The Web We Have to Save.
July 14, 2015 11:28 AM   Subscribe

The Web We Have to Save. SLhoder: "The rich, diverse, free web that I loved — and spent years in an Iranian jail for — is dying. Why is nobody stopping it?" (h/t mkb, via ...uh... facebook.)
posted by advil (69 comments total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
 
I got this from anildash!
posted by mkb at 11:34 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Why is nobody stopping it?

Because profit.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:37 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


The internet's like any other gentrified neighbourhood.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:37 AM on July 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


Because these tech bubbles don't just create themselves, you know!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:43 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is really interesting, thanks for posting it here. I had been wondering what he thought about all the changes.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:45 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hmmm. If you were a pamphleteer in 17th-century London, you could be Somebody. Your words were important. You lived in a community and it was an important one to you.

Flash forward to a widespread press in the late 19th century, and it all looks different: newspapers report the words of worthy men and the gossip of celebrity ladies. Worse?

Well, perhaps. But the newspapers also enabled a more developed worldview - less anti-Catholic ranting - and a widespread audience. So a loss for you personally, but a loss for the general society? Hard to tell.
posted by alasdair at 11:49 AM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


If you have to put a date on when the Old Web died, July 1, 2013 is as good as any.
posted by theodolite at 11:49 AM on July 14, 2015 [42 favorites]


Hoder reached out to me soon after he got out. He was appalled by the wide adoption of social media and didn't like how they became gatekeepers. His story is really interesting in that he went into custody right around the time blogs were at their peak, so his perspective is unique, being a sort of sleeping man suddenly awakened and surprised at how things changed in his absence. He wanted to find a venue to write it in, and I offered up an editor friend at Medium among a few others I reached out to, and I was pleasantly surprised to get an early look at this a few nights ago, and I'm glad it went live today.

To me, the takeaway is that millions of independent blogs could have maybe survived if we had some sort of central "here's the good stuff today" kind of service. I think that's what blogs lacked, and that's what made them felt like "work" to follow a bunch on Google Reader (sigh), because the discovery mechanisms were just not there. So of course someone would prefer Facebook serving you up a mix of news and blogs and photos on a silver platter each day, which is zero effort.

It's a shame though, there really are like half a dozen gatekeepers on the web that are getting both fewer in number and more powerful with each passing day. I definitely felt like a frog in a boiling pot after I read Hoder's take on things.
posted by mathowie at 11:56 AM on July 14, 2015 [143 favorites]


Discovery was Technorati's thing, wasn't it? Not that they were good at it.

If I ever get off my duff I will set up my own blog and I will be a sharecropper no longer. But I hope to get the best of both worlds via Bridgy.
posted by Monochrome at 12:08 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


We recently hired some young women as online editors. They have their own businesses, online consultancy, or 'building websites' (clicking some widgets into a template) for other freelancers and small businesses.

On their first day, one of them couldn't 'find the internet' after starting up her PC. They both struggle to understand what a URL is. One of them didn't know how to download a picture. They have problems learning how to work with our CMS, because they basically do not comprehend what a website is. To them, the web's already lost. It never existed.
posted by prolific at 12:11 PM on July 14, 2015 [34 favorites]


This is an amazing, horrifying read.

I started a whole startup based on this principle - creating a platform that supports these principles and meets readers where they're at is hard, but important. Seconding brid.gy and the great work being done at IndieWebCamp.

The danger is technostalgia. We need to continue to build new things, not hark back to a web that most Internet users never knew. Let's keep iterating and bake these open, democratic principles into the new technologies we create.
posted by bwerdmuller at 12:17 PM on July 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


Things change. No going back. Many of us are old enough--heck, the net is not that old--when it was or seemed mostly if not only non-commercial. And now? No one is going to save the web, whatever that means, to return it to what it had been, in the same way that we are not going to have 20 newspapers daily in New York.
posted by Postroad at 12:19 PM on July 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


To me, the takeaway is that millions of independent blogs could have maybe survived if we had some sort of central "here's the good stuff today" kind of service.

....Isn't that kind of what THIS site is?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:27 PM on July 14, 2015 [38 favorites]


Because profit.

This is exactly wrong. It's because costs. The "free web" was almost from the beginning subsidized privately, in the hopes of profit, but the companies who were subsidizing it didn't stop in order to make a profit, they stopped because it cost too much and there was (and is) no real desire to subsidize it publically. For every blogger who ran her blog off of an .edu-associated account that was funded by an academic institution, there were hundreds who used MovableType on domains they paid for themselves, and there were thousands and thousands who used Blogger or WordPress or Livejournal or whatever.

On the surface, that's a subtle distinction, but it's actually vast, and everyone who keeps giving into the incorrect framing that it's "corporate greed" doing it "to us" is just driving the problem. Falling victim to that framing is part of why people were able to convince themselves it was "free" and "open" in the first place.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 12:28 PM on July 14, 2015 [23 favorites]


The danger is technostalgia. We need to continue to build new things, not hark back to a web that most Internet users never knew. Let's keep iterating and bake these open, democratic principles into the new technologies we create.

Things change. No going back. Many of us are old enough--heck, the net is not that old--when it was or seemed mostly if not only non-commercial. And now? No one is going to save the web, whatever that means, to return it to what it had been, in the same way that we are not going to have 20 newspapers daily in New York.

Change isn't necessarily progress. Statements like these make it seem like the changes that have happened on (and to) the Internet are part of a natural, teleological progression. But they're the result of very deliberate changes to remove public funding from basic research and infrastructure and open up what was previously a public utility / service / good to exploitation for private profit. It's been happening for the last several decades in the larger world, and the change in the internet reflects that rather than being a distinct phenomenon. And it's not "nostalgia" or a denial of the inevitability of change to point out that these changes have made the world (and the 'net, as a microcosm) worse, not better.
posted by junco at 12:28 PM on July 14, 2015 [26 favorites]


To me, the takeaway is that millions of independent blogs could have maybe survived if we had some sort of central "here's the good stuff today" kind of service.

Yes, hrm, perhaps a "filter" of some sort....
posted by Aizkolari at 12:32 PM on July 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


And it's not "nostalgia" or a denial of the inevitability of change to point out that these changes have made the world (and the 'net, as a microcosm) worse, not better.

I agree with this. But nonetheless, we have a generation of Internet users who are used to a different paradigm, and the comments The Master and Margarita Mix made about cost are correct too. We can't simply roll back the web like it was bad code. It was a progression, if not necessarily a positive one, and the only way forward is to progress again.
posted by bwerdmuller at 12:36 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I obviously still read Metafilter so there are limits to the criticism that follows, but... these days I'm not sure I see as much of a distinction between the Stream/Feed Hoder is describing as the omnipresent center of social media and the front page on the blue.
posted by weston at 12:42 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Decentralization and federation is the past and the future of the open web I reckon.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:50 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is what I touched upon in my comment about The Dissolve, which shut down before I knew it was open. There's a really narrow path by which a site can establish itself a regular haunt if it isn't already one: too often you'll either never learn about it, or you'll see something you liked and forget where it came from because we don't treat websites as places to visit any more.

The muscle-memory of old practices is mostly gone. Doing the rounds has gone, blogrolls are mostly vestigial, Google Reader's gone (personally I never really used it, but I know lots who did), deep links are broken, permalinks are brittle, and the assumption that people will follow links is dissipating fast, so excerpts must be chopped up and screencapped and slapped on a plate. (For fuck's sake, the primacy of GIF-text in 2015? Really?)

Everything's stretched out flat like a taut conveyor belt that you tap to fave or like in passing.
posted by holgate at 12:54 PM on July 14, 2015 [29 favorites]


holgate, I too only heard of the dissolve on the day it closed and that chilled me to the bone.
posted by mathowie at 12:58 PM on July 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


The fact that someone like hoder had to reach out to Matt who put him in touch with someone at medium is what chills me, personally. I don't want to over-romanticise blogs --- the power law held there too, and being early, as hodor was, was a gift beyond price --- but the fact that there was no community for him to come back to, no successors who knew about him and his story to be excited about his return and link the shit out of him and send their readers his way, so he could re-establish himself, find his footing again? That's mildly terrifying. I don't mind the idea of editor being an actual profession again. But what was the point of infinity if we just wall off a small chunk of it and install gatekeepers that determine who can and cannot have access to the audience?
posted by Diablevert at 1:06 PM on July 14, 2015 [34 favorites]


I use Newsblur and still get feeds for quite a few blogs - but this feels increasingly anachronistic and, in general, I'm starting to feel the same way about the Web that I do about my massively gentrifying city: that my interests and tastes have no place in it, and that someplace I once felt deeply at home is going to become alien and there is nothing that I can do about that.

Thanks hoder, The Card Cheat, and mathowie for helping me clarify my thoughts about this a bit.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:09 PM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


His story is really interesting in that he went into custody right around the time blogs were at their peak

Huh. I'd say blogs were already dying long before 2008. From my point of view 2002 - 2006 or so was the high point of blogging, before it became just an apprentice stage for new political media cocks.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:15 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


On their first day, one of them couldn't 'find the internet' after starting up her PC. They both struggle to understand what a URL is. One of them didn't know how to download a picture. They have problems learning how to work with our CMS, because they basically do not comprehend what a website is. To them, the web's already lost. It never existed.

Dear guy,

I can do all the things you have listed in your posting (#6126293) on the metafilter.com site. I can also do a few other things, like writing sentences and making coffee. In addition, I believe my extensive knowledge of Fax Machines and the Turbo Button make me an excellent fit for the culture of your company. Finally, I am experienced in PC and Mac at the same time along with HTMLWordpressSalesforcePhotoshopSEOCOBOLFORTRANSKYNET and also phones.

Job now, please.

Sincerely,

Skills-gap target demographic
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 1:41 PM on July 14, 2015 [24 favorites]


I deplore the move to video content. Even if I wanted to watch a video, sometimes I can't (too noisy, would bother others, browsing on a platform that doesn't support the video or has too low bandwidth to play it back, etc.) - but no one seems to recognize this. Facebook is a cesspool that hides 90% of what I'd like to see. Hodor, your article hit home with me.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:43 PM on July 14, 2015 [27 favorites]


Yes, internet is TV. My computer, my pad, my phone are just TVs. All I want to do is watch. Just let somebody else select the programming. As long as I know what's popular I know what to watch. Stream? It's just broadcast.

Once upon a time, somebody invented a machine. This machine would enable anyone to be a creator. They could write. They could make music. They could make videos. They could make tools for other people to use to create. The world looked new and very hopeful. Everyone could create. And they could share their creations with anyone. But it turns out most people don't want to create. They just want to consume. They do like to complain about what they consume. But that's about it. The vast potential world of creators is just a small world of a few creators, driven by money, who offer pap to the masses, who in turn, offer themselves up as products to be sold by these few creators. There are those who remember that amazing machine and all that it offered. But they are left reminiscing amongst themselves about what could have been.
posted by njohnson23 at 1:49 PM on July 14, 2015 [27 favorites]


> his perspective is unique, being a sort of sleeping man suddenly awakened and surprised at how things changed in his absence.

He compares his situation to the Qur'anic story of the Seven Sleepers.

Me, I've been blogging since 2002 and I'm just going to keep on blogging, ignoring all those blaring Instagrams and what have you outside my cave.
posted by languagehat at 2:07 PM on July 14, 2015 [20 favorites]


1. Yay Hoder!

2. I have posted this before, and I will post it again, but the fucking NSA has declared martial law on the internet. See this firstlook story for the gory details.
posted by bukvich at 2:10 PM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


To me, the takeaway is that millions of independent blogs could have maybe survived if we had some sort of central "here's the good stuff today" kind of service.
"But we have thousands of subreddits! Aren't they the same?" No they are not, and that's what is REALLY wrong with Reddit, specifically.

The vast potential world of creators is just a small world of a few creators
Even during the zenith of creativity, there were relatively few actual 'creators', and many of the ones who were not "driven by money" are still out there, but held captive within structures (made by those who ARE driven by money), some more restrictive than others, to make themselves heard. That's why Hodor's essay was on Medium.com/Matter/ and not his own blog.

Since Google took away our Reader, I've been using Tiny Tiny RSS to follow what I want to follow, via my own webhost, which has given me an excuse to keep paying a few bucks a month for a webhost after I 'took a hiatus' from my self-hosted blogging two years ago (just before "The Stream" crested). But seeing the "competition" for attention today, I'm thinking it's going to be a permanent hiatus. (Also the fact that most of my past blogging and professional writing had been ABOUT somebody else's creative output. I'm too Meta to be a good voice for anything.) I was hoping for something to encourage me to join the battle to Save the Web but sadly, it wasn't there for me.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:20 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


There are those who remember that amazing machine and all that it offered. But they are left reminiscing amongst themselves about what could have been.

No, they wax poetic about a future that never was, because they focused so tightly, so deeply on their amazing machine that they forgot that ultimately, it was only a tool.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:36 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


He compares his situation to the Qur'anic story of the Seven Sleepers

Yeah, I read that, but I meant he like really lived it, so it made the metaphor a real one. I thought by the end of the article he might try to tie the few gatekeepers in with the literal gatekeepers that kept him imprisoned, but that's probably a tortured analogy, even though I think it's kind of apt.
posted by mathowie at 2:37 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


First of all and more than anything, I am just so fucking happy Hoder is out and able to write anything. I am going to remain consciously happy about that for every single day it is true.

Blogs are still a thing (I mean, is tumblr not a blogging platform?) But I swear that the real driver here is Google and their decision to weight links from social media as heavily as they do now. It's still all driven by Google.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:16 PM on July 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


I remember maybe 10 years ago reading some piece online, and it became slowly clear to me that the author had literally no conception of non-political blogs, like that they had ever existed at all, or that anyone would possibly want to keep or read one. The weird, fascinating world of online pioneers and misfits and eccentrics was sunken under the 9/11 sea, like the lost continent of Atlantis. So things have been going to hell for a long time.
posted by thelonius at 3:19 PM on July 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


We need to continue to build new things, not hark back to a web that most Internet users never knew.

I totally agree with the need to avoid wallowing in nostalgia, but what happens when you build new things and nobody knows they're there? There was a time when you could build websites, and people would visit them, and then come back. That's starting to taper off in certain ways for new websites that aren't Mallory Ortberg making another post of jokey lines from women in paintings coping with awful men.

My main qualm with the Indieweb movement is that it's... perhaps overly focused on tools, and sometimes comes across like the online equivalent of stationery porn. It's all very well creating a intertwingly network of self-hosted sites, but if people don't (or can't) do links properly any more, it doesn't count for much.
posted by holgate at 4:00 PM on July 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


If you have to put a date on when the Old Web died, July 1, 2013 is as good as any.

That seems way, way late to me.
posted by kenko at 4:12 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Yes, hrm, perhaps a "filter" of some sort....

I would wager that four media properties -- the New York Times, New Yorker, Gawker Media and The Guardian -- have been the primary links in more FPPs in the past year than all noncommercial single-author blogs put together.

Dont be too quick to congratulate the Metafilter community for being the curator of the web of independent voices.
posted by ardgedee at 4:19 PM on July 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


Digital Enclosure. What was once common property in private hands. Inevitable maybe.
posted by glasseyes at 4:29 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would wager that four media properties -- the New York Times, New Yorker, Gawker Media and The Guardian -- have been the primary links in more FPPs in the past year than all noncommercial single-author blogs put together.

Paging cortex, cortex to thread 151229 please for infodump analysis.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 4:35 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Paging cortex, cortex to thread 151229 please for infodump analysis.

The infodump wouldn't necessarily help. People aren't religious about their "via"s.
posted by kenko at 4:39 PM on July 14, 2015


if we had some sort of central "here's the good stuff today" kind of service. I think that's what blogs lacked

Not for lack of trying though -- there was the already-mentioned Technorati and blo.gs and a whole bunch more sites (all of which I forget, now) that attempted to do that (using the tools and designs and information architecture that were au courant at the time). None of them really survived the Rise Of The Social Machines (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al (even, ironically, Medium itself, which I continue to feel somewhat uncharitable towards)), though.

I'm not sure that was a major factor in the decline of the impact of individual, idiosyncratic blogs on the Great Ongoing Conversation, but yeah, it was one of the factors, I guess.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:00 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Metalog :P

also btw, i'd say the econoblogosphere is still going strong (for whatever reason!)

oh and fwiw, kinda re: the iranian deal today...

-This is a Tale of Two Irans
This tale focuses on Iran’s next generation, an entirely new generation that came of age well after the Islamic Revolution, and on human capital, the greatest asset a country can have. It’s about technology as the driver for breaking down barriers even despite internal controls and external sanctions. People under age 35 represent nearly two-thirds of Iran’s population at this point: Many were engaged in the Green Movement protests against the Iranian presidential election in 2009. Most are utterly wired and see the world outside of Iran every day — often in the form of global news, TV shows, movies, music, blogs, and startups — on their mobile phones.
-Layering Tech and Culture in Iran
-Startups in Iran: are we just substituting a form of technocracy for theocracy?
posted by kliuless at 6:54 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


You know, I agree with him except the whole part about missing the golden age of the blog. I liked the other time, before all the blogs and stuff.
posted by signal at 6:56 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think maybe the internet of today just has too much NOISE. Too much static. That's why the instagrams and algorithms are so successful. When I was a kid, there were .3 bn online. In 2008, there were 1.5 bn. Today, there are 3 bn people online. Can you imagine how many blogs there would be if each of them had a blog? there would be just too much content, making it that much harder to find what you wanted. And, making it that much more difficult to stand above the rest and earn money.

Just a theory
posted by rebent at 7:01 PM on July 14, 2015


Didn't really mean to end my earlier comment on a mic drop, sorry. It slipped.

If Mefites are linking to The Guardian, The New Yorker, et al so frequently, it's because there's sufficient interesting/newsworthy/well-produced content there to make it worthwhile. Remember in years past we loudly proclaimed the dying of the great national newspapers and magazines, preemptively mourning the value of their editorial strengths, and wailing in frustration over their apparent inability to get the web?

This is the scenario in which major media gets the web. It's not just the corporatization of social media that's draining the blogs, it's the gloss of professionalism that draws our attention away from the remaining individual voices. The SEO-optimizing and acute marketing that makes them easier to find than blogs. The endless circulation of authors and journalists on their diverse beats, generating hundreds of new timely articles every day, provide more stimulus than one person writing passionately for years about a favorite thing you have a passing interest in.

You can't fairly mourn the death of the medium you starved for attention, but now that it's started it's harder to reverse the process.

Personally, I think blogs will always be around. They won't exist as online zines/social media, as much, for a few reasons. But blogs have always existed in many forms, and some of those forms are better-adapted to current circumstances. Even if the era of the professional blogger is waning, that is a different thing than the dying of blogs. If they hold little of the public attention these days, there is also more public and more attention to go around.
posted by ardgedee at 7:08 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The endless circulation of authors and journalists on their diverse beats, generating hundreds of new timely articles every day, provide more stimulus than one person writing passionately for years about a favorite thing you have a passing interest in.

Yes, but: web search has failed us. Perhaps that's a result of SEO, which is short for 'Why We Can't Have Nice Things', but it's also directly from Google's repeated honing of its algorithms to favour now-now-now-published-three-seconds-ago. Twitter search is mostly terrible. Facebook search is not a thing. Trying to find things written on a newsworthy topic before it became newsworthy now requires elite archivist skillz. Heck, try to find the original source of something that's trending among the 47 hot takes and rehashes, and it's a twisty maze of vias, all the same. Google rose in the late 90s and early 00s because it elevated the originators, the primary sources, the pages that earned inbound links, and now PageRank fucks those primary sources over on a regular basis.

As Josh Topolsky said in his first post after getting shitcanned by Bloomberg:
There are countless outlets (both old and new) vying for your attention, desperate not just to capture some audience, but all the audience. And in doing that, it feels like there’s a tremendous watering down of the quality and uniqueness of what is being made. Everything looks the same, reads the same, and seems to be competing for the same eyeballs.
Original content from an outlet that is not one of the big players is now immediate smothered and appropriated by them, and nobody clicks through. Most readers don't even get past the gif-text snippet slapped up on Twitter or the excerpt on Facebook, and eagerly pass judgement on that.

The NYT's leaked "digital innovation" review last year touched upon this, arguing that traffic for its serious news content was being diverted by all the fucking hot takes, because nobody clicked through, and that the only way forward was to Voxify and Buzzfeedificate its own news content. Pardon the self-link, but back then I called it a model that resembles "a collapsed star: a small dense core of journalism with a large gravitational field of kittens."
posted by holgate at 7:36 PM on July 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


Blogs are no longer the hot new thing on the internet, but the indie blog scene still exists! We're just in very niche circles.

The small niche I blog in (MMO gaming) holds an annual newbie blogger drive to encourage more people to "join in the conversation". Every year we see about 10 new blogs start up and stay up. It's not Buzzfeed numbers, or even hoder-in-2008 numbers, but who cares? Growth is growth.

I was a regular reader of The Dissolve (RIP) because I made an effort to get off social media and look for sites like that. (And link the shit out of them when applicable.) If you -- the general you -- read hoder's post and felt sad, go right now and find a new indie blog to read. They're out there, I assure you.
posted by jess at 7:56 PM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Metablogs. Member only, images OK, volunteer moderation. Paid subscriptions. Private or public.
posted by rebent at 8:25 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


here's cjr on...
Bloomberg's new regime and tensions over the editorial vision - "Micklethwait, who replaced Matt Winkler seven months ago, may not be as committed to pursuing the kind of ambitious, hard-edged journalism that brings home Pulitzer Prizes."
posted by kliuless at 8:44 PM on July 14, 2015


I was a regular reader of The Dissolve (RIP) because I made an effort to get off social media and look for sites like that.

My social media circle -- which is heavily tilted towards old school bloggers and web pop-culture writers -- was very much The Dissolve's target audience, and a number of them were upset by its closure. And yet I'd remained unaware of its existence, though it had been around for two years. Like mathowie, I was horrified by that.

It's time to force new habits on myself, relearn old muscle memory, and see what tools are around to reinforce links and discovery -- a web with texture -- because as sure as fuck, Twitter and Facebook aren't doing it.
posted by holgate at 8:57 PM on July 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Pulitzer may not survive the Internet in its current form. I wouldn't be surprised if it wound up as a kind of "cool kids' Webby."
posted by rhizome at 10:01 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


All y'all saddened to have missed out on The Dissolve, don't miss out on Reverse Shot.
posted by kenko at 10:08 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


People looking for alternatives to The Dissolve, a couple of relevant AskMes from the last week or so:
What's a good site for film criticism?
Who are the good female film critics these days?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:18 PM on July 14, 2015


They all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet.

Phone-internet is best internet.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:34 PM on July 14, 2015


I've taken to permanently hiding social virus publishers in my facebook feed. I have a zero-tolerance policy for outrage headlines, listicles, or vague "you won't believe it" clickbait (I would love to be able to subscribe to a blacklist for this).

This is slowly improving the quality of crap I'm subjected to every day, but it's still not exposing me to interesting independent content unless my friends wrote and published it themselves (thankfully, I knew Miracle Jones in college). I now get more personal photos and life updates than third-party content, which is all to the good. The fact that cutting away the obvious intellectual rot leaves almost nothing in the way of third party content does suggest that either that my friends are distressingly incurious or that something in Facebook's algorithms is explicitly shutting down the kind of content I would actually find interesting.

So. Facebook: bad for the Internet, bad for America. The Twitter model works better for me because I can explicitly chose to follow interesting people. But the Twitter model is losing, and the more the Internet contorts itself to cater to Facebook the more I want to pitch my laptop into the sea and never look back.
posted by zjacreman at 1:00 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm 44. Growing up in Chile, I didn't get online until 1998. The internet was a revelation to me: loads of pages about stuff you'd never find information about offline, like screencaps of old TV shows and discussions about small, underrated SF books. Plus, ICQ and IRC, being able to talk to strangers on the other side of the world, in realtime, for free! Then email, google, etc. Awesome.

The whole blog revolution never really resonated with me. There was some good stuff, but Sturgeon's law was in effect to the 4th or 5th power, and I never really got into the flow of following people, debating them, getting to see them as individuals, etc. I started a few blogs myself, who didn't, but it never became a thing for me.
MeFi is the closest thing I've ever had to a blog I follow or participate, and I love it, but I never worked up any sort of strong feeling to the Wider World of Blogs.

I'm old enough that I was (and remain) thoroughly unimpressed by Facebook and its brethren. It seems like a parallel reality where AOL won, where people never got out into the big, wild, world wide web, and chose instead a bland, gated community where they can endlessly pass around uncle jokes and pictures of their kids.
Twitter's OK, it's entertaining at least, but it doesn't really have any depth: it's fun for real time events like the Oscars, but it's deficient as a medium for actual conversation or anything besides semi-clever one liners. Tumblr's fun. Pinterest's pretty. FLickr could have been something, alas.

I love the Internet and the Web, I make my living as a web developer and my son has his own personal internet connected laptop since before his 1st birthday, and I have no doubt he's learnt much more from Youtube than from his expensive private school. I love github, I love MeFi, email, irc, etc. The whole 2.0/blog/social thing? It's alright, I guess, though not really enough to hold my attention or to shed any tears if it fades into irrelevance.
posted by signal at 1:41 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


> This is exactly wrong. It's because costs.

Got any numbers? I'm super skeptical that we stopped serving blogs "because costs".

I host a professional quality server with a hundred sites+ on it out of my own pocket - because the costs of serving a site which is mainly text is very close to nothing at all. If I ever got huge hits, it'd be a little work to set up a system to deal with it by pushing those hits to some commodity provider like Akamai - but I've had site go mildly viral with very little consequences (though I imagine I'm a fraction of what Mefi consumes...)

I've worked in a lot of internet companies, and I don't remember the costs of serving pages to ever be anything that anyone cared about.

> We need to continue to build new things, not hark back to a web that most Internet users never knew.

As the article pointed out, we have already built new things, and these are shallow engagement things which aren't designed for deep thought or an adult discussion - the Stream.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:33 PM on July 15, 2015


Got any numbers? I'm super skeptical that we stopped serving blogs "because costs".

I host a professional quality server with a hundred sites+ on it out of my own pocket - because the costs of serving a site which is mainly text is very close to nothing at all. If I ever got huge hits, it'd be a little work to set up a system to deal with it by pushing those hits to some commodity provider like Akamai - but I've had site go mildly viral with very little consequences (though I imagine I'm a fraction of what Mefi consumes...)

I've worked in a lot of internet companies, and I don't remember the costs of serving pages to ever be anything that anyone cared about.


And this comment, in a nutshell, illustrates the point I made earlier. You're ignoring a cost, lupus, and it's a pretty big one - the cost of supplying the person who actually makes the content with a decent living.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:49 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Evolution in action.

Something has to pay for the web hosting.

100 people read an article that takes them eight minutes to read. The data miner beasties record 100 visitors to the site, and drop 100 pennies into the web hosting fee account.

100 people scroll through facebook. Each one spends eight minutes and sees 50 assorted forwards: One Clever Trick.... You will never believe...Obama sells underage girls to ISS...Beer is the only worthwhile thing...GOP riddled with child molesters...Pitbull abuse...Hotdogs and cheese... If you love your mother share this post... Each person clicks on ten posts. The date miner beasties drop 1000 pennies into the web hosting fee account.

Same number of people, same amount of time. 10 times the revenue. The first site goes out of business. The second site expands.

Who is at fault? Why does nobody stop it? How the hell could anybody stop it?
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:12 AM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]



Facebook . . . a parallel reality where AOL won . . . a bland, gated community . . .

QFT
 
posted by Herodios at 10:33 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


You're ignoring a cost, lupus, and it's a pretty big one - the cost of supplying the person who actually makes the content with a decent living.

There used to be a job called 'technical writer'. The profession as such is essentially moribund now, partly because -- following a bubble in the late 1980s & 90s -- that job got disintermediated. Employers decided to stop artificially centralizing technical communication into a few hands, rather to distribute the responsibility among subject matter experts. At the cost of a reduction in quality, technical communication is now part of everyone's job.

This is now happening in journalism.

In the future, more people will be 'writing' and most will be paid, but next-to-nobody will make a living as a writer.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:51 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't find social media to be like gatekeepers - particularly on twitter, the content I see is shaped by personal friends, local news and politicians, community groups, a few activist-celebrities that I follow. I see more about what is going on (among friends, in my neighbourhood, my city, more widely) than I ever did in the blog-era.

But then, I never did get into blogs. They were often too wordy, with low density of content. I would rather read an essay someone took months on (like this one), than daily posts - or short tweets, if you have a brief thought to share. And while I enjoy expert commentary, few bloggers are experts on everything they write about. I basically only ever read this one community weblog, which linked to the "best of the web".

The numbered twitter essay is bringing back a bit of the longer blog post - but I'm not sure how I feel about it.
posted by jb at 9:03 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't find social media to be like gatekeepers - particularly on twitter, the content I see is shaped by personal friends, local news and politicians, community groups, a few activist-celebrities that I follow.

This is one thing I have been thinking about in the wake of this article. It is true that a lot of my content discovery these days is via one feed or another, many of them corporate controlled. But, these feeds are a mechanism of structuring content recommendations from basically people/groups I have some connection to (setting aside ads). So what counts is the quality of the interpersonal network that the feed taps into: a mix of people I know, people I don't know personally but know of for one reason or another, and some organizations/companies I have chosen.

I think every step of this article on metafilter illustrates that this is the state of the modern internet. Hoder got connected up with medium via these connections, ones that predate him being in prison but outlasted that (as well as connections that led Mathowie to know people at Medium). Somehow, probably via these sorts of interpersonal connections, Anildash found the article and tweeted it. Mkb then reposted it to facebook, where I saw it, and then I posted it on metafilter (basically since no one else had yet). I think this shows actually that a certain amount of Hoder's investment hadn't burned up, basically the interpersonal connections formed during the blogging era, even if the investment in blogging per se did.

Nowadays these connections are what content discovery lives on, and corporations like facebook sit atop the network of interpersonal connections like some kind of corporate leech in a way that wasn't so formalized even 10 years ago. Some control the mapping between what your connections put into the stream and what you get out of the stream (facebook), some don't so much or not at all (twitter, google, even a site like metafilter fits into this spectrum). I'm not sure I'm convinced that this is inherently a bad thing, though it is certainly different than it used to be. I do believe that the way some companies have tapped into our networks is not good, ethically. And it seems from the stories about the Dissolve that the way that it works can lead to failures (but how would the Dissolve have attracted viewers 6 years ago?) But the fact remains that individuals still have a fair amount of control over how this network impacts what they see -- regardless of whether they use it to see celebrity tweets or deep thoughts from ordinary people in their extended network.

I'm not sure I have any conclusions from this except that, yes, things are very different than they were even a few years ago, interpersonal connections remain key, and it is hard to really notice the differences without the perspective that makes Hoder's article so interesting.
posted by advil at 9:51 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Great post. To me the new pop-up ads are the "download our app" pre-rolls when I hit a webpage. I mean Google News wants me to download an app, for Pete's sake.

The comment about not being able to "find the Internet" reminds me of the mid-90s when teenaged me found out that AOL's walled garden was not "the Internet". It seems all the gatekeepers want to do is to build their own walled gardens over and over again.
posted by cnanderson at 6:23 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]




Great post. To me the new pop-up ads are the "download our app" pre-rolls when I hit a webpage. I mean Google News wants me to download an app, for Pete's sake.

There needs to be an HTTP Header or something that everybody agrees on.

X-WANT-APP: NO_HELL_NO
posted by weston at 2:58 PM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


maybe the internet is just another come-and-gone community, like the skateboarders of NYC, before their playgrounds were turned into condos , or the Enlightenment philosophers who flourished for a few decades, then were forgotten by the industrial revolution
posted by rebent at 8:33 AM on August 11, 2015


. . . the Fundamental Declarations of the Martian Colonies, the Statutes of Alpha III.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:39 AM on August 11, 2015


There needs to be an HTTP Header or something that everybody agrees on.

Not just for the stupid app popups. Any popups. I follow a link from Metafilter or Reddit to some click-baity site I've never seen before. First time there and before I'm even allowed to look at the content, I get a "Subscribe to our newsletter! Like us! Follow us! Love us!".

WTF? I'm just here for your story about an 18th century cartographer who likes to hide pictures of marmots in unexplored coastlines. I'm even doing you the courtesy of browsing your site via tablet which doesn't adblock. It makes no sense to hit a first-time viewer with a "please make a lifelong commitment to us" message because all that makes me want to do is ensure I'll never find my way to your clickbait again.
posted by honestcoyote at 2:33 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


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