As far as the Internet goes, I’ve always kind of pictured myself as a reader, sitting in some chair in a huge library where people come and go. A little bit set in the ways.
(I have a very hazy memory that I’ve done a blog post about this. It was ages ago.)
People tend to talk about new interesting meeting places and new interesting ways to get things out there.
Sure, I’ll check them out. But there’s this library. There’s this chair. I can read stuff here.
I’m aware that the world is changing all the time and people are congregating in new and interesting places. I usually go to those places, though I’m not particularly good at showing up there.
People who know me - people who actually have any real business with me - know where to find me. In the library. In that chair.
They’ll know I’ve left some interesting stuff on the desk next to the chair. They’ll check it out. In this great internet of ours, it’s not that much of a trouble to come by my chair and see if I’ve said something worthwhile. Sure, it takes some effort, but because it’s not needlessly complicated, people usually don’t mind.
And this is how things have always been. This works for me. I can stick to my favourite places. I can count on friends and aquaintances to show up and check this stuff out, because it’s easy for them to do so. Why, even complete strangers sometimes show up and think things are quite interesting.
This has always been my beef with modern iterations of social networking.
Modern social networking works on the premise that there’s one central place where stuff is happening, and people should totally go there and see stuff happening.
Unfortunately, this is the Internet. The Internet has always been built with decentralisation in mind. There is certain irony that people are relying on, say, Facebook, which is a centralised service, while they’re accessing it through their web browsers. The Web is a decentralised service. If this were the 1990s, I’m pretty certain that Facebook would be built as a dial-up service along the lines of America Online at the time. People would just pay for their access to Facebook by minute and the world would be littered by “49152 Free Hours of Facebook” CD-ROMs.
And we know what happened to AOL. You don’t see that kind of CD-ROMs anywhere.
People are rightfully asking questions like “should we just start building decentralised social networks, then?” Some more enterprising people have actually started doing just that.
But people should realise that decentralised social networking has been here for a long time.
We’ve had blogs.
This blog is basically the chair I’ve been sitting in this library of ours. The postings are on the desk. Go ahead, read them.
And it fills me with sadness that I’ve been detached from this world for too long. The siren call of the new kinds of social networks says “none of this matters, come here, this is where all the people are”. And I suck at using those services. They’re not really built for people to use. They want our undivided attention.
The centralised social networking services are like shopping malls. They have a purpose for their existence and people go there to do those things. But you can’t live there.
The librarian knows I practically live here. They know I can be here for a long time. They can trust me to lock the door after I leave.
Well, it also helps me that in this case, I’m the librarian. Because as it happens, the blog is running on my own web host and is using a piece of decentralised blogware.
My sister randomly pointed me to a piece of research that says that leaving Facebook is seen as a cool thing to do and we’re both total hipsters for quitting Facebook before it was cool. So meta.
And now I’m forced to ask - when will we come to a full circle? When will people realise that blogging is actually the best way to do social networking in the Internet?
I’m not saying this just because I would be some kind of a überhipster - blogging way before it was cool and became uncool and might become cool again some day. I’m saying this because I’ve always believed in blogging and I’ve always believed that decentralisation is what made the Internet what it was.
It’s also kind of odd to notice that some people might see blogging as kind of an antisocial networking. I’m just posting this shit. I suppose some people are reading it.
But really, what is more antisocial: huddling in a closed ecosystem or relying on long-reaching interconnections?
I’m terrible at following people on Twitter. Twitter is an interesting example of a social networking platform that doesn’t exactly suck because they’ve believed in openness of information flow - your tweets can come from many different sources. In other words, Twitter is just fine if I want to post something. I don’t actually have to make my way to the actual Twitter website. My tweets actually come from identi.ca, which is part of the decentralised StatusNet microblog ecosystem. I can actually follow people wherever they are in the StatusNet ecosystem. People can install StatusNet on their own webhost, just like any piece of blogware. I can then say “I want to follow this user on this particular host”. They can do the same. The most important part is that I’m always talking to the same website - identi.ca, in this instance. I don’t have to take the physical leap to go to their website.
And blogs have done this for ages. If some interesting person is on StatusNet, I can just follow them easily and that goes right into my identi.ca flow. If some interesting person has a blog, I can just grab their feed, and it goes into my feed reader. I don’t have to go to their blogs - unless they post something so fantastic that I have to see it in person.
Which is why it’s kind of antisocial that people want to go to these huddled communities that don’t talk to the outside world.
There’s also the talk that people need these antisocial communities because there are privacy controls. Blogs don’t have privacy controls, so obviously that’s a bad thing, right?
Not really. My Twitter stream is open. My Identi.ca stream is open. My blog is open. If you want something to stay private, send a frigging email and tell me, just in case it’s unclear, that this is something you don’t want anyone else to know.
But really, in most cases, what’s the point of secrecy anyway? In blogs, I’ve often discussed the same topics I’ve talked about with my friends over email and instant messages. They don’t seem to mind this, as long as I don’t personally drag them into this discussion. Great literature was made through private discussions between authors and their colleagues. Great journalists talk to people, some of which don’t want their names to go public - but the end results of the journalistic work is there for all to see.
And oftentimes, it just simply doesn’t matter that you’re talking to a journalist over a public channel. I’ve seen great journalism happen when journalists look at public discussions in the Internet. (Also some not-so-great journalism, to be fair.)
I think that part of the social interaction is that I can say whatever I absolutely need to say, and when I say something, I have to think about what I say. Which is why being in a social network means that I usually never share things that I don’t want the whole frigging world to know about. It’s actually quite liberating to just share something with everyone who might be listening.
People keep saying Facebook is just great for all that bitter family feuding and not letting all that stuff go public. I suppose that’s just another channel for that, another chapter of history. But I don’t want just another channel for that. My family is fine. I want to use social networks for worthwhile purposes. The great discussions of the new millennium and all that rot.
And ultimately, that’s what we need. And that’s what the blogs do.