"My aim is not to convince you that everything was better in the past; "
May 29, 2020 1:18 PM   Subscribe

 
[Double post situation resolved, comments deleted, carry on.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:24 PM on May 29


I've been thinking a lot about this sort of thing. The web is a worse place than it was because it's less interoperable. The irony of a place where everyone shares interconnected content but that content is almost always shared to one of two places, Facebook and Twitter.

I think the world would be a better place if we didn't have a single social media provider. And I don't just mean Google+ vs Facebook vs Twitter vs Insta. I mean like email. You have a server either commercially provided or set up yourself. You subscribe to feeds user@domainname just like email. The subscriptions just transfer data to each other when new data pops up. You can use whatever program or provider you like to parse the feed. You can set up a space however you want it. You can just, you know, be you, instead of some sanitized version of you along with everyone else. Maybe some way to use PKI for a persistent presence if you want so you can be followed through providers.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:15 PM on May 29 [11 favorites]


Go full retro, back to ~
posted by sammyo at 2:24 PM on May 29 [7 favorites]


The problem is sites that are silos without transparent interfaces. Once a site has the gravity to not have competition, it can shut down feeds, force you to use an app, and then control your experience like a Skinner box to optimise the level of “engagement”, never letting you be certain that you haven't missed something, to keep you reloading. The experience is not a feed you can read as you prefer, but a package you engage with on its terms of service, designed to optimally monetise your engagement. It's Facebook vs. RSS feeds, or Instagram vs. Flickr, or similar.
posted by acb at 2:26 PM on May 29 [16 favorites]


wiby.me, linked from the HN thread, is extremely good. I could hit the surprise me link all day.
posted by theodolite at 2:28 PM on May 29 [11 favorites]


wiby.me just took me to jodi.org and I am incredibly pleased
posted by phooky at 2:47 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Sammyo—Check out tilde.club.
posted by adamrice at 2:54 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


While technically not the web, gopher may revive some nostalgia for 80's and 90's dial-up BBS culture...
posted by jim in austin at 3:10 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


Every innovation since the .plan file has been a mistake.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:18 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]


Similarly, Gemini is a protocol and text format largely inspired by Gopher, but with a slightly modernized design from the ground up (TLS required, UTF-8 by default, SNI for virtual hosts, etc.). It's still in its infancy but there are a few interesting sites in geminispace, and some clients that support both Gemini and Gopher.

It's also designed to be something you can implement yourself in about a hundred lines of code, if you are so inclined. I wrote my own toy Gemini server for personal use.
posted by mbrubeck at 3:20 PM on May 29 [7 favorites]


I keep having flashbacks to the time when seeing "Works best in Internet Explorer" on a website meant my Mac was going to have problems there. Only now, it's sites leveraging features in Chrome.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:38 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


You have a server either commercially provided or set up yourself. You subscribe to feeds user@domainname just like email. The subscriptions just transfer data to each other when new data pops up. You can use whatever program or provider you like to parse the feed. You can set up a space however you want it. You can just, you know, be you, instead of some sanitized version of you along with everyone else. Maybe some way to use PKI for a persistent presence if you want so you can be followed through providers.

We have that - it's called Mastodon, and as we've discussed in other threads, it turns out that federated, distributed social media has the same issues as centralized social media because you can't engineer your way out of social problems.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:50 PM on May 29 [9 favorites]


I keep having flashbacks to the time when seeing "Works best in Internet Explorer" on a website meant my Mac was going to have problems there. Only now, it's sites leveraging features in Chrome.

Well, the solution there seems to be making every browser Chrome, with Microsoft throwing in the towel on that front.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:51 PM on May 29


uh dude, "small" is not the preferred nomenclature: "fun-sized," please
posted by entropicamericana at 4:10 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


We have that - it's called Mastodon, and as we've discussed in other threads, it turns out that federated, distributed social media has the same issues as centralized social media because you can't engineer your way out of social problems.

It has issues like "humans are jerks to you". It doesn't have issues like "Facebook is choosing what you read such that it maximizes their ad revenue."
posted by value of information at 4:48 PM on May 29 [17 favorites]


Also, Mastodon doesn't try to engineer its way out of social problems, at least on the instances I'm on. It socials its way out, just like MetaFilter does, by having admins and moderators who are known, active members of the community, who set expectations, and actively ban individual users or entire servers that are sources of harassment or hate speech. It's not perfect but it's far more effective than Twitter's moderation.

There are a few thoughtful design choices, like deliberately leaving out certain features that, while not responsible for harassment, tend to enable or encourage it in practice. (For example, "quote-retweet.")
posted by mbrubeck at 5:04 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]


"Works best in Internet Explorer"

Oh, man. That takes me back. Remember when websites would tell you what resolution they worked best in, too?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:23 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


I feel like "you can't engineer your way out of social problems" is often an excuse to dismiss any kind of structural change.
posted by Pyry at 5:50 PM on May 29 [11 favorites]


Gopher! The first Internet site I built was actually a gopher that served up a file of the day's headline, recipes and restaurant reviews from the newspaper I worked at. So simple, so hierarchical! But before that, in 1992, I worked with The World, which says it was the world's first public-access ISP (and which is still around) to broadcast that year's presidential election results via finger. I got some thankful e-mail from somebody at a military base who was in a room where access to most stuff, even radio, was banned for some reason, but he had an Internet connection and was able to keep up with the results by fingering our address.
posted by adamg at 6:45 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


I feel like "you can't engineer your way out of social problems" is often an excuse to dismiss any kind of structural change.

Not to mention that the technical vs. social angle is a false distinction anyway. Software platforms are an embodiment of social values and will reflect those values back to users. Changing one will necessitate changing the other.

I haven't finished the whole article yet, but I found the section about the language of exploration and navigation to be an interesting one. Thank you for posting, the man of twists and turns.
posted by wordless reply at 7:12 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


I'm curious about people reminiscing about browsers.
Part of the old-timey web, and what kept it small, was that it was the self-hosted web. Does no one remember the terms fark'ed or slashdotted?
Sure, you had a cute or useful website that you hand-coded.
But it was served up by an x86 in the basement connected to dialup.
Once 500 people wanted to see what you'd created, all at the same time, everyone just got a busy signal.
So you had to move from self-hosting to paid hosting on someone else's hardware, someone who had the ability to (prepare to shudder at the term) scale.
Then those hosting platforms became advertising platforms, then that ad revenue allowed them even greater scalability.
Then they became the only game in town, because they were the only ones who could deliver in the manner to which we had become accustomed.

Like I've worked with a lot of streaming media setups. You digitize your CD and DVD collections into a 'jukebox'. Then you trade access to jukeboxes between friends - I'll show you mine if you show me yours. Great, a roll-your-own community-run mutual-aid Spotify or Netflix. A beautiful model, until you have more than six friends. At which point you need hardware upgrades, and higher bandwidth, etc. And that stuff costs. And requires maintenance.
At some point it makes more economic sense to switch from $250/mo serving it up yourself to $20/mo to get it from Netflix-hosted-on-AWS.

Cottage industries are wonderful, but they don't clothe the masses.
Folks are amusing themselves in quarantine baking their own bread, because they have nothing else to do and can't get to the store. But once you realize that you're spending way too much time and money per loaf, most are going back to store-bought ASAP. Building your own cul-de-sac sized web is lovely between friends as a hobby project, but at some point...

Tell me how I've mispercieved the history I lived through?
posted by bartleby at 7:45 PM on May 29 [9 favorites]


I'd say there's a difference between finding efficient ways to get over bandwidth and filesize barriers for large files, such as sharing music and movies, and putting together a small website as a means of self-expression, art, or passion-chasing aimed at a friend group or niche community. Maybe it's just sort of OK for a personal site to get slashdotted for a day, since without monetization there's no inherent value to having lots of traffic and it wouldn't be the same tragedy of the commons that a shared movies server would go through from gaining too many new users. Not everything has to scale.

In in the article, I'm seeing nostalgia for that kind of self-expression and disregard for marketing.

Also I wonder if, in an alternate universe, we could have scaled up personal sites to some extent with peer to peer methods, but that's beyond me.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 9:27 PM on May 29 [14 favorites]


[A couple deleted. If you don't like small web or hand-rolled sites, that's okay, but this isn't a post that is going to be enjoyable for you, and you can go ahead and check out something else instead. No need to try to convince people chatting here that they are wrong for finding pleasure in something different than your preferred approach.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:21 AM on May 30 [16 favorites]


A beautiful model, until you have more than six friends.

At what point does the ratio of friends to 'friends' drop below 1?
posted by Cardinal Fang at 3:19 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I think computers, webservers, and networks have gotten a lot better; how many visitors would it take today for a pure HTML/CSS site to get slashdotted? nginx is really fast.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:32 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Tell me how I've mispercieved the history I lived through?

You've assumed that the commoditization of the hardware necessitates commoditization of the software. And you've assumed that when consumer grade hardware starts conking out there's no other option than to fold up the gift economy and turn it into AWS. Neither of these are givens and both change how the story ends. The fact that the particular people who were running into this problem were the sort of people who were fully bought in to the cult of the profit motive and wasted time coming up with HTTP status codes for micro transactions rather than actually thinking about what the problem they had run into meant does not mean that other people with the benefit of hindsight cannot come up with say better mechanisms for allowing people to limit use of their hardware to levels they can afford. The idea that the only thing the internet as experienced by individuals could ever be is a weird sort of broadcast radio is a nonsense pernicious idea.
posted by PMdixon at 6:44 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


> Cottage industries are wonderful, but they don't clothe the masses.
Folks are amusing themselves in quarantine baking their own bread, because they have nothing else to do and can't get to the store. But once you realize that you're spending way too much time and money per loaf, most are going back to store-bought ASAP. Building your own cul-de-sac sized web is lovely between friends as a hobby project, but at some point...

Tell me how I've mispercieved the history I lived through?


I'm not sure that you have. You're just choosing to focus on the upside of the commercialized Internet, while the FPP and some others here are focusing on what's been lost in the transition. The pull-quote in the title of this FPP -- "My aim is not to convince you that everything was better in the past;" -- is an acknowledgement that the tech has certainly improved the lives of many, just as mass production of food has freed people from the labor and expense of having to plant crops, raise chickens, and bake bread, as you accurately point out.

But the flip side of the pandemic causing some folks to dabble in baking their own bread is the fact that so many dependent on the heavily-optimized supply chain are instead having to wait in long lines at the food bank. All of this increased productivity from large-scale food production and factory farming hasn't freed the country from food insecurity, it's mostly just made things better for those who already have the means to weather the storm. That doesn't mean people would have been better off if they'd all had their family farms instead, but it does mean that something has been lost, and the replacement isn't what it might otherwise be.

I think there's room for an honest discussion of who has been left behind by technological progress of online platforms, and of the ideals that were sacrificed so that we could get to where we are today. There is some good, but there is also some loss, and that's all that's being said here. I don't think there is any shortage of techno-utopianism in the media today, so maybe we can leave space here for a more skeptical discussion instead of implying that people who pine for the losses are refusing to acknowledge the gains.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:44 AM on May 30 [11 favorites]


Part of the old-timey web, and what kept it small, was that it was the self-hosted web. Does no one remember the terms fark'ed or slashdotted?
Sure, you had a cute or useful website that you hand-coded.
But it was served up by an x86 in the basement connected to dialup.
Once 500 people wanted to see what you'd created, all at the same time, everyone just got a busy signal.


Even back in the old-timey dial-up days, most local ISPs included basic hosting as part of the deal. I never self-hosted my small, hand-rolled, site.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:04 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]


Yeah I don't think that part has changed too much over the past 25 years. My first personal web site in 1996 was on a shared server run by eskimo.com, my local ISP. My current personal site is hosted on a similar shared server at Dreamhost where it’s lived for almost two decades.

The only difference is that it’s gotten way cheaper for a static, mostly-text site to can handle thousands of concurrent connections, and millions of page views per month. When I got started, that would take a rack of servers in a colo. Today, you can do it with a single $5/month virtual host running nginx.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:03 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


A beautiful model, until you have more than six friends.

Traditionally, you are said to need only six.

*Cough*pallbearers*cough*
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:56 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]


@theodolite Wiby worked well for me, directing me to the Zymoglyphic Museum for my first actual moment of levity today.
posted by nickzoic at 9:46 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Run by MeFi's own zymoglyphic!
posted by cortex at 9:54 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


@cortex ha! @zymoglyphic Stay safe, I really, really hope I'll get to visit some day :-)
posted by nickzoic at 2:42 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


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