"death of the public personal essay and the return of email newsletters"
December 31, 2017 8:51 PM   Subscribe

 
First essay was thought provoking. It does seem the dialectic is shifting back.
posted by Miko at 9:23 PM on December 31 [1 favorite]


Ultimately, the tide may turn all the way back to the old BBS text-based forums, at which point MeFi will rule the earth!
posted by darkstar at 9:31 PM on December 31 [23 favorites]


This was the year I deleted the few straggling social media accounts I had left. It's down to metafilter and email over here.
posted by potrzebie at 9:43 PM on December 31 [9 favorites]


I have here, email and instagram.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:51 PM on December 31 [2 favorites]


The biggies Facebook and Instagram can seem small if you stay private and limit contacts to people you know, have known from other places or long time internet contacts. I have 48 Fb friends and less on Instagram. Then there is this place. It is a lot, but I am isolated for now, so it soothes somewhat. Nothing that brings news of our world comforts particularly as was aptly conveyed in this excellent article.
posted by Oyéah at 9:53 PM on December 31 [1 favorite]


Relatedly. But also relatedly.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:54 PM on December 31 [2 favorites]


Please stop using social media and start using feeds. You'll feel much better and make the world a better place. Happy 2018, everyone.
posted by koavf at 10:40 PM on December 31 [16 favorites]


MetaFilter: a bunch of weirdo strangers who were all weirdo strangers together and felt like a community for that
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:46 PM on December 31 [19 favorites]


Social media is weaponized webrings.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:07 PM on December 31 [36 favorites]


I still have my Twitter account, with a relatively small number of trustworthy people I follow; I still get a lot of value there. I have a Mastodon account, which isn't doing much yet. I'm a Facebook member, but I literally have no friends and never log in. I'm on Reddit, and of course here. Never had Instagram or any of the others.
posted by lhauser at 11:16 PM on December 31


About a year ago I wanted to see how fast I could get 500 followers on Instagram. It took a couple months of daily posting and hashtag abuse, but I did it. Funny enough, it annoyed me to the point that I uninstalled both Insta and FB from my phone and haven't looked back. I still use FB messenger for some contacts, so I won't go so far as deleting my account, but I feel pretty good about not using social media anymore.

My internet is basically confined to Metafilter and Stackexchange, but I don't ever contribute at Stackexchange, I just read answers to my coding problems.
posted by Literaryhero at 11:52 PM on December 31


And the ask is simple: Use your browser bar.* [*Or bookmarked websites.]

The one problem with that is the browser bar only holds around 25 shortcuts, and hunting for something in the bookmark menu is too slow. I set my browser homepage to a simple list of around 100 favourites (this) and I always wonder why browser makers don't make a customisable homepage into more of a feature?
posted by Lanark at 3:33 AM on January 1 [4 favorites]


The one problem with that is the browser bar only holds around 25 shortcuts

Not sure about all browsers but Chrome allows folders and nested folders on the browser bar...
posted by jim in austin at 3:59 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]


All browsers allow it; bookmarks are HTML files. For instance you can upload them to your personal domain and connect to them from anywhere. Been doing this for, oh, nearly 25 years...
(my bookmark files from the 1990s are so much fun to look through)
posted by fraula at 4:06 AM on January 1 [4 favorites]


IN CASE YOU THOUGHT I WAS JOKING hehehe (not a bookmarks.html file though - look for a bookmarks.html in your browser's installation folder)
posted by fraula at 4:10 AM on January 1 [4 favorites]


Well I was reading that first article, from The Verge, on my cellphone, and I accidentally touched the wrong part of the page and some bogus, uncloseable ad took over my browser and kept asking me to install something, until I shut down the browser application manually. So thanks for the article, The Verge, but you, too, are part of the problem.
posted by Umami Dearest at 4:19 AM on January 1 [13 favorites]


Weirdly this might be a year that actually marks my greater engagement with Facebook, but actually in a way that may prove the point of this article: rather than posting more on my own Facebook profile, I've joined a fair number of private, niche Facebook groups. These have always existed of course, but they seem more active now than ever. I was just remarking to my husband the other day, that one of them, for people who traveled with their babies and children, especially reminded me strongly of the early web - cosmopolitan, open minded, helpful, drawn from all over the world. Though we came from all over, it seemed like we shared the same values, in a way one can no longer feel on the open Internet.
posted by peacheater at 4:29 AM on January 1 [5 favorites]


I really like that second link. It's easy enough to start with just 3-4 "news" bookmarks, which is more than enough to overwhelm me with news anyway. And while the author says you don't even have to pay them anything or subscribe, please consider doing so if you can afford it.
posted by evilmomlady at 4:34 AM on January 1 [1 favorite]


I nuked my Facebook account and "fan" page for my mystery series, and I have NEVER felt better.
My Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Google+ accounts are collecting dust.
Now all I do is a monthly email newsletter for outgoing, and both I, and my readers seem pretty happy about that.

For incoming, it's Feedly for old school RSS, Digg, and Metafilter.

I cannot recommend leaving social media enough. Make it your thing for 2018.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 5:48 AM on January 1 [4 favorites]


I'm not deleting anything because I've always managed to avoid getting engaged with anything going on social media and always kept it very small. Other than a few comments on a Ultimate Soccer Manager page, over the past two or three years I don't have more than a handful of public comments on facebook (and the private ones are mostly posting links to youtube stuff). And since facebook wrecked their timeline, I barely spend any time scrolling down (because yes, thanks for showing me the post for the last goal of the game two days ago, that's pretty relevant today and it's not like I was watching the game, and also didn't get the club app notification). On Twitter, it's a bunch of @'ing a very limited group of people and shouting into the void and little else, maybe once every day, two if something is happening.

If I wanted to make a better use of my time, ditching MeFi would be a better way to start.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:19 AM on January 1


I still couldn't live without my RSS reader (I use Newsblur) and I can't even figure out how you'd even try to use Facebook or Twitter to keep up with feeds since both sites are determined to never actually show you the posts you want to see.
posted by octothorpe at 7:23 AM on January 1 [1 favorite]


So many feed / RSS comments on shifting away from centralized Internet filters, they give some insight on why Google may have dropped their reader. Though that seems like it would have at least kept track of all / majority use of feeders, maybe they analyzed the over under and saw use of feeds as slipping away from their core. Feeds compel fewer searches.
posted by filtergik at 7:24 AM on January 1 [3 favorites]


This was the year I deleted the few straggling social media accounts I had left. It's down to metafilter and email over here.

Same. Then I wrote a song about it.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:26 AM on January 1 [1 favorite]


So weird. Always unnerving when I turn out to be part of a trend. I have still been allowing myself 20 minutes a day for FB and Twitter recently, not abandoning it because most of my friends and community are not nearby and because I need to check some social media for news about demonstrations and actions I need to take. But the FB algorithm means actually seeing my real friends' posts requires serious workarounds, and my Twitter feed (mostly politics links) was making me depressed. Yesterday a friend posted on FB with her tinyletter info, saying she was abandoning social media. Both of us were power users of a certain kind, whom people depended upon for content, humor, and news, but suddenly I just don't care any more.
posted by Peach at 7:46 AM on January 1 [3 favorites]


I can't really give up Facebook because the tiny art school that I go to doesn't have any Blackboard type platform and FB is the only way to keep in touch with my classmates.

I have deleted the app and only access Facebook via the webpage in an incognito Chrome tab so that they can't (or will have a harder time) track me as much.
posted by octothorpe at 7:53 AM on January 1


Advertising as the source of all of the money on the web will always warp and distort the sharing of content (anything that is not advertising) to suit its purposes. Nuking your facebook account is not going to address the root cause, so if it gives you joy, you should keep facetweeting and snapgramming your heart out.
posted by mumblelard at 8:02 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]


I recently joined the board of an organization built off the foundation of sharing photographs over a listserv back in 1999. At one point, there were about 6000 people from all over the world sharing images daily and it meant some days there could be as many as 300-400 images popping into your email. Engagement was off-the-charts with people commenting on images and spurring amazing conversations on a variety of technical and ethical issues. Life-long friendships were formed and a yearly gathering that quickly turned into a seminar with speakers and side events happened.

The peak was probably 2007 or so and then when social media took hold usage of the listserv plummeted. Social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, meant anyone, anywhere could share their photos with an even larger number of people. The problem is, there's a sea of images being shared on social media and very little engagement - certainly nothing on the scale of the listserv's heyday. In 2016-17 we pushed hard to use Facebook as a platform but with changing algorithms and people's sudden distaste for Facebook the organization found itself without a functional way of communicating. We weren't even able to use Facebook as an organizing tool for our event a few months ago because of FB's abandoning of chronological order.

Anyway, I've become extremely interested in finding a new platform for pushing the organization's message out there. At one point I thought Tumblr might be a good option but it seems to have an uncertain future. Ironically, the listserv is probably still the best way to communicate to a large audience but so many millennials seem to be post-email. People say they want a more intimate and engaging experience on the web but they've become accustomed to being passive because of social media.
posted by photoslob at 8:12 AM on January 1 [3 favorites]


I don't mind the advertising as a source of income. I can put up with that, and I even enjoy seeing things I've already bought presented to me as options. But the algorithms Facebook uses to "customize" content to me end up making the product unusable for me. BTW, I recommend Weapons of Math Destruction, which I read recently, all about algorithms and their downsides, drawbacks, and misfires (and the way they are often founded on incorrect or downright evil assumptions while pretending to be founded on objective data).
posted by Peach at 8:55 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]


The first article linked has a paragraph about creators moving to Patreon/etc, but Patreon doesn't address discoverability -- in fact their FAQ tells you to lean on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube for building an audience.

So congrats to those who have already built their audience, or for those who can build their audience in meatspace and/or via other channels, but I think the majority of creators will depend on social media as the entry to the "funnel" to use a vulgar marketing term.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:57 AM on January 1


I've been thinking about this stuff a lot lately, especially since I gave up and did a teardown on almost all of my accumulated personally-hosted web stuff late last year. I've only now started digging in a little bit on rebuilding—just put a short proto blog entry on my home page as a placeholder for whatever comes next—and I'm wading through a lot of mixed and conflicting feelings about what I want the web to be, what I want my web presence to be, and which tools I want to support in that and how much work I'm willing to put in to get the results I want.

I like slick tools. I like stuff that just works. I don't enjoy web development, and know my skillset is limited and increasingly ossified, and even at that I'm well above average compared to most folks. Twitter as an input device really works for me, everything else (which is a lot) aside. And a practical difficulty in pushing back on centralized platforms is that they have a huge advantage at offering slickness and ease en masse. Even before you get to the social networking side of things. I'm a person who really wants the old-school, hand-crafted, know-your-neighbors web back and yet I recognize that doing stuff independently is fussy and tiring and full of friction.

And maybe the answer is better sweet-spot free self-hosted tools, slick and easy enough to displace the centralized corporate social media. Or maybe the answer is centralized services with a soul, immune by some miracle to the forces that have driven corporate social media into such a crappy place. Or maybe the answer is just shut up and get out and push if you want it and accept that we can't get the old web back, we can only carve out a little bit of old web space on our own and take care of it as best we can and accept that it's an oxbow and not the next big old thing. I don't know.
posted by cortex at 8:59 AM on January 1 [9 favorites]


I've just hiked down my electricity-proof mountain to dictate this comment to someone who is NOT MY FRIEND so you could all know how isolated and great I am
posted by beerperson at 9:50 AM on January 1 [26 favorites]


okay but that's the last one i'm gonna post for you
posted by cortex at 10:15 AM on January 1 [18 favorites]


Just kidding, I can't quit you beerperson
posted by beerperson at 10:24 AM on January 1 [14 favorites]


I started hanging out on a MUD a couple of months ago (Aardwolf, been running since about 1997 I believe), and it has been weirdly refreshing. Nothing on the internet truly disappears, and sometimes the people left on these older platforms are the best. I still use IRC daily.
posted by Jimbob at 12:29 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]


I set my browser homepage to a simple list of around 100 favourites (this) and I always wonder why browser makers don't make a customisable homepage into more of a feature?

Because they don't even want you to know that's an option. Because the entire reason for including a browser with the OS is to have you spending as much time on their 'home page'/'advertising cesspool' as possible, and since the vast majority of people don't realize/care that the home page is changeable at all, they pretty much get their way (see: Microsoft/I.E. antitrust case) ALWAYS REMEMBER: people are stupid as shit. (for example: most people think Facebook IS the internet.)
posted by sexyrobot at 12:47 PM on January 1


There has to be a McDLT joke relevant to this.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:48 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


Also, I came up with this line to explain it to outsiders:

MetaFilter: It's like Facebook without all the idiots...or Reddit without all the assholes.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:08 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]


As one of MetaFilter's most-visible idiots, I take extreme offense at that formulation. WE'RE HERE, WE'RE NEAR, WE HAVE NO IDEAR
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:17 PM on January 1


Sonny Bunch: The Number One Rule of Twitter: There’s no good news that people on Twitter can’t turn into a stupid squabble.

(shows responses to the news that there were no passenger deaths on commercial jet flights for the first time ever)
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:33 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]


The excellent Jenny Odell has a blog post on the optimism of the early internet, of the mixture of nostalgia and feeling of sadness that this isn't the internet that we actually got (and unsure if that idealized internet could ever really exist).
posted by rivenwanderer at 2:10 PM on January 1 [6 favorites]


I don't get people pining for things like LiveJournal or Usenet. I mean, they haven't gone away, they're right there, people. You want a tight community? Commune with the half-dozen other users of Dreamwidth.

Usenet is still there, and if I go to someplace like rec.arts.sf.misc, a lot of the same people that were around there in 1993 are still around, still debating with each other. Hell, on soc.history.what-if, they're still arguing about the same things they were 24 years ago.

If you don't want modern social media, you don't have to have it. The old web is still there, filled with old people.
posted by happyroach at 3:30 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]


I don't get people pining for things like... Usenet. I mean, they haven't gone away, they're right there, people

Not on Comcast it's not. Google groups is the only convenient access I have.
posted by PMdixon at 4:43 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]


most people think Facebook IS the internet

This is called "progress" - we've come so far from when most people thought AOL was the internet!

25 years ago (eep), I had a button that said, "Reading the 'net is like drinking from a firehose. Posting on the 'net is like shouting at people on a roller coaster. Archiving the 'net is like washing toilet paper." It's not less true now.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:25 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]


Weirdly this might be a year that actually marks my greater engagement with Facebook, but actually in a way that may prove the point of this article: rather than posting more on my own Facebook profile, I've joined a fair number of private, niche Facebook groups. These have always existed of course, but they seem more active now than ever. I was just remarking to my husband the other day, that one of them, for people who traveled with their babies and children, especially reminded me strongly of the early web - cosmopolitan, open minded, helpful, drawn from all over the world. Though we came from all over, it seemed like we shared the same values, in a way one can no longer feel on the open Internet.

This is my experience too. I love private groups (although they still have problems that are inherent to Internet communities), but I hate the fact that I have to use Facebook to get to them. Browsing my standard feed is often an exercise in anger, frustration, and despondency - not to mention contributing to Zuckerberg and Thiel.
posted by codacorolla at 6:22 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


Oh, this is great! I've been feeling this way about the internet for a while. This is the only social media I'm on anymore, not because I'm oh so above Facebook, but because this is the only place that feels like a somewhat manageable online community. It's less of a firehose (although still also kind of a firehose).

I get sucked into the internet because I, like (I guess) anyone else, get kind of lonely sometimes, and the internet has been a way to get a quick hit of attention and human connection. I'm trying to take a step back from it all and think about it in terms of myself and everyone else sitting in front of a screen. I'm trying to get a different kind of awareness of what I'm doing in physical space when I sit down in front of the computer and type out comments like this. Maybe it sounds trite, but I'm trying to pay attention to the room I'm in, the clothes I'm wearing, ambient noise, etc (to put it another way, I want to think about the physicality of my computer, like it's a box with wires and circuit boards, an amazing appliance, but still an appliance). I like to imagine that other people are in their own spaces reading and commenting on the same stuff as me. It helps me think about this site and others in terms of people, as opposed to something else that I can't really define.

I've been talking to a bunch of different people, in person and at a distance, and everyone seems to feel like the new counterculture is going to be more focused on smaller-scale communities and a shift away from the internet. It sounds like it's already happening! I couldn't be more excited.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:11 PM on January 1


I find all this Facebook and social media bashing a bit childlish. You consume a product, become addicted and then start blaming the product for your addiction and intemperance.

For all the talk of their ubiquity, there are still billions of people in the world who do not consume social media. Do they know something that the authors don’t?
posted by Kwadeng at 10:46 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


Tim Berners-Lee's Solid scheme is a crap semantic web retread with incompetent security measures designed by project managers, not cryptographers. As an aside, I hear we got EME because TBL blew all the W3C's money on semantic web bullshit and had to go grovelling to the media rent seekers for more money.

It's time for the W3C to die. Their process cannot prioritize any meaningful security review and security actually matters now. It's like asking a bunch of paper mache artists to do civil engineering work. Zero chance making them prioritize user interests over their funders interests.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:29 AM on January 2


I find all this Facebook and social media bashing a bit childlish. You consume a product, become addicted and then start blaming the product for your addiction and intemperance.

So the producers, in full knowledge and purposeful intent to create products that are as addictive as possible, bear no fault? I'm sure the tobacco companies will be overjoyed to hear that.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:40 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Maria Aspan, Inc.: MailChimp to Phase Out Its Popular TinyLetter Email Service
…TinyLetter's days as a standalone entity are numbered, Chestnut told me in October. When I met with him in Atlanta and mentioned my newsletter plans, Chestnut advised me to stick to a basic MailChimp template instead of a TinyLetter, to avoid any potential headaches when MailChimp swallows up TinyLetter.

He wasn't specific about when that would happen, and MailChimp declined to provide much more detail. "TinyLetter's functionality will be enhanced in its migration to MailChimp," a spokesperson later said by email. "It will still have the same super-simple newsletter building functionality, but it'll be refreshed and updated for improved user experience, and there will be better reporting and more insight into how newsletters perform and who the audience is."
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:04 PM on January 2


Exactly, Celsius1414! It's not childish at all to question the addictive nature of social media and the secretive ways of tech companies who mine our data for profit. Also, online harassment of marginalized groups is out of control, should we not question what those companies are doing to curb it? Or is it childish that I'm pissed that, as a woman (who is also fat and queer, i.e., an easy target), I can't use social media in ways that I would probably benefit from in terms of keeping up with friends and family because I'm too concerned about harassment or even just lack of privacy? Hearing about how we might find better online communities is really valuable to me. One thing I like about email newsletters is that I don't have to read the fucking comments. I don't have to sign up for another service and give it access to my data.

I would say it's more childish to insist that we shouldn't question how social media is changing our world — sure, many people don't use social media worldwide, but is that the case for most of us here on Metafilter? How many of us can't avoid social media entirely and want the experience to be better? I don't want the dopamine hit of "1 new update" but our phones and browsers are determined that we experience it to keep us coming back. Parallels to cigarettes indeed.

I recently re-joined Facebook after maybe a decade hiatus (not sure of the exact timing, but I left was when it was still limited to those in college) because I volunteer for an organization with a very active Facebook group. It contains valuable information that I wouldn't be able to get otherwise and makes my volunteering more enjoyable. Facebook is frantic to get me to connect to other groups and add friends and personal information and sell me stuff and show me stories.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:11 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I've loved discovering the TinyLetter and similar email newsletters. Sadly my favourite has just folded, or at least gone on hiatus. But they very much remind me of the early days of the internet, and I value the way they just sit in a folder in my mail, not nagging me, waiting for me to take a look, and when I do THEY ARE ALL IN THE DAMN ORDER IN WHICH THEY CAME FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM ARE YOU LISTENING?
posted by reynir at 1:58 PM on January 2


The Facebook closed-group comments make me wonder also at the popularity of unsearchable private chatgroups and forums, like those hosted on Slack and Discord. Discord is quickly becoming one of my primary spaces to talk and breathe and feel not horribly exposed--I can't do anything on Facebook without gritting my teeth and expecting to put on a false self, so I mostly don't and haven't since 2013. (No, I mean it; I don't even use anything but Messenger much these days.)

I don't know. My email is a firehose, it feels like--and yes, rollup is a thing, but I wind up getting anxious and anxious at all the shit it does miss. I wonder if some of us are just feeling particularly raw what with the constant reminders of feeling under threat this year.
posted by sciatrix at 2:23 PM on January 2


So the producers, in full knowledge and purposeful intent to create products that are as addictive as possible, bear no fault? I'm sure the tobacco companies will be overjoyed to hear that.

There is a such a thing as free will, and the argument that these products are being pushed down people’s throats is unimpressive at best. Nobody’s life was ever less full because they were not parading on Facebook while using some... er, consciousness-enhancing substances. Or if such a life feels incomplete (as there is always a reason to want to be in and not out), that’s worth examining.

I don’t care much for social media or tobacco/drugs and I certainly never joined the frenzy. But I do care that people who like to think of themselves as smart, sophisticated or ‘woke’ should wilfully enter the fray only to blame the content provider or whatever-product-pusher.

To paraphrase Jacques Bossuet, God laughs about men who deplore the effects whose causes they cherish.

posted by Kwadeng at 8:08 PM on January 2


There is a such a thing as free will

Debatable.
posted by Miko at 7:15 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


There is a such a thing as free will, and the argument that these products are being pushed down people’s throats is unimpressive at best.

Axios: Sean Parker unloads on Facebook "exploiting" human psychology
Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, gave me a candid insider's look at how social networks purposely hook and potentially hurt our brains.
  • "When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, 'I'm not on social media.' And I would say, 'OK. You know, you will be.' And then they would say, 'No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.' And I would say, ... 'We'll get you eventually.'"
  • "I don't know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and ... it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other ... It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."
  • "The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, ... was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'"
  • "And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you ... more likes and comments."
  • "It's a social-validation feedback loop ... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."
  • "The inventors, creators — it's me, it's Mark [Zuckerberg], it's Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it's all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway."
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:17 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I know that's months-old, but Sean Parker is trash.
posted by rhizome at 8:31 AM on January 3


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