Tux the Penguin reading books

FOSS Academic

Maven Ain't So Mavenly

The ever-alert Liaizon Wakest has informed the rest of us on the ActivityPub-based fediverse of a new social media site, Maven, which has ingested millions of posts from fediverse accounts, including mine.

Multiple people have pointed out how this violates consent on the fediverse. In response, the CTO of Maven, Jimmy Secretran, has explained their reasoning:

We are trying to connect up to the Fediverse, to allow interaction with other ActivityPub servers. This definitely seems to me to be within the spirit of what ActivityPub enables, but of course, I don’t want to have Maven connect to anybody who doesn’t want it.

[Note that I normally do not quote fediverse posts without permission, but in this case, I am making an exception, for reasons that I think will be obvious.]

I replied in the thread, arguing that, no, they are not really abiding by the spirit of ActivityPub:

This isn’t how this works. No one starts a fediverse (AP) server by ingesting a bunch of posts from others without their consent. They start servers and start federating with the rest of the network. Please stop ingesting posts from AoIR.social (I’m the admin, btw).


The custom is to start a server with a code of conduct, including clear moderation rules, so that the rest of us can make informed choices about federating. What you’ve done with Maven is a pretty massive violation of norms, and likely it will result in your being defederated from many other instances. It’s a poor way to start an ActivityPub implementation.

To be fair to Secretran and Maven, they have since stopped scraping my posts and, I presume, those of others who have asked them to stop. Still, I eagerly await Maven’s full ActivityPub implementation so that we can block them effectively.

This incident got me to thinking about norms and customs on the fediverse and how important they are.

States of Exception versus The Big Empty

While the Maven incident was happening, the Mastodon instance I’m helping to run, AoIR.social, is gearing up for a wave of new members. The reason is that registration for the 2024 Association of Internet Researchers conference is now open. Every paid AoIR member has access to our Mastodon server, and with every conference we get new folks who join the Association. So, we’re going to get new folks on the server. Our idea is that, since Twitter is now utterly garbage, our members need a new microblogging home to share their work.

There’s an important contrast to be drawn between the Maven incident and the new wave of AoIR.social members. As a start-up, Maven appears to have adopted a classic Silicon Valley logic of the “state of exception,” where one must quickly grow at all costs. One way to supercharge your growth is to simply steal content from other sources. It worked for YouTube back in the 2000s and for AI companies more recently. In the case of Maven, given its AI-based approach, it’s pretty clear the goal was to scrape a bunch of social content from an easy source (Mastodon.social) to train their models upon to produce their “interest-based” social media service.

In contrast, joining a Mastodon server for the first time is a bit of lonely experience. I can imagine that many new AoIR.social members may be looking at their big, empty feeds and wondering what’s next. Whom should I follow? How do I find my colleagues? Will anyone follow me? Even with things like trending topics and recommended accounts to follow, Mastodon and the fediverse is not going to do much to shape what a new user does. In the interviews I’ve conducted for my book, I heard from many folks who said joining the fediverse was much colder than joining a corporate social media site.

So, perhaps the steal-and-grow approach is best? Perhaps Maven is justified to ingest a bunch of content to present to would-be new users? Doing so could jumpstart the hard process of making yet another social media site.

But I don’t think so.

The Irony of Maven

Let’s consider the supreme irony of Maven’s ingestion of posts without consent. As they explain on their “About” page:

It’s not right that every alternative to the popularity contest on one site is just a popularity contest on another. We deserve a place to go where you can connect to people simply because you share interests, where you can speak without 100% confidence because you aren’t “performing” in front of a bunch of judges, where you can simply hold a conversation because you’re curious about the subject matter, where everyone isn’t there to build a brand and become an influencer.

That is, they’re suggesting that social media is mired in empty performances in order to gain clout, but thanks to their innovative AI, we can have social media without such clout-chasing. Instead of what’s popular, we’ll get what’s good:

Part of the idea behind Maven is that there is an enormous flux of ideas and interests out there on the internet that we never get to see or interact with because everything we experience is always based on popularity. That changes with Maven.

This would mitigate

the fact that only a tiny elite 0.1% of the population (with say 10K followers or more) can get any substantial amount of engagement while everyone else are just supporting cast members.

That all sounds great: it’s addressing a key concern people have about corporate social media, that it’s just a platform for a handful of famous influencers.

But here’s the irony: in order to get their service off the ground, they ingested millions of posts from the fediverse to make their service seem… more popular than it actually is. They’re using fediverse content to gain attention. Hell, they’ll probably get some media coverage out this, at least.

In contrast, the new member of AoIR.social, staring down a blank feed, might think that the fediverse isn’t for them. There’s nothing to jumpstart the process of building out a presence on the fedi.

But the new fedi member posts once, and gets a reply. Then again, and some followers. Over time, with a bit of work, they’re entering into conversations.

And for those who want to start a fediverse instance, that will really be empty. But if you work at it – making a code of conduct, inviting people to join, doing the work of moderating – then your server will integrate into the fediverse.

Those are the norms of the fediverse: do the work. Explore. Reach out. Moderate. Learn. Grow slowly.

And don’t steal the work of others.

By effectively stealing posts from the fediverse in order to look more popular than it is, Maven has utterly blown their chance to be the alternative they claim they want to be. And even if they have stopped scraping and do a proper ActivityPub implementation, they’re going to be #fediblocked pretty severely from here on out.

Post Tags


For each of these posts, I will also post to Mastodon. If you have a fediverse account and reply to my Mastodon post, that shows up as a comment on this blog unless you change your privacy settings to followers-only or DM. Content warnings will work. You can delete your comment by deleting it through Mastodon.

Don't have a fediverse account and you want one? Ask me how! robertwgehl AT protonmail . com

Reply through Fediverse