ve seen a few posts

Found at: ymodem.org:70/phlog/2018/rebuildtheinternet.txt

I've seen a few posts over the last few days saying that we need to rebuild the
internet. We need to decentralize everything because the huge megasites have
gotten too greedy and can no longer be trusted. We need to move to a
decentralized ad system that makes sure that the ads that are on the internet
are acceptable, respectful, and et cetera.

Putting aside the argument that ads don't have to be the be all and end all of
making money on the internet (we can talk about that another time), or that it's
a foregone conclusion that websites on the internet *must* make money. I see
articles like this all the time, and they seem to get more frequent as time
moves on. They also like to bemoan the things we've supposedly lost: communities
(forums), old technologies (IRC, gopher, newsgroups, RSS), and things like that.
Things from the so-called (because I just made it up) 'old web'. 

The things is, though, a lot of those things still exist, still run by hobbyists
(yours truly included). You just have to have an interest in something beyond
your social media network's walled garden and know how to get out there once in
a while. Those are two things that we nearly *have* lost, and it's really
disappointing to me.

If you take the average internet user, and ask them browse the Internet with the
caveat that they can't go to Google or any other search engine, Facebook,
Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Netflix, or any news sites, I suspect that they
wouldn't last very long until they got bored. They wouldn't know what to do.
That one caveat cuts the average internet user off from the entire internet.
Even though there are billions of websites now, including lots of stuff that's
not on the world wide web, I'd be willing to bet pretend money that your average
internet user can't name ten websites other than the ones I've noted above.

But those sites *are* out there, even though (comparitively) no one knows about
them. Lots of them exist as labors of love, and others are attempts at cashing
in on some fad or another, but your average internet user will never know about
more than just a couple of them.  I don't have a concrete reason for why that
is, but I have some theories. 

One of the articles (https://www.oreilly.com/ideas/its-time-to-rebuild-the-web)
mentions specifically:

"The web was never supposed to be a few walled gardens of concentrated content
owned by a few major publishers; it was supposed to be a cacophony of different
sites and voices."

And it is that. It's absolutely that. But the huge megasites have gotten so big
and so loud that they very effectively drown out anyone else trying to make
their voice heard. It's tough to break through the noise and get your unique
voice heard above the din. Back in 2002 I launched a web experiment that I
called 'crummysocks.com'. It was a dumb name that I came up with when I was in
college, and I did a lot of work on it. Learning different CMS's, learning how
the web worked, and et cetera. Through bombarding my friends and family with it
constantly and submitting it repeatedly to every search engine I could find, I
got a respectable amount of traffic after a while. I built a couple more sites
with the same general plan: have an idea, register a new domain, use that idea
as a springboard to learn something, write a lot, rinse and repeat.

But I eventually followed my friends (or they followed me, or we all followed
some celebrity, social media is an odd duck in itself) and we fell into the
social media trap. I read and posted to social media a lot, and I maintained
posting schedules for a while, but eventually my blog(s) would lay fallow. After
a few months updates slowed to a trickle and then after a few years they
essentially stopped almost entirely. It's a pattern that I had fell into slowly
enough that I didn't realize I was in it until I was neck-deep into it. I made a
few token efforts to break free and create things again and satisfy that
creative itch, but I kept falling back again. I even remarked in some blog post
or another how twitter had ruined my ability to make any posts that were longer
than 140 characters (haha, right?).  At the time I thought I was joking, but it
turns out that I might have actually been correct.

However, over the last few months I've (mostly) broken out of that cycle and
have started to put that effort that I was putting into social media into
creating things and updating my site(s) and generally doing things that I want
to do again. And what did I discover?

I discovered that if I'm not on social media, then I'm just about invisible, and
even if I *am* on social media, and don't already have a following by now, it's
really hard to cultivate a following. 

What I've found, at least in my case, is that the old method of having an idea,
registering a domain, setting everything up, and then starting blogging doesn't
amount to much any more. I can have an idea and I can put it out there, and
people might find it, or they might not. Mostly not. I can tell people about it
in person, and they never visit. I can send it to people in a text message or an
email. And they might visit once by accident. Granted, this might speak more to
the quality and quantity of the content that I produce. I'm under no illusion
that everything I produce is golden or even interesting.

Quality of my content aside, I have a hard time believing that this is an
isolated phenomenon. The place I work is filled with people from their early 20's
to their late 50's, and they all sit at computers that gives them, more or less,
unfiltered internet
access. When I walk through the building and take a casual glance at their
computers (more than that and people start to get really uncomfortable for some
reason), if they're not working they're looking at (in roughly descending order)
Facebook, YouTube, or Netflix. 

That's it.

My sample size is small, less than a hundred people, but I've also observed the
browsing habits of friends, family, and people on the street (not anything more
than what I can see when they're glancing that their phones or other screens,
I'm not some kind of voyeur, and most people out 'in the wild' aren't exactly
secretive about using their phone), and that corroborates the observations I've
made elsewhere. Generally, Internet users don't venture out of their walled
gardens at all for any reason.

Walled gardens are for non-technical people, and there are more non-technical
people on the Internet than technical people. In fact, the technical people are
busy creating newer and fancier walled gardens or shinier tools specifically
designed for the creation of walled gardens, and then they bemoan the death of
the very things they're engaged in killing.

I actually got into an argument on Slashdot about this once. I don't remember
what the story was, but I mentioned basically what I said here and that most
people don't browse sites by typing them into their address bar any more. They
get links from social media or news sites or search engines, visit once, and
then never come back. My main proof was that I had a thing on my website go
viral, and it got tens of thousands of clicks, but those people never came back.
Someone countered that on *their* website people typed in the URL all the
time, thousands of them, and that my anecdote was wrong and stupid and I didn't
know what I was talking about. I've never once claimed to know what I was
talking about, and the name of the other mystery website was never revealed.

Is this a fixable problem, though? That's what I'm not sure of. I'm not even
sure that it *is* a problem. We essentially now have at least two separate
internets that lay on top of each other. We have the internet that most
non-technical people know and use: the 'walled garden internet' of social media,
smartphone apps, cat pictures, and videos of people falling down. And we have
the other internet: people carving out their niches and putting out there
whatever pops into their head, getting their individual viewpoint out fostering
communities, or creating whatever thing is is that the feel the world is missing
without the filter of The Algorithm getting in the way.

Should we encourage users of the walled garden internet to go outside of their
walled gardens? Should we teach them that there is more to the Internet than
five sites on the World Wide Web? If we *do* try to educate them and they don't
care, have we wasted our time? What if they don't care *now* but
five years from now in a state of momentary ennui when they're mindlessly
scrolling through the grey mush of their algorithmmically curated news feed they
have a flash of rememberence of a thing you mentioned to them about there being
a world out beyond the edges of the yard? Do ever get the yearn to create their
own garden instead of just adding to someone else's? Do they even know that such
a thing is possible? Would they care?

I don't have good answers to those questions.

And for holdouts like me who do put things on the olde schoole internet the hard
way. Why do we do it? I can't speak for everyone, but I do it because I want to
create things in the way I want to create them. I want to control everything I
put out there in a way that's discoverable by anyone that wants to take the time
to look for it, and not have it hidden by an inpenetrable algorithm making
secret decisions on what it thinks I might like. I want to do things the way I
want to do them, not the way everyone else does them. I want to fail on my own
terms. I want to succeed by my own hand.

I want to make sure that at least a small part of the world, by way of the
internet, is shaped the way that I want it to be shaped. I want to be an example
that if you want to, that you can still make something great (or something
silly) put it up where anyone can see it if they want to, and you don't need to
sell your entire digital soul to do it. I
want to send a message that you can, with a modicum of effort, make a dent on
the world (the shape of that dent is up to you, the size of that dent is up to
everyone). Your dent may be as transient as a late-autumn snowflake or as
permanent as a mountain range. Everyone applying their own personal dents is
what makes the internet (and the world) great and wondrous and thought-provoking
and interesting. Yes, there's also Bad Stuff(tm) and silly stuff and all of the
stuff in between, but that's who we are. 

We are not merely the sum of our Facebook postings unless we choose to be.

If only one person is heartened by this message and is inspired to escape from
their walled garden and makes their dent on the world, or is reminded that by
creating something we want in the way we want to do it and presenting it how we
want to present it can be a reward unto itself, then the thousands of hours I've
spent making things will have all been worth it. 

Even if that one person is me.

Last updated 24 May 2018