like a lot of valuable background/history that I'd hate to see buried forever on HN.


Thanks... I'll post it to my blog later today!


What @anderspitman said -- would be great if this were a post on your blog.




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