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Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down
December 13, 2012 1:13 PM   Subscribe

"To the credit of today's social networks, they've brought in hundreds of millions of new participants [...] but they haven't shown the web itself the respect and care it deserves, as a medium which has enabled them to succeed. And they've now narrowed the possibilites of the web for an entire generation of users who don't realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be." Anil Dash laments The Web We Lost, and offers some suggestions for moving forward.
posted by oulipian (74 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 


He seems to be forgetting that people in general - not tech-fascinated people like himself, but the general public - want things to be simple, intuitive, plug-and-play, and that's why they've gravitated to prefab commercial platforms. Not everyone wants to tinker. People waited until there was a ready product, easy to engage with. If it's going to be more than a small elite using the web - if it's really supposed to be open to the masses - those options have to be many.

It blows my mind that when people make critiques like this, they tend to overlook the biggest causal factor, which is simple capitalism. This is just one example of a newly created resource that was shaped and driven in the hands of a knowledgeable few who experimented and grew it, who developed it to a point where it began to produce value and draw consumer interest -- and as soon as that work was done, the originators got bought out/pushed out or co-opted, and deeply capitalized players took over.

I mean, this is an economic story, not a web story. It's the story of all kinds of industries. I share the "free, user-empowering" ethos he has, but it's no mystery why we ended up with the web we have rather than a hypothetical grassroots, open-source, academic, international web.
posted by Miko at 1:25 PM on December 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


The Web We Lost

"'Nobody' (i.e. not in the demographic he's looking at) uses it anymore" is not the same as "no longer available".
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:27 PM on December 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Facebook et.al. are today's logical extension of when people used Yahoo or AOL as "the internet". Hell, I know young people who use Yahoo as their "internet portal".
posted by Thorzdad at 1:30 PM on December 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Democratization would be great if not for all the people.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:34 PM on December 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


What else have we lost on the social web?

Time. Lots of it.
posted by perhapses at 1:41 PM on December 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


I have a friend who often wonders why they have spent so much time and effort writing the equivalent of several books worth of comments on Metafilter instead of just writing their own blog.
posted by jeffamaphone at 2:00 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


perhapses: What else have we lost on the social web?

Time. Lots of it.
And some birds. But they were pretty angry at the time, anyway.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:01 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]



I can remember planning
Building my whole world around you
And I can remember hoping
That you and I could make it on through

But something went wrong
We loved each other
We just couldn't get along
Take a good look at me
I'm in misery, can't you see?

The web we lost
(The web, the web we lost)
Was a sweet web
posted by MuffinMan at 2:10 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


...ladies and gentlemen, Anil Dash and the Blue Notes, featuring Mathowie Pendergrass.

or should we say "MetaFilter's Own Anil 'Professional White Background' Dash".
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:15 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's something ironic about how you can't even see the comments unless you have some Javascript from Facebook enabled, and you only get (apparently?) four options to comment, Facebook, AOL, Hotmail, or Yahoo. You don't need to use FB comments in order to allow people who use FB to comment. Disqus and Instantdebate do it, for example.
posted by shoyu at 2:18 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


He seems to be forgetting that people in general - not tech-fascinated people like himself, but the general public - want things to be simple, intuitive, plug-and-play, and that's why they've gravitated to prefab commercial platforms.

From the piece: "The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth."

It blows my mind that when people make critiques like this, they tend to overlook the biggest causal factor, which is simple capitalism.

From the piece: "And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks."

I hear ya.
posted by anildash at 2:19 PM on December 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


Snark all you want but we did lose something and I still miss it. Sure it might all "still be there" - I'm still posting to my blog, after all, eleven or twelve years after starting it, and nobody's trying to stop me... but it felt one way to be part of the big new thing, and it feels a different way to be one of the last old holdouts after everyone else has moved on and left the new thing behind.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:21 PM on December 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


"There is a certain dull uniformity in human destiny. The course of our lives follows ancient and immutable laws, with an ancient, changeless rhythm. Dreams never come true, and the instant they are shattered, we realize how the greatest joys of our life lie beyond the realm of reality. The instant they are shattered we are sick with longing for the days when they flamed within us. Our fate spends itself in this succession of hope and nostalgia."
-Natalia Ginzburg
posted by perhapses at 2:23 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who often wonders why they have spent so much time and effort writing the equivalent of several books worth of comments on Metafilter instead of just writing their own blog.

My blog doesn't have favorites.
posted by Egg Shen at 2:26 PM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


It reminds me of the lamentations of an artist when the once hip neighborhood becomes gentrified. It's a problem, for sure, but the artist laid the groundwork for the neighborhood to become attractive to yuppies.
posted by perhapses at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


rom the piece: "And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks."

So what's an example of a very profitable web service that doesn't exert extreme control? And the thing is, even if there are a few of those, they are most likely not 'profitable' in the ways that large corporations would find profitable, and they'll increasingly drive the ad and data models.

It may be that user flexibility and control doesn't haveto involve complex tinkering. But it usually just does. I don't think that's really a "fallacy," I think it describes reality. I would never have started a blog if I had to code it myself. I find even WordPress irritatingly complex. It's no accident that conglomerate-owned, better-funded platforms are developed in a way that works better, looks cleaner, and is easier to use. And I'm somewhere on the pretty-savvy end of the curve, not in the massive middle or the trailing edge.

I have a friend who often wonders why they have spent so much time and effort writing the equivalent of several books worth of comments on Metafilter instead of just writing their own blog.


I've asked myself the same question. The short answer is that MetaFilter is more provocative. It's full of writing prompts, to start with, and challenges that often reach a pleasing level of difficulty. A blank screen and a handful of random commenters who found your blog can't replicate this dynamism that gives rise to the urge to work at communicating, and to do it about something.
posted by Miko at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


> Disqus and Instantdebate do it, for example.

Hey, I would have expected anildash to roll his own.

As for the issue, I had a bad feeling about this even when Eric S. Raymond was going all orgasmic over the coming commercialization of the intarwebs. ESR, I thought, there may be aspects of this that will prove... regrettable.

That was a great strategy they used to keep the HAM radio network clean and pure: no broadcast license until you prove you can read and write Morse code. In the alternate reality stream I run, the web is strictly read-only until you can write a recursive expression parser in ASM.
posted by jfuller at 2:33 PM on December 13, 2012


For me, this is the most troubling statement of the whole essay:

"But we're going to face a big challenge with re-educating a billion people about what the web means..."

The web has no meaning. It means whatever you want it to mean. Good luck with that re-education campaign, Chairman.
posted by perhapses at 2:37 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's probably no surprise that I agree with much of what Anil wrote, it's crazy how amazing it is to search Flickr for any kind of image and be able to use those images and then you think about Instagram and how that's basically impossible to re-display those on another site.

Just the other day I was wondering if anyone was blogging about the thing I wrote on Medium, and I had to go out and find the old Google Blog Search page and do a backlink search and I don't think I got any results until the article was up for more than a day and I lamented that even the buggy days of Technorati were better than this.

It is pretty weird that even though I have my own blog, I've moved much of my writing onto a service like Twitter that is nearly invisible to Google and Facebook which is almost totally invisible to Google and it's not easy/possible to get older things I've written on either service.
posted by mathowie at 2:38 PM on December 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


The huge uptake of the new Flickr app last night was giving me giddy hopes that the old web is fighting back. Time to route around the damage here.

This made me chuckle though:

Ten years ago, you could allow people to post links on your site, or to show a list of links which were driving inbound traffic to your site ... until Google corrupted links.

These guys are never going to apologise for trackback, are they? Even though the very second people heard about it they said "this'll be a spam fountain, right?". Long before Google had "corrupted" links.
posted by fightorflight at 2:59 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I generally agree with his points, but every time I read the phrase "the social web" I threw up a little bit in the back of my throat. I wonder how he feels about leveraging synergies and monetizing the social cloud?

Anyway, I say screw the early web, bring back BBSes. There's never been anything as cool since. It was like a local internet where you actually had the chance to meet everybody in RL!

It seems like kids today have a Facebook account from the day they're born, yet Facebook is really only good at helping you stay in touch with people you already know. Without BBSes, how do unpopular kids meet equally unpopular kids from other schools?

... not that I would know anything about that use-case ....
posted by Afroblanco at 3:04 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Everything started going to hell once advertisers and marketing departments discovered the web and "monetize" became the siren song. Now, it's ads everywhere and cookies and tracking and crap.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:05 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've moved much of my writing onto a service like Twitter that is nearly invisible to Google and Facebook which is almost totally invisible to Google and it's not easy/possible to get older things I've written on either service.

Well and it's weird [speaking as someone who still has her own blog but looks at myself in the mirror asking "why are you doing this?" form time to time] but Twitter/Facebook are surfaced in Google, just in a super weird and abbreviated way. So if you put something on facebook and then tweet about it, the tweet gets indexed using only those 140 characters. And then we hear that Google is placing more emphasis on your site's ability to link users socially [no idea if that's true or not] which is more ... about Google than anything else. I think it depends on what you're after. My blog was always about making sure my mom knew I was okay even though I may not have called for a few days and now it [and twitter and facebook and whatever else] still continue to do that.

Facebook is really only good at helping you stay in touch with people you already know.


This really depends. I meet people professionally on facebook. There are a lot of librarians who use it and use it to organize stuff with other librarians because many people in the profession are still using mailing lists and this is a step up from that. I'm just happy I saw someone yammering about this article on Twitter (oh, it was Anil and mathowie) because then I got to go read it and learn about the Flickr app and now I am happy.
posted by jessamyn at 3:06 PM on December 13, 2012


I agree wholeheartedly with Dash's sentiment that web companies "haven't shown the web itself the respect and care it deserves." Web companies are increasingly breaking fundamental aspects of how the web is supposed to work, in the interests of commercialization and control:
  • Try doing a Google search, then right-clicking on a link to copy the URL. You'll just get a long, incomprehensible Google query URL, because the links are redirect links so Google can better track users.
  • Twitter has killed off most of the ecosystem that made it so popular. Twitter also automatically shortens URLs, mostly for similar tracking reasons. Most of the time on Twitter I have no idea what website I'm actually going to when I click a link.
  • Instagram, as Dash points out, is "only reluctantly on the web at all." Instagram.com is basically a link to download the app, with no services for non-logged-in users.
  • Facebook may have made the web accessible to millions of new users, but it is training them to break the web. Case in point: things people are sharing on my Facebook feed are increasingly pictures of text instead of text, presumably because photos are more visible on everyone's news feed.
  • Instead of providing users with a platform to share data, social media sites are holding it hostage - "We get bullshit turf battles like Tumblr not being able to find your Twitter friends or Facebook not letting Instagram photos show up on Twitter because of giant companies pursuing their agendas instead of collaborating in a way that would serve users."
This stuff makes the web less accessible, less open, easier for governments and companies to censor and control, and generally less useful for everyone. Over the long term, it will stifle innovation - already developing anything for mobile is a mess of incompatible SDKs.

Of course, I can think of a few useful examples of companies and platforms that are making the web better, more open, and more useful, such as WordPress, Wikipedia, and the Stack Exchange network.
posted by oulipian at 3:16 PM on December 13, 2012 [26 favorites]


Yeah, well, love y'all and all and had similarly rapturous times exploring the early nets and the emerging web, but ultimately they're just parts of the control machine. There's a smidgen of Gollum in being all precious about it. I should have just took up surfing instead.
posted by deo rei at 3:43 PM on December 13, 2012


that web companies "haven't shown the web itself the respect and care it deserves."

That's a ridiculous statement, unless you have a puppy named web. There are certainly ethical issues surrounding the use of any communication medium, and the web is not alone in being dominated by large media companies. TV, film, book publishing, etc., are also but that's a whole different issue. The web is not special, but it is more open than most other media so there is no part to gain or to lose. No one is shutting down your pirate radio station.

It's the Starbucks argument applied to the web. Millions of people go to Starbucks. I hate that crap but I don't think they need to be re-educated about what "real" coffee tastes like. I have my options.

It's just another way for internet geeks to show how much longer they've been staring at computer screens than the average person.
posted by perhapses at 3:46 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Without BBSes, how do unpopular kids meet equally unpopular kids from other schools?
Twitter, meetups included
posted by fightorflight at 4:04 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I should have just took up surfing instead.

Haven't been to the beach lately, have you? All the waves are branded now.
posted by jfuller at 4:04 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's the Starbucks argument applied to the web. Millions of people go to Starbucks. I hate that crap but I don't think they need to be re-educated about what "real" coffee tastes like. I have my options.

It's almost as naive to think that Starbucks has no effect on your options for drinking coffee just because you never go there as it is to think that Facebook has no effect on the usefulness of the web jsut because you don't have a Facebook account.
posted by straight at 4:31 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Who said anything about it having no effect on my options?
posted by perhapses at 4:36 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have had similar feelings for a couple of years now.

When I first started using internet (maybe 13-15 years ago? No BBSs for me.) personal web pages were mostly a product of love for something. Browsing the internet (when you were able to find something, thanks Altavista) was a joy because of all the passion behind the web. Blogs were the maximum expression of that sentiment, writing about something (or yourself) just for the sake of it, money mostly an afterthought.

Now it's all about monetizing, startups and reblogging/retweeting.
posted by Memo at 4:47 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's the Starbucks argument applied to the web. Millions of people go to Starbucks. I hate that crap but I don't think they need to be re-educated about what "real" coffee tastes like. I have my options.

But Facebook and Twitter are not really like Starbucks, except maybe in terms of ubiquity and branding. If you think about how they work, big social media companies are more like the equivalent of mobile service providers. They provide a platform that allows people to communicate.

Imagine if Facebook was a phone: let's call it FBphone! FBphones are free. You can only use them to call other people who have FBphones, but everyone uses FBphones, so who cares? Every word you say on the phone is recorded, and is used to subscribe you to targeted junk mail. Furthermore, your FBphone uses your contacts list to send your friends and family targeted junk mail with big stickers on it that say "perhapses likes this!" without notifying you at all. A while back you discovered that when you take photos with your FBphone's camera, anyone using an FBphone can see them. You're starting to kind of hate your FBphone, but unfortunately all your distant friends and family have FBphones and they don't respond when you write letters anymore, so your option is to either have an FBphone or wait for the annual Christmas card.

The worst part is, all the other phone companies look at how successful FBphone has become, and see it as the only successful model. Now most other phones work like FBphone! You kind of miss the days before FBphone became so dominant. You resent the way they've changed how people talk to each other, and how they've commercialized your relationships with your friends and family. Of course the old open phone networks are still around, but sometimes it seems like no one is listening anymore.
posted by oulipian at 5:41 PM on December 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


It's almost as naive to think that Starbucks has no effect on your options for drinking coffee...

True, but is it necessarily a negative effect? I submit it is difficult to say whether it is beneficial or detrimental for an agency to generate a mainstream or watered-down version of something across a large market. It could even be said that Starbucks has introduced many people to the world of better coffee, people that have since graduated from Starbucks, because prior to their infiltration of every street corner, most of us thought of coffee as weak, bitter stuff sitting on a hot plate for six hours in a diner or in the rec room at the office. Then suddenly we were exposed to the world of technique, and the many ways to combine foamed milk with espresso shots. They weren't doing a premium job of it, but it was worlds better than what we had, and that opened many countless people to a world that had prior to Starbucks, been confined to relatively elite coffee aficionados.

In some parts of the world, a coffee renaissance boomed shortly after Starbucks swept through, and now many people can go to speciality cafes that are doing outstanding things with the bean. Would that entire market exist, at all, were it not for the dumbed down version making the concept of artisan coffee something you could go out to get?

Applied to the Internet, most of the people that frequent the walled gardens of today's "web 2.0" would not be here were it not for that watered down version of the World Wide Web. How many people have "graduated" from having a Facebook account, or to go back further, a Compuserve or AOL account, and become the equivalent of those who seek out great coffee from small roasters who care about more than making billions of dollars? How many of those people have become those roasters themselves?

How many of us are here today because of mainstream introduction to the WWW?
posted by MysteriousMan at 5:46 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


The short answer is that MetaFilter is more provocative. It's full of writing prompts, to start with, and challenges that often reach a pleasing level of difficulty.

As the friend that I'm pretty sure jeffamaphone was talking about, I can say this is pretty close to the truth. I like to rant, and MeFi affords me copious opportunities to do so.

Although this site has been a great place to hone my writing skills, it hasn't brought me any closer to writing anything of real, lasting value.

I have an enormous amount of respect for anyone who can do something like write a novel -- even a bad one. Although an avid reader, I wouldn't even know how to begin writing one.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:01 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad: Everything started going to hell once advertisers and marketing departments discovered the web and "monetize" became the siren song. Now, it's ads everywhere and cookies and tracking and crap.

"And some said that even the Web had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the BBSs."

straight: It's almost as naive to think that Starbucks has no effect on your options for drinking coffee just because you never go there as it is to think that Facebook has no effect on the usefulness of the web jsut because you don't have a Facebook account.

This sentiment doesn't even make sense to me at all. That's as silly as saying that I no longer have a way to feed myself if I don't go into a restaurant and buy a fully realized and artfully packaged meal. Navigating the web outside the branded "restaurant" segments of it is no harder nor less fruitful than it ever was, just like the rise of Starbucks and McDonald's hasn't robbed me of the ability to make my own coffee and meals nor to get loads of help on technique and recipes online with a simple search. And what I make doesn't have to resemble those stores' outputs any more than it ever did.

That's what prompted my earlier comment - just because SOME people gravitate toward a limited set of pre-packaged (and commercialized) media doesn't mean that quality content has magically disappeared on the rest of the web. I won't claim it'll NEVER die, but - like rock'n'roll - at the moment there's still plenty being done outside the so-called "mainstream".

Not all of us feel a compulsion to shop exclusively at the Web Mall, nor feel like our resources are diminished because we don't do so.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:12 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is probably inadvisable to whine about what the web has "lost" if you were one of the first to abandon ship.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:17 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Navigating the web outside the branded "restaurant" segments of it is no harder nor less fruitful than it ever was

It's not that it's harder to find stuff that's outside Facebook. The point is that the existence of Facebook changes what's available outside Facebook.

Is there not a single thing you liked that used to exist on the web but either died when Facebook came along or moved to Facebook?

I can think of several musicians I love that used to have great webpages and now have terrible Facebook pages instead. The problem is not that I can't find their webpage anymore. The problem is they don't maintain it anymore.
posted by straight at 6:26 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the piece: "The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth."

It blows my mind that when people make critiques like this, they tend to overlook the biggest causal factor, which is simple capitalism.

From the piece: "And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks."

I hear ya.


anildash, I actually don't think you really address those points at all in your piece. You did write those two lines, but they are simply stated as conclusions with no argument as to why these are fallacies. I think you make some excellent point about the social platforms changing the nature of the web, but I also think Miko is completely right:

He seems to be forgetting that people in general - not tech-fascinated people like himself, but the general public - want things to be simple, intuitive, plug-and-play, and that's why they've gravitated to prefab commercial platforms.

You skip over why, exactly, the old web became the new. Why these social platforms became so successful. The reason is the one Miko gave: they gave the ease and simplicity people wanted. People used the older services because they had to at the time but they prefer the ease of Facebook and the like. This isn't a slight: different people have different needs and uses for the web and services like Facebook gave them what they wanted. straight says some musicians have abandoned their web pages in favor of FaceBook pages, but if Facebook gives those people equal or better coverage and interaction with fans, why wouldn't they? It is a good tool for communicating with friends and sharing stuff.

This is by no means saying that Facebook et al are perfect or even great for that, just that they offer a simple, easy to use platform for it. You don't need to "re-educat[e] a billion people about what the web means", you need to understand what people want, acknowledge it, and provide the flexibility and openness you seek in a way that works for them.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:33 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is probably inadvisable to whine about what the web has "lost" if you were one of the first to abandon ship.

That and you're hypocritically using Facebook as your comment system while ranting about their walled garden.
posted by kokaku at 6:33 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess what I'm saying is, while I'm not a web developer or programmer myself, I have friends who are. From speaking with them and reading things online I sometimes get this sense "These users just don't know what's good for them; why won't they learn!" I think ignoring what the users want and trying to do what you think they should want will just mean you get ignored.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:40 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


straight: Is there not a single thing you liked that used to exist on the web but either died when Facebook came along or moved to Facebook?

Good lord, no!! There are, without exaggerating, hundreds of ways to find good music (and tons of other stuff besides) outside of Facebook, and the fact that I even have to mention that leads me to respectfully submit that you're severely limiting yourself by assuming that social-media outlets like Facebook are the only, or even the main, ways of accessing content online.

Is Facebook the new AOL Online?
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:58 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nobody who touched and promoted Movable Type gets to complain about anything.
posted by jscott at 7:53 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's what prompted my earlier comment - just because SOME people gravitate toward a limited set of pre-packaged (and commercialized) media doesn't mean that quality content has magically disappeared on the rest of the web.

"Quality content" is not fungible. When my entire extended family moved to Facebook, all the "content" consisting of news about their lives and pictures of them and their kids all went to Facebook. Those pictures are not available on the web. When I go to look at them I get a "please sign up for Facebook" page instead.

For the most part I am OK with this, I guess; I'm no worse off than I'd be if none of that stuff existed in digital form at all... but with less greedy software, it could be, and that's a shame.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:07 PM on December 13, 2012


Greg Ace, I don't consider music and other arts to be fungible. [Shakes fist at Mars Saxman on preview] If a specific artist I like now only interacts with his fans on Facebook, the fact that there are lots of other good artists not on Facebook is not much consolation.

MetaFilter's Own (TM) Matthew Baldwin tells most of his best jokes on Twitter now instead of updating Defective Yeti. So for one thing, if I want to read Matthew Baldwin, I have to use Twitter. But also, while Matt is pretty great at the one-liners that are ideal for Twitter, it's been a long time since he did anything like the Bad Review Revue. Maybe he just doesn't want to anymore, but I imagine spending more time with Twitter makes him less likely to do silly stuff like that which doesn't fit in a tweet.
posted by straight at 8:20 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The web is not special, but it is more open than most other media so there is no part to gain or to lose. No one is shutting down your pirate radio station.

And Star Trek tie-ins aren't taking up all the room on the Internet's SF bookshelf, either, because it's practically infinitely long. This isn't a zero-sum game, and you're free to compete with your superior non-aollish systems at any time. Facebook, too, shall pass.
posted by Sparx at 9:36 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mars Saxman - I have absolutely zero problems staying connected with my family and friends on a daily basis without the benefit of Facebook. Sure, Facebook is one way to keep in touch with people, and that's fine if that's what people choose - but it's emphatically not the only way. A couple of my friends occasionally grumble that I'm not on Facebook...yet it's not very hard to keep in touch nonetheless. The myriad methods for sharing news, pictures, etc. still exist outside of Zuckerberg's walled garden just the same as they did before FB was a going concern. Your family's decision to arbitrarily limit themselves to one platform is a non-crucial self-imposed limitation.

One can declaim all one wants about how social media is the "preferred" method for interacting with other humans, and it still doesn't change the reality that it's not that hard to accomplish the same result in other, less monetized or confined ways. Arguments about the enforced limitations of social media are not valid commentary about the Internet as a whole.

straight - that goes for your favorite artists and comedians as well; the decision to limit their exposure to their potential audience is their choice, not an issue with the existing capabilities of the Internet. That has nothing to do with "lots of other good artists not on Facebook", and everything to do with how your favorite artist chooses to market themselves.

In both cases "fungibility" is a strawman argument.

The point I'm trying to bludgeon home here is this: personal choices that artificially limit an individual's access to information are a problem with the choices of that individual, not a shortcoming or diminution of "the Internet"; nor is "the Internet" somehow changing to force that individual into using only commercialized social media. You aren't required to limit yourself just because they have; if you choose to do so that's your business and not an indictment of the medium.

But the good news is that even if you do make that choice, it's a decision easily changed. The cage isn't locked, and arguing for your limitations only convinces yourself that those limits are real. I've chosen to "limit" myself to the Worldwide Web outside so-called Social Media, and frankly the view is breathtaking. You should try it sometime.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:42 PM on December 13, 2012


AKA "MetaFilter's Own Anil Dash"

AKA "the goatse t-shirt guy."
posted by homunculus at 9:50 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


is he the anti-anonymity dude or am I mistaken
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:34 PM on December 13, 2012


Hey, y'all ... this from Anil's post? Vendors spent years working on interoperability around data exchange purely for the benefit of their users, despite theoretically lowering the barrier to entry for competitors.

This. This damn idea filled with so much promise that some of us felt it deserving of personal dedication and effort for years. Kind of wonderful.

As a capitalist, I always figured it'd be worth our time if our technology corporations could remain profitable while earning slightly less due to creating convenience for people who couldn't otherwise support infrastructure to make usefully interoperable software. Because: better.

Goddamit, this. That those efforts inspire a kind of tsk-tsk soft pity on reflection now! I keep seeing this type of star response: "How amusing you all thought rapacity wouldn't overtake greed. Like Willow on Skin Flay Day: 'Boring'. Like chivalrics in so many quixotic endeavors, you've earned my casually-tossed cynicism, you hippie..."

But this is a thing. My personal Dunbar milieu is brim-filled with m/billionaires water-logged after a financial summertime monsoon who put less thought into interoperability every day, letting it drop off agile-driven lists like fall leaves.

And we could view this as empire's nature. Altruistic characteristics blending into greed and competition. But I keep seeing something different happening.

Y'know when people struggle for metaphors for file sharing? "I didn't steal your banana, you still have yours!" Same with this. I've personally witnessed corporate leaders acknowledge that costs to support interoperability are bone-low in a whole bunch of cases. Profits were rarely discussed when they were canceling openness. Competition – also rarely discussed. To me, these moves are looking like a trend created only in the latter half of the last decade because new leaders lacked the interest for it and were undereducated about the costs to support interoperability and its benefit. I think that's a problem with a solution.

And it's wrong to assume that crappy or complex experiences are a common result of developing for sharing and openness by teams who didn't understand what people really want. Nope. Yeah? No. If you were a James Bond movie, you'd be Dr. No. That's not even wrong. Especially obvious since "the ease and simplicity people wanted" was often part of popular and easy-to-use technologies owned by the "conglomerate-owned, better-funded platforms" with interoperable systems – the openness has just sometimes been removed.

Despite it sounding like a dumb, tide-fighting sentimental approach that'll never turn into a net benefit for business and workers, it seems worth keeping open data exchange a primary and loud part of our tech culture. And it should (and could) be a part of any mature, entrenched corporate culture in this business. I know for certain there's plenty of people lurking reading this site who are directly involved with those decisions. And I'd love for them to lean toward encouraging and preserving those things and eschew anyone's easy cynicism about how our industry will inevitably proceed. Cause, this and this nice way and this unicorn and this damn idea is an idea worth keeping.

Also, Miko, wouldn't you think Anil isn't confused why some of this has happened but that instead he's exposing some history to a whole bunch of his readers who don't know this stuff was a part of the culture to begin with?
posted by massless at 12:57 AM on December 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


wouldn't you think Anil isn't confused why some of this has happened but that instead he's exposing some history to a whole bunch of his readers who don't know this stuff was a part of the culture to begin with?

No; I don't think that's his audience.

I think he has one understanding of it as an embedded web practioner, but is looking at one industry's particulars instead of the larger economic systems at work.

Once, anybody with a few ha'pennies could print their own broadside or newspaper.
posted by Miko at 6:35 AM on December 14, 2012


Lots to respond to here, thought I'd just hit a few points.

I generally agree with his points, but every time I read the phrase "the social web" I threw up a little bit in the back of my throat. I wonder how he feels about leveraging synergies and monetizing the social cloud?

I am not a prescriptivist grammarian. People use these phrases because they have meaning and because they're signifiers of who one is speaking to and whether one belongs to that community. I seldom use the words "synergy" or "monetize" but would be content to do so for an audience that found those words resonant.

Of course, I can think of a few useful examples of companies and platforms that are making the web better, more open, and more useful, such as WordPress, Wikipedia, and the Stack Exchange network.

I actually think that it's important to point out that following these values can be very successful. We all see Wikipedia every day and as a board member of Stack Exchange, I can verify that the company's doing very well by doing right by its community.

It is probably inadvisable to whine about what the web has "lost" if you were one of the first to abandon ship.

Actually, as charlie don't surf (and later, jscott) allude to, this is an issue I've been reckoning with from many sides for over a decade. Here's an interesting thing: This community obviously gets the "if you didn't pay for it" thing. Yet what charlie's presumably referring to is the fact that we tried to charge for Movable Type to make it a sustainable product.

Put aside the fact that we (I!) didn't communicate well about it, and you realize that even those who claim to love that old web weren't always willing to do what it took to protect it.

Similarly, jscott shows one of the classic patterns that tended to destroy the values of that era. I've had times ("plain white background", natch) where my conviction over the rightness of an idea made me arrogant in the way that I advocated for it, and as a result the goal itself was lost to my hubris.

jscott exemplifies this -- he claims to care about archiving the web, and I'm sure that is a sincere part of his intention. But all of us who love the web try to fight linkrot. Only Jason thinks its his unique birthright and that it's somehow going to encourage people to preserve the web if he shits on those who try to do so. It's the same pattern: An arrogant advocate, steeped in technology but bad at human interaction, undoing his own goals through antagonizing those he should be convincing.

The reality is, in writing this piece, I had to dig up dozens of blog posts that were a decade or more in age. The ones that I was able to link to, that were still around, had been published with Movable Type. The ones that hadn't? Guess. For all the mistakes that team made, that I made, we got that part right.

Yet the people who lament most the disappearance of that old web won't acknowledge our complicity in it. MeFi's community knows better than most the legacy of that era, but we should look squarely at ourselves as a starting point for how things went wrong, as well as how they'll get fixed.

AKA "the goatse t-shirt guy."

New email address: anil@goatse.cx (this actually works!)

is he the anti-anonymity dude or am I mistaken

I argued for site owners taking responsibility for their comments; some misread this as a criticism of anonymity, but I am a big believer in anonymity and especially pseudonymity.

No; I don't think that's his audience.

My audience is a little more mainstream since I started writing for Wired.
posted by anildash at 7:05 AM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


the average reader of WIRED magazine is:
/between the ages of 30–50
/has an income of 75,000 or greater
/works in the computer or high tech industry


their readers are 72% male, and 82% of them graduated from or at least attended college and have a median age of 36....The median household income is over $83,000...78% of Wired’s readership is employed and 48% of them are in professional positions. 13% are in exec/CEO-type positions.

I checked their advertisers package, and apart from the gender balance (which is much improved from these, but includes online participation), these haven't budged much recently.

I would definitely not call Wired readers a truly mainstream audience. For purposes of comparison, here are some social media demographics, This is an even more elite, specialized set of readers than the New York Times. A long way from People.

And I think these comparisons are quite necessary to take into account in your consideration of web audience; when I talk about the takeup rate among consumers of easy-to-use, corporately-run sites, this broader range of people are those I'm talking about - not tech insiders. They can't miss what they've never known, and many were never going to deal with the shibboleths and requirements of the kind found on the early web.
posted by Miko at 7:35 AM on December 14, 2012


I'm not arguing Wired is mainstream, just that my audience has broadened from the extremely insular folks who read my blog a decade ago. Lots of folks have responded to this piece with surprise about the fact that these things existed at all. There are plenty of tweets (or Hacker News comments, or whatever) from people who were unaware of these points.

Not sure how we got onto a tangent about Wired's demographics, but the fact this was considered linkworthy at all seems to show that this is a conversation people are finding valuable.
posted by anildash at 7:40 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


It basically boils down to "social networking has taken over the Internet."

* Businesses frequently ONLY have a Facebook page, and most of the ones I've had to look at were rather crappy.
* You are told that if you ever want to be employed, you have to have a Facebook page, at the very minimum to prove that you're not an asshole who doesn't have a Facebook page.
* Every single person who's ever heard of you will read your Facebook page, and then you get to deal with the people who are pissed about it, because segregating the audiences apparently doesn't work that well there.
* If I had a dollar for every former blogger who has said, "I used to write entries, but now all I do is tweet and...I don't feel like writing any more, I'm done," I'd have a nice chunk of change. I remember one person in particular saying that all of his writing had started to boil down to "can it fit in a tweet" and trying to show off to other tweeters, and it was making his writing skills devolve.
* If you aren't on Facebook, you frequently won't be invited to events because "omg, I don't want to have to deal with contacting you separately or talking to you, why won't you just use Facebook?"

Ugh. I hate to be an elderly curmudgeon, but short updating is ruining a lot of what I liked about the Internet.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Greg Ace, I'm not sure how you know you're not missing anything important from your friends and family by not being on Facebook if you're not on Facebook, but I am sure that there's plenty of things I want to see or interact with that are only available on Facebook.

No one's claiming the wider web doesn't still exist. People are lamenting that so many people choose not to use it, and that as a result it hasn't grown and matured as much as we might have hoped back in the days when we assumed people would eventually see how much better the real internet was than AOL's walled garden and never go back.
posted by straight at 8:52 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


People are so disappointing!

Between predictable human behaviors, and predictable capitalist co-optation of an emerging resource, we pretty much have the web we can expect to have. The sanguinity of web utopians about the inevitability and inherent superiority of their vision is at least a partial factor.
posted by Miko at 9:16 AM on December 14, 2012


The myriad methods for sharing news, pictures, etc. still exist outside of Zuckerberg's walled garden just the same as they did before FB was a going concern.

Sure. So what do you expect me to do, go find a new extended family that uses real web services instead of Facebook? Your "rah rah it's all still there" argument might be true in terms of volume but there's a little more to using the web than just ingesting a stream of bits. An increasing amount of the stuff that used to exist on the open web is now only updated inside Facebook, which means that if you are still interested in that specific information you are SOL. And that is a loss, no matter how you spin it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:17 AM on December 14, 2012


I'm not sure how you know you're not missing anything important from your friends and family by not being on Facebook

Email and telephones still work fine, even with people I know who also frequent Facebook. And did you know, it's even possible to include pictures in email nowadays! If Your Favorite Musician advertises exclusively on Facebook, that's their choice. It's not like it's no longer possible to advertise in more than one place, and you can't blame anyone but the musician for not doing so.

People are lamenting that so many people choose not to use [the wider web], and that as a result it hasn't grown and matured as much as we might have hoped

All I can say is that those people aren't as correct as they think they are, or that they're only correct for a certain minority of people. It's a trivial exercise to see that many people are using the wider web - perhaps less so for socializing and advertising, specifically, but there's more to life than that. But if your life does revolve around those sorts of things, then go ahead and use Facebook (or whatever the next social-media trend ends up being). Just don't whine that the rest of the world is significantly poorer for its existence because that's simply - provably - not true.

To use yet another analogy, claiming that because you can only get Gap clothes at the Gap, and the Gap is only at the mall, you're being forced to shop at the mall...which ignores the fact that there are still many other places outside the mall to buy perfectly good clothes. And, to people who shop at these other places, the fact that it isn't the Gap is not a drawback.

So what do you expect me to do, go find a new extended family that uses real web services instead of Facebook?

Or you could do what I do: skip the hyperbole, and explain to your friends and family that you're not on Facebook so could they drop you an email instead. So far I've kept up with everyone in my social group just fine, and none of them has done worse than good-naturedly tsk at me now and then for not joining Facebook.

Seriously, it's not that hard to not live in Facebook World!! Your repeated arguments make it sound like everything outside FB is alien rocket science or something. That's a very short-sighted attitude.

An increasing amount of the stuff that used to exist on the open web is now only updated inside Facebook, which means that if you are still interested in that specific information you are SOL. And that is a loss, no matter how you spin it.

No, that means that if that specific information (which, honestly, is manifestly NOT the majority of information available) is all you're interested in, then bloody well join Facebook. And that is a choice, no matter how you spin it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:34 AM on December 14, 2012


I am not a prescriptivist grammarian. People use these phrases because they have meaning and because they're signifiers of who one is speaking to and whether one belongs to that community. I seldom use the words "synergy" or "monetize" but would be content to do so for an audience that found those words resonant.

At the same time, the people most fond of using this sort of technobabble are exactly the people who you accuse of ruining the web.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:38 AM on December 14, 2012


ah, I see, you're not actually trying to understand, you're just preaching. have fun with that
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:02 AM on December 14, 2012


He seems to be forgetting that people in general - not tech-fascinated people like himself, but the general public - want things to be simple, intuitive, plug-and-play, and that's why they've gravitated to prefab commercial platforms.

Exactly. It might be the Web that "we as a small subset of people" lost, but more accurately, it's the Web that "we as the global collective" rejected.

Hell, I know young people who use Yahoo as their "internet portal".

I know people who still use iGoogle for that. (Isn't it dying soon?)

Is there not a single thing you liked that used to exist on the web but either died when Facebook came along or moved to Facebook?

I honestly cannot think of one.

Facebook is really only good at helping you stay in touch with people you already know.

Facebook is just a microcosm of the Web, with its own (many) various restrictions and benefits. You can use it for a lot of things.

I have a friend who often wonders why they have spent so much time and effort writing the equivalent of several books worth of comments on Metafilter instead of just writing their own blog.

The reason is simple: Ain't nobody gonna read your personal blog. Your content here belongs to you (I think), and LOTS more people will read it. No brainer.

I have friends who, instead of using Facebook or Flickr or whatever, use password-protected Web sites to share pictures of their kids. You know what? I NEVER look at their pictures. And I like kids.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:17 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


ah, I see, you're not actually trying to understand, you're just preaching. have fun with that

Wow. Maybe you can find someone on FB to help you with that beam in your own eye.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:22 AM on December 14, 2012


Not a great essay but touches on some similar themes: Invasion of the cyber hustlers
posted by perhapses at 11:20 AM on December 14, 2012


Greg Ace, you're bizarrely preaching that the wider web is easy to use, as if anyone here doesn't know that already, and ignoring people's clear statements of the problem that, even if you don't have anyone you care about who refuses to use it, many of us do.
posted by straight at 12:09 PM on December 14, 2012


I am not preaching at all, and I'll thank you and Mars Saxman to stop trying to shut down discussion by labeling me like that.

I haven't told anyone they shouldn't use Facebook, only pointed out that there are alternatives available to anyone, just as there were before "social media" was invented. The rest of the web is still out there, and still works. Self-imposing a "limited" venue and then claiming it's the only venue, or that you were forced into using it, or that all other methods are dead or diminished, is inaccurate and short-sighted.

If you think I'm "proselytizing" a demonstrable reality - that there's a whole big web out there which people continue to use in many different ways - that's the truly bizarre argument. I see and use that web every day, I manage to stay in communication with my friends and family just fine, I've not seen any shortage of available quality content or information, and my web experience hasn't deteriorated any since Facebook became popular.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:51 PM on December 14, 2012


My own half-assed theory about all of this is that, like AOL, Facebook and Twitter are many peoples' introduction to the Internet (or at least a useful subset of it). Over time, they will learn that there's better stuff out there and migrate to that. Facebook and Twitter's increasingly tight grip just hastens that process.

And anyway, it's not that hard to write a Twitter clone. There's a Rails tutorial that walks you through exactly that and a Facebook clone wouldn't be much harder. The main thing these companies have is their established user base. There's nothing they do that somebody else can't do better.
posted by suetanvil at 2:59 PM on December 14, 2012


He seems to be forgetting that people in general - not tech-fascinated people like himself, but the general public - want things to be simple, intuitive, plug-and-play, and that's why they've gravitated to prefab commercial platforms. Not everyone wants to tinker. People waited until there was a ready product, easy to engage with. If it's going to be more than a small elite using the web - if it's really supposed to be open to the masses - those options have to be many.

As has been pointed out, Anil's comment system is run by Facebook, for exactly and precisely the reasons above.
posted by effugas at 9:09 PM on December 14, 2012


Only you, anil. Only, you.
posted by jscott at 10:36 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually consider it the most interesting part of Anil's post, that he concludes it with Facebook comments. It's not hypocrisy at all -- it's almost a call to arms, a very subtle point or an excellent illustration.
posted by effugas at 1:17 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


> it's almost a call to arms, a very subtle point or an excellent illustration.

With no FB account and every hint of FB scripting blocked I can't even see the comments section to Anil's essay. I don't even get the "turn on javascript to view comments" prompt that disqus sites provide.

That I can see and post in the metafilter comments section is due to mathowie having rolled his own comments engine back in the preindustrial age, and stuck with it.
posted by jfuller at 9:25 AM on December 15, 2012


there's a whole big web out there which people continue to use in many different ways... my web experience hasn't deteriorated any since Facebook became popular.

This thread is almost dead, but what the hell...if I knockdown and old lady and take her purse, that's a choice I'm making and I ought to take the consequences; plenty of people manage to get by without mugging anybody.

And yet, it is possible to develop a reliable statistical model that says, if unemployment rises y% in a neighbourhood with a,b,c characteristics, we will see an increase in mugging of x%.

Any individual's action is their choice; their choice to use facebook or twitter or not, my choice to follow them there or not. But when a billion people are using something the chances that something you want will only be availible through that thing increase a great deal. One can still choose to abstain from that thing, but that has costs, too. It's perfectly possible for someone living in a neighbourhood with nothing but bodegas and fast food joints to eat fresh local organic produce ---- but it's a goddamn hassle, and because it's a hassle a very small proportion of people in that neighbourhood are going to do it.

Now, it's entirely possible that a lot of 'em wouldn't want to live that lifestyle, even if you opened up a whole foods in their spare room. And it's entirely possible that someone who gets a charge out of biking places may find being five miles from the nearest grocery store no hassle at all.

But the point remains the same --- the harder you make something, the fewer people will do it. Personally speaking, I'm not on Facebook; I've found the opportunity costs of that worth it. As may you, Greg. But they're there. And they're powerful --- the way those companies work shapes how lots of people interact with the web. The fact that it is possible for an individual to work around such limitations in their own life does nothing to change their power.
posted by Diablevert at 3:25 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


jfuller,

Any expectation that you can dynamically rewrite or late-unbind web pages, and still experience the web...

well, I believe the term is "best effort".
posted by effugas at 12:51 AM on December 18, 2012


Nobody who touched and promoted Movable Type gets to complain about anything.

Hey, MT was pretty great until it wasn't, which was right around the time that Wordpress newly was.

I have tried pretty hard to avoid being a part of the social networking thing over the past few years, perhaps to my detriment, despite the fact that I pretty much live on the web. I have the twitter, but I don't follow people, and am still a little unclear about what that actual entails or what benefits accrue (haha grandpa you're a goddamned dinosaur yes I know), and just occasionally fart out something I think is amusing on the wire, because it's either that or notepad.exe, I guess, and maybe somebody will get a chuckle out of it.

I closed my Facebook account a few years ago, after a couple of post-signup months of feeling like it was an unwelcome duty to use it (and fending off people from my ancient history who I didn't really want to interact with all that much beyond saying hi-and-hope-you're-well). I still have a bunch of websites I've built, and my decade-plus-old main weblog thing is still there, but I admit I go months without looking at most of them, with the notable exception of MefightClub, where, in combination with MeFi and one or two other more private communities, I get all the social I really find that I need.

I'm hoping fervently that Anil's essay, and other things like Warren Ellis's latest, are indications that the wheel is turning again, and things will swing back, and Twitter and Facebook and the execrable models they have created for human interaction on the internet will fade in significance, that things will evolve again, and, just as with grunge in the 1990s, if I wait long enough and mostly ignore it, it will eventually just go away.

With no FB account and every hint of FB scripting blocked I can't even see the comments section to Anil's essay. I don't even get the "turn on javascript to view comments" prompt that disqus sites provide.

Hah. I kind of wondered why he didn't have comments, as far as I could tell, and now I know. Shit, I didn't even know Facebook had a remote commenting system or whatever Anil's using. Sadly, though I'd like to read the comments, I'm not going to allow Facebook widgets of any stripe back into my online life. My loss, I guess.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:44 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


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