While I’ve grown up on the Internet, I also remember the pre-internet era well and spent most of my formative years there. I was a kid who was able to get a modem and connect it to the text-only world of Bulletin Board Systems and Usenet (when Usenet was a service for discussion, not just binaries). I spent hours exploring these worlds, finding like-minded people, and expanding my horizons as to what computers could enable by way of communication and engagement.
I was so excited on the day I got my own internet-based email address, until I realised I had nobody to email.1 Nevertheless, it was still a thrill to have the possibility of contacting anybody else in the world who may also have happened to have an email address. The open nature of email was really the first indicator of the power of the open internet.
As time went by, I kept up with the technology of the time. I remember skipping accounting classes at university because I was having more fun in the Unix labs browsing the web with Lynx. Later in my uni career, I would be skipping classes and browsing the web with an early version of Netscape Navigator. It was slow, but it was the future and I wanted a piece of it. The only web sites that were around at that point were really published by other geeks and there was a real sense of open exploration of what could be achieved. I still have memories of the early IMDB site, and even then the amount of information available was astounding.
The next port of call for me on my journey through the open web was blogging. I operated a since-departed (photo)blog that managed to gain a bit of traction and traffic over the few years that I ran it. This was back when hand-coding and CSS tweaking was a necessity, and there was no thought of, or need for, responsive design. Eventually though, I got tired of the whole thing and shut it down. I kept a text archive of the posts which I still have somewhere, and little bits of it remain at the Internet Archive. Sometimes, though, I wish I had been a better archivist of my own work even if just so I could look back on it from time to time.
After this time the web became ‘socialised’, in that all the action was on various social media platforms, be it MySpace(!), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… the list goes on. The problem with all of these sites, though, is they are not open. Far from it; their motivation is to keep both you and your content captive to their walled garden so they can sell advertising based on your eyeballs.
These sites do not reflect the open web that I’ve always loved. I miss the days of easily-shareable content, where all that was required was a URL. I really wish that content wasn’t so reliant on companies as content platforms and that so much of the content wasn’t published simply as a means of monetising the attention of others.
This is why I am particularly interested in the currently-in-development micro.blog service. This appears to have the potential of offering the best of both worlds: the ease of use of social media, but with the open web philosophy that I so appreciate. Unfortunately I wasn’t part of the original Kickstarter project, so I don’t have any early access. I have, however, signed up to be notified and am following the developers RSS feed closely to watch it’s development. I really hope that it gets some genuine traction, and that this can lead to real-world success.
I know that we can’t go back to the way things were. The internet will never again be the Wild West, inhabited only by the zealot explorers. Now it’s a platform for everybody, and the commercial money isn’t going away anytime soon. Yet I will keep my RSS reader and maintain the search for those independent voices that I can follow who create and deliver interesting, independent content.
- Even before social media, the network effect was still relevant. ↩