Megamart dot com

The internet has been gentrified. All the small cute houses and mom & pop shops have been shut down and replaced by big corporations that control everything. I’ve been making webcomics for twenty years, and at the start, the internet was a beautiful wild place. Everyone had a home page. It was like having a house and people came to visit you and you would visit other people in their houses. Now, we don’t visit each other in personal spaces anymore. It’s like we have to visit each other in the aisles of a megamart. Everything is clean and sanitized and the weirdos who made the internet what it was are no longer welcome. No space for freaks anymore.

Megan Rose Gedris on online spaces.

Strong tip to anyone with basically any kind of internet presence, particularly any kind of creative internet presence: buy a domain name and a basic hosting plan and make yourself a website. It doesn’t have to look special or fancy1 but the thing is no one can really take it away from you. Even if your host un-hosts you for some reason2 you can just . . . upload your site to a new host. The URL won’t even change because it’s the domain name you own.

Social media sites (and popularity) come and go. But your website? That’s forever.

  1. Actually, web brutalism In; one of my current favorite personal homepages looks like a basic text file and is literally just straight-up unstyled HTML. []
  2. Only once have I ever been suspended from a webhost, and it was for posting pictures of Star Wars: The Old Republic that EA decided to DMCA-SLAPP me over. This is, incidentally, why I no longer use US-based webhosts. []
2021-07-15T07:38:12+10:0024th July, 2021|Tags: , |

Microsegment.

Tl;dr Signal took out a bunch of ads on Instagram for specific market segments that explicitly described what market segment they were for. Maybe.

It’s worth noting that Facebook denies Signal’s account of what, exactly, happened next and honestly it’s a bit of a Team No-one situation for me (Facebook is a global adtech empire with a known history of lying; Signal has a history of sensationalist-but-dubious stunts). Still. Always worth remembering just how intrusive adtech actually is . . .

2021-06-21T20:50:30+10:0029th June, 2021|Tags: , , , |

Anti-contented.

content is a placeholder word used by social media sites to talk about the pieces of flotsam and jetsam that keep people using the site so they can be advertised to. [ . . . ]

“content creator” is a generic term created by corporations to describe a vast and multi-faceted group of people by the thing they do to benefit the corporation.

“consumer” is a generic term created by corporations to describe a vast and multi-faceted group of people by the thing they do to benefit the corporation.

“engagement” is a metric that corporations use to determine whether a “content creator” is “consumed” enough to be worth running ads next to.

On rejecting content.

I’ve mentioned before that few things get my back up more than applications for fandom.ink where people explicitly talk about how they want somewhere to “post content.” Just . . . no.

Tell me about your art, your fic, your meta . . . hell, your shitposts. Anything but fucking “content,” please.

2021-06-21T20:51:44+10:0028th June, 2021|Tags: , , |

Platform failure.

What all of this tells us is that reducing growing social problems to new technologies is simply not accurate. Framing the problem in that way makes it seem as though if we create better platforms, our problems will be solved — but if the platforms are responding to the economic incentives of the capitalist system, maybe that should get more scrutiny.

Are we to believe that social polarization is the product of Facebook, and not the fact that income inequality has returned to pre–Great Depression levels (and is likely much worse due to the pandemic)?

Are we to believe that a distrust of elites and politicians is the result of Google’s search results, and not the fact that the political system is unresponsive to the needs of the vast majority of the population, while the government lets industry regulate itself, leading to tragedies like the Boeing 737 MAX?

Are we to believe that the breakdown in community and personal relationships is the result of clever algorithms, and not the fact that capitalism has commercialized most aspects of our lives, decimated public spaces, and ensured our communities are built in a way that separates most people into auto-oriented suburbs?

I think you know the answer.

On root causes.

The point here is not that Google, Facebook, et al. are somehow blameless benevolent actors (they are not), but rather more that they are symptoms of a greater sickness.

Cure the virus, not the fever.

2021-06-21T20:47:18+10:0022nd June, 2021|Tags: , , , |

The alternative is to opt-out.

So there’s a post going around Tumblr that’s basically something like “people keep saying parasocial relationships are bad but they never give any options for the alternatives? help?” and I keep thinking about just . . . How Much that is.1 Like I get the impression the poster is relatively young and thus has grown up in Peak Influencer Culture and the question is earnest but, still. An earnest question deserves an earnest answer, so:

The “alternative” to parasocial relationships, particularly if you feel you’re susceptible to forming them in unhealthy ways, is to actively block yourself form forming parasocial relationships.

That means stop watching that show or listening to that podcast that’s in any one of those “‘friends’ around a table” formats that are designed to prey on this kind of relationship. Unfollow all “famous” people on social media. Block all social media “personalities” (you know the ones I mean; the people who aren’t famous per se but always show up in reblogs). Just fucking say no to “influencer” culture. Uninstall TikTok and Instagram. Don’t even regularly read the Patreon posts of people you’re giving money to.2

This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy things produced by or featuring particular individuals, but stop seeking out anything (or, worse, feeling entitled to) anything beyond their work. They aren’t your friends and you aren’t entitled to know anything about their private lives.3

Most importantly, humans are not commodities for consumption, no matter how much money “platform” companies make trying to convince you otherwise. Parasocial relationships blur the line between legitimate social connection and entertainment in ways that, in particular, prey on vulnerable people with less access to the former. If you think that’s you, resist! Stop allowing companies to exploit your loneliness for money. There’s plenty of other media out there that can fulfill your desire for entertainment that doesn’t rely on this level of extremely personal manipulation and–and I know this is terrifying but please believe me when I say–there are plenty of other beautiful (and often similarly lonely) people out there who’ll help you with the former. Yes, reaching out and trying to make friends is scary! Not every overture is going to work; you’re sometimes going to get brushed off, or snapped at. It happens. But it’s worth it, trust me, for all the time you try and end up making a real, earnest connection. That feeling, that connection, is something parasocial media can never, ever replace, and the more you try and make it the worse you’re going to feel.

You deserve better.

  1. Full disclosure: I am a Committed Parasocial Relationship Hater and myself do everything I’m about to suggest. []
  2. I know this sounds like really weird advice, and contrary to what Patreon is “for,” but I do solemnly swear it’s how I use the platform. []
  3. Even if they seem like they’re voluntarily offering it up, know they almost certainly aren’t–and almost certainly would prefer they didn’t have to–particularly if they’re an independent creator who primarily releases content online. []
2021-06-11T07:55:19+10:0015th June, 2021|Tags: , , |

Unpaid employees.

For most social media users, posting and engaging with content is optional and separate to work commitments. For journalists, however, there is a growing expectation that maintaining a strong social media presence is both part of the job and a prerequisite for landing a job.

This means that for more than a decade, on top of their day jobs, journalists have effectively performed unpaid labor for social media platforms such as Facebook, where they promote their stories, themselves, and the organizations that employ them. As one study put it, it’s a case of “tweet or be sacked.”

On the little guys.

I’ve had this conversation with people, specifically in the context of a dude I know talking shit about the mother of a kid at daycare. She’s a relatively prominent member of the press gallery here, and Dude was describing her as “she says she’s always too busy to do [random childcare thing], but apparently she’s not too busy to be on Twitter all day.”

And I’m like . . . dude. That’s her job. That is, literally, her job. She is doing her job. That’s why she’s busy. Because if she doesn’t she’s not going to have one and childcare sure as shit ain’t free.

The thought had never occurred to Dude before. And that’s not even getting into any of the boatload of gendered issues going on here.

So yeah. Dat modern journalistic career, huh?

2021-04-13T07:29:52+10:0019th April, 2021|Tags: , , |

Twoperability.

So this post is very… EFFy/Doctorowy and contains a lot of… EFFy/Doctorowy sort of grossness like hella on-the-nose comparisons between social media and Soviet-occupied Germany,1 for example. But. Still. The broader point about “fixing platforms” versus “fixing the internet” is not entirely terrible.

  1. Americans, don’t fucking do this shit, okay? You’re not clever. []
2021-03-04T07:36:11+11:0023rd March, 2021|Tags: , |

Posts are stored in the balls.

A million or so years ago I once read a post by Marco Arment on how they originally architected Tumblr’s database. The tl;dr version of it was that posts actually lived in two separate tables; the first containing the post ID and common meta data, plus a field that indicated post type. The post type field would then be used to query against a second table that had the schema for whatever that content happened to be; text or quote or images or whatever.

This post seems to have vanished from the web (or at least I don’t remember enough of its context to find it), but it stuck in my mind at the time because it was almost exactly the same way I architected my original homebrew weblog software, back in the early 2000s,1 and the reason I did it that way was because I was copying how sailormoon.org ran, and the reason sailormoon.org ran like that was because its author was copying off the concept of inodes in *NIX.

I am pointing this all out to contextualise how much I hate this post about Tumblr’s new post formats, which basically seem to be taking all the worst features of Medium/Gutenberg and bastardising them into JSON for . . . the hell of it? I guess? Because it’s the Cool New Datastructure? It’s also to provide hashtag-evidence for my theory that Tumblr post content data are being moved into a NoSQL database, while still keeping the heavy lifting of the relational stuff in the original SQL. It would also probably explain why Tumblr’s new post formats have such bizarre length limitations; serialised JSON data structures are verbose and NoSQL databases tend to have much smaller limits on document sizes that SQL does on table rows.

There’s an argument that Tumblr “has” to do this because it has so many billions of posts in its databases it needs to find efficiencies somewhere. Except to me that doesn’t sound like an argument for ridiculous over-complicated database architecture. It sounds like an argument for not having centralised social media silos in the first place . . .

  1. I also had, at the time, an Internet Friend from what was then Blogger who, after he saw me strike out to make my own blogware, decided to do the same. The software he developed was, at the time, called b2. When he finally moved on from it, the code base was taken over and turned into what we now know as WordPress. The company of the guy who did that, Automattic, currently owns Tumblr. Incidentally, I was a teenage girl from Australia and b2’s original author was Corsican. But of course it was an American who made millions from commercialising prior art. Go figure, I guess. []
2021-03-22T08:02:35+11:0022nd March, 2021|Tags: , |
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