Blogging and the Decentralized Internet

(Somehow I now have a series of posts about blogging in 2018. Here’s the first one. Two is a series, right?)

1. Great comment the other day on reddit (found via r/bestof), in response to Twitter’s inaction vs Alex Jones. Quoting part of the comment:

How can the OG generation of web users possibly hope to maintain the Internet as a free and decentralized medium when a growing majority of the current userbase accept centralization of content and audience, as not only the status quo but as the way things should be? To such an extent that they make the perverse argument that YouTube shouldn’t be able to ban people for inciting violence?

2007 (or possibly earlier) was the end of the personal Internet and the beginning of the corporate silo Internet. People from 1997 would be totally confused that everyone visits ONE SITE to participate in forum discussions. The 1997 way of doing things would be two hundred different forums for subject interests and if you wanted to find another one you would have to Ask Jeeves or use a web ring. People from 1997 would be appalled that Reddit not only doesn’t ban Stormfront, we let them run communities under our noses like redpill and the D (or gradually take them over, like tumblrinaction and cringepics). But the bitterness in our cup, we mixed for ourselves: this is the logical consequence of “wouldn’t it be great if all forums were just a click away from each other?” Why have forums when you can have THE forum? And then let’s put a corporation in charge of it, a corporation that’s too much of a fucking pussy to actually take action against evil that’s happening on their watch – except sporadically, hypocritically and only when the media spotlight burns too bright.

So, sure, the Jones defenders are half right in that the modern internet is a corruption of the original Dream of the Web: far from a decentralized “web” of users, everything now is a natural monopoly, and the corporations rent the actual function of the Internet back to us, piecemeal. We are no longer a web, but a series of watering holes.

I miss the decentralized internet of 2007 that the comment above alludes to. A few weeks ago I was cleaning up some old files and found a list of blogs I used to follow. Most of them are dead now, either unavailable or no updates in years. Probably the owners thought “what’s the point” and started hanging out in one of the corporate silos instead. Some of them were people I knew IRL, while others were strangers I met or online or whose blogs I stumbled upon and found interesting enough to follow.

2. Slight tangent 1: Hill I am willing to die on: a blog is a website with a series of posts, often reverse chronological nature. A blog post is a single post on a blog.

3. Understandably, running and maintaining your own blog isn’t for everybody; it’s much easier to set up a Facebook page or a Twitter account or a subreddit and just post everything there, and that’s fine. But what’s disappointing is the lack of open interoperability between these channels that makes it difficult for smaller sites to operate independently of the large behemonths.

4. Slight tangent 2: I miss RSS, I really wish it took off. I mean, fundamentally, sites like Facebook and Twitter aren’t that much different from feedreaders of yore (Okay, I still use a feedreader, it’s Feedly), except we’d probably need to expand the protocol to standardize on reply/commenting systems.

4.5. If you want to give RSS a slight boost, there’s a tool I found recently that lets you export URLs from your twitter follows to an OPML that you can import to an RSS reader. It’s net!

5. With Twitter’s current Alex Jones problem and the recent troubles at Facebook, I’ve been looking into some interesting approaches to decentralized/federated social media. One that I found interesting is Mastodon. I currently have an account, @roytang@mastodon.social, not sure if I’ll migrate to a different server at some point. It’s much less toxic than Twitter, and I’m especially fond of their declared philosophy re: abuse and harassment. However, there isn’t that much interesting content yet, at least as far as I can tell. If you know of someone interesting to follow on Mastodon, tell me about it!

5.5. Andy Baio of waxy.org recently posted an interesting tweetstorm talking about how it was in the early days of Twitter and how Mastodon feels by comparison.

6. I run a personal blog with very few readers (I’m fine with that), and I use social media cross-posting to notify Twitter followers and Facebook friends when I have new posts. Or at least I used to, until Facebook recently pulled the plug on their APIs that now make it impossible to autopost from Twitter. I’m tempted to stop crossposting altogether lol. (At the very least I know there’s at least one person that reads my blog without me posting the link to Facebook, so that’s nice.)

There’s a kind of relevant Oatmeal comic about this here. (Not that I produce anywhere near as good content as Oatmeal does but w/e)

7. All hope is not lost though, there are still people out there blogging tirelessly. A while back I found quite a few interesting blogs from a Kottke post. One of the ones I like best is karigee.com, and she puts it quite well as to why she still blogs (this quote also conveniently quoted in the same Kottke post above):

I also keep it out of spite, because I refuse to let social media take everything. Those shapeless, formless platforms haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. I’ve blogged about this many times, but I still believe it: When I log into Facebook, I see Facebook. When I visit your blog, I see you.

I think it’s highly unlikely that we get anything close to the decentralized internet back. The internet trend of megacorps and centralization and consolidation is reflective of real-life trends after all (capitalism and economics of scale and mass consumerism and all that seem to point in this direction.) But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep writing our blogs.

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