I have never been a huge Facebook fan as evidenced by my varied pieces on the topic:
- The Feed
- It’s Just a Webpage
- Planet of the Software Intellectual
- The End of the Internet II
- edX and the Future of the Web
Now that the proverbial sh-t has hit the fan, with Facebook loosing something like a third of its value due to scandal and mismanagement, it is time to look at the web anew.
Unbeknownst to most heavy Facebook/Insta/WhatsApp users the web has largely blossomed which is what Matt Mullenweg must have been talking about when I met him a few months ago.
Facebook has put up that walled garden it meant to, wherein it tries to mirror features of the web, such as whole websites through its Pages feature, forums through its Groups feature, and comments in general through posts in its News Feed.
It has APIs of course, but it really has not closed the doors on the freedom of the open web to create. New publishing platforms are growing quite strong, such as Medium, new forum technology such as Discourse continue to proliferate, and even total alternatives such as Might Networks continue to spring up and act as challengers to individual features of Facebook.
Facebook has that huge database of users, and all their information and photos, so can any of these individual efforts unseat THE social networking company—the behemoth? There seems to be core functionality missing from the web for this vision to happen: where individual BETTER services than those offered on Facebook can become dominant within their own individual niches. Something like a truly open open graph, where a user’s data is portable and owned by them (this is not a new idea). And something similar where it comes to payments. Perhaps all backed by blockchain technology?
This all sounds an awful lot like Tim Berners Lee’s new project Solid. There are a lot of good ideas there and it all feels like the web has become clogged enough with corporate mischief and troll-like behaviour that a fresh look needs to be taken.
While I went over some other existential challenges to the Web in The End of the Internet I and The End of the Internet II, it seems to me a good start, which has already begun, is the takedown of Facebook by its splintering into dozens and dozens of more competent services backended by new technologies like Solid.
In this new gilded age where seemingly billionaires call all the shots, and right-wing fascism is on the march throughout the world, I think the most important thing is to democratize that thing which is at the centre of our politics, media and technology which is the Internet itself, and this only comes full circle back to the first post I made on this blog: The New Environment, which reviews two important books on the subject, Rebecca MacKinnon’s The Consent of the Networked: The World Wide Struggle for Internet Freedom, and blog favourite Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future.
In the five years since I wrote that post things have grown only more concentrated, but the technology has advanced too so that dissident solutions become more viable. If only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, if only.