No matter where I go on the Internet, I feel like I am trapped in the “feed,” held down by algorithms that are like axes trying to make bespoke shirts out of silk. And no one illustrates it better than Facebook and Twitter, two more services that should know better, but they don’t. Fake news, unintelligent information and radically dumb statements are getting more attention than what matters. The likes, retweets, re-posts are nothing more than steroids for noise. Even when you are sarcastic in your retweets or re-shares, the system has the understanding of a one-year-old monkey baby: it is a vote on popularity.
It is common to refer to universally popular social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest as “walled gardens.” But they are not gardens; they are walled industrial sites, within which users, for no financial compensation, produce data which the owners of the factories sift and then sell. Some of these factories (Twitter, Tumblr, and more recently Instagram) have transparent walls, by which I mean that you need an account to post anything but can view what has been posted on the open Web; others (Facebook, Snapchat) keep their walls mostly or wholly opaque. But they all exercise the same disciplinary control over those who create or share content on their domain.
Professor Alan Jacobs makes the case for the indie web:
We need to revivify the open Web and teach others—especially those who have never known the open Web—to learn to live extramurally: outside the walls.
What do I mean by “the open Web”? I mean the World Wide Web as created by Tim Berners-Lee and extended by later coders. The open Web is effectively a set of protocols that allows the creating, sharing, and experiencing of text, sounds, and images on any computer that is connected to the Internet and has installed on it a browser that can interpret information encoded in conformity with these protocols.
This resonated strongly with me:
To teach children how to own their own domains and make their own websites might seem a small thing. In many cases it will be a small thing. Yet it serves as a reminder that the online world does not merely exist, but is built, and built to meet the desires of certain very powerful people—but could be built differently.
I started a Twitter account, and fell into a world of good, dumb, weird jokes, links to new sites and interesting ideas. It was such an excellent place to waste time that I almost didn’t notice that the blogs and link-sharing sites I’d once spent hours on had become less and less viable. Where once we’d had a rich ecosystem of extremely stupid and funny sites on which we might procrastinate, we now had only Twitter and Facebook.
And then, one day, I think in 2013, Twitter and Facebook were not really very fun anymore. And worse, the fun things they had supplanted were never coming back. Forums were depopulated; blogs were shut down. Twitter, one agent of their death, became completely worthless: a water-drop-torture feed of performative outrage, self-promotion, and discussion of Twitter itself. Facebook had become, well … you’ve been on Facebook.
New Privacy Rules Could Make This Woman One of Tech’s Most Important Regulators - The New York Times
It’s kind of surreal to see a profile in the New York Times of my sister-in-law. Then again, she is Ireland’s data protection commissioner, and what with Facebook, Twitter, and Google all being based in Ireland, and with GDPR looming, her work is more important than ever.
By the way, this article has 26 tracking scripts. I don’t recall providing consent for any of them.
A good core experience is indicative of a well-structured web page, which, in turn, is usually a good sign for SEO and for accessibility. It’s usually a well designed web page, as the designer and developer have spent time and effort thinking about what’s truly core to the experience. Progressive enhancement means more robust experiences, with fewer bugs in production and fewer individual browser quirks, because we’re letting the platform do the job rather than trying to write it all from scratch.
Here’s the talk I gave at Webstock earlier this year all about the indie web:
In these times of centralised services like Facebook, Twitter, and Medium, having your own website is downright disruptive. If you care about the longevity of your online presence, independent publishing is the way to go. But how can you get all the benefits of those third-party services while still owning your own data? By using the building blocks of the Indie Web, that’s how!
On moving from silos to your own website:
Over the last year, especially, it has seemed much more like “blog to write, tweet to fight.” Moreover, the way that our writing and personal data has been used by social media companies has become more obviously problematic—not that it wasn’t problematic to begin with.
Which is why it’s once again a good time to blog, especially on one’s own domain.
But on the other hand…
It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site.
That’s true …which is why brid.gy is such an incredibly powerful service for, well, bridging the gap between your own personal site and the silos, allowing for that feeling of ambient humanity.
Perhaps when Bush prophesied lightning-quick knowledge retrieval, he didn’t intend for that knowledge to be footnoted with Outbrain adverts. Licklider’s man-computer symbiosis would have been frustrated had it been crop-dusted with notifications. Ted Nelson imagined many wonderfully weird futures for the personal computer, but I don’t think gamifying meditation apps was one of them.
In trying to decide on his indie web approach, Dries gives an excellent breakdown of the concepts of PESOS (Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate to Own Site) and POSSE (Publish to Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere).
Paul weighs up the pros and cons of using silos (like Twitter and Facebook) and using the Indie Web. This bit made me want to stand on my desk and cry, “Oh captain, my captain!”:
“The market has proven that consumers want freely available social networks that are easy to use, and used by everyone else. Only centralised services can provide this, not familiarity with a command line and a succession of acronyms and protocols”, says my not entirely fictional naysayer.
I’m not sure this argument follows. While the human desire to connect and communicate easily with each other has been proven many times over, it’s becoming clear that all-encompassing centralised networks are not the solution. That way lies algorithmically-skewed streams of consciousness, layered upon sordid business models and Californian ideology. Fuck that.
The web is agreement, but that doesn’t mean we agree to use the same websites.
If only our digital social networks were to exhibit this kind of faded grandeur when they no longer exist.
It’s a shame that this archiving project is coming to end. We don’t always know the future value of the present:
Researchers have come to realize that the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, transcriptions from London’s central criminal court, are the only record we have of the spoken words of many people who lived centuries ago but were not in the educated or elite classes. That we have them talking about the theft of a pig rather than the thought of Aristotle only gives us greater insight into the lived experience of their time.
You can’t log into the same Facebook twice.
The world as we experience it seems to be growing more opaque. More of life now takes place on digital platforms that are different for everyone, closed to inspection, and massively technically complex. What we don’t know now about our current experience will resound through time in historians of the future knowing less, too. Maybe this era will be a new dark age, as resistant to analysis then as it has become now.
In the name of holy engagement, the native experience of products like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are moving away from giving people the ability to curate. They do this by taking control away from you, the user. By showing what other people liked, or by showing recommendations, without any way to turn it off, they prevent people from creating a better experience for themselves.
Medium, Twitter, Facebook and others are edge services for your content … Your platform is the origin.
A beautiful piece of writing from Virginia Heffernan on how to cope with navigating the overwhelming tsunami of the network.
The trick is to read technology instead of being captured by it—to maintain the whip hand.
Newsvine has closed. Mike reflects on what he built, with a particular eye to the current online news situation.
When we look at how the average person’s news and media diet has changed over the last decade or so, we can trace it directly back to the way these and other modern organizations have begun feeding us our news. Up until 10 or 15 years ago, we essentially drank a protein shake full of news. A good amount of fruits and vegetables, some grains, some dairy, some tofu, and then a little bit of sugar, all blended together. Maybe it wasn’t the tastiest thing in the world but it kept us healthy and reasonably informed. Then, with cable news we created a fruit-only shake for half the population and a vegetable-only shake for the other half. Then with internet news, we deconstructed the shake entirely and let you pick your ingredients, often to your own detriment. And finally, with peer-reinforced, social news networks, we’ve given you the illusion of a balanced diet, but it’s often packed with sugar, carcinogens, and other harmful substances without you ever knowing. And it all tastes great!
There’s also this interesting litmus test for budding entrepreneurs:
We didn’t know for sure if it was going to work, but the day we decided we’d be happy to have tried it even if it failed was the day we ended up quitting our jobs (incidentally, if you are thinking about leaving your job for a new risky thing, this is the acid test I recommend).
Dave applies two quotes from sci-fi authors to the state of today’s web.
A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.
The function of science fiction is not only to predict the future, but to prevent it.
Make Twitter Great Again:
Fix Twitter is a browser extension to always show “replying to” in replies and threads along with an option to restore the old-school @-mentions.