Anil Dash on returning to the building blocks of the web. Which is to say, the idea of “the web” being made up of thousands of small privately run sites, rather than a handful of giant data-sucking digital feudal states. (Among other things.)
For people who don’t know Web History 1.0, Dash was one of the key figures of the early personal web, involved in the development of services including Movable Type (and its hosted version, TypePad) and LiveJournal (before it got sold to the Russians, in a move that looks Portentous In Hindsight).1
As someone who has run some version of my own website since 1999, and my own server since circa 2000, obviously I’m biased towards Dash’s argument. I’ve always crossposted content to the big “social” platforms of the day2—see for example my Tumblr and Dreamwidth—but I don’t let content sit there forever (it gets auto-deleted after about a month) and the “master” copy is always held by me, in my own database. I like the “data sovereignty” aspect of keeping my own stuff on my own site,3 but the main issue is, and always has been, in discoverability/social interaction. Hence the crossposting.
This is not something I think is insurmountable. The current crop of self-hosted blog/CMS tools are not great on things like federation but there’s no reason that needs to remain the case. Services like Mastodon and diaspora* prove modern social features like dashboards, liking, and reblogging work fine in a federated/multi-server model… even cross-app, assuming everyone is using open protocols. (Remember things like RSS and trackbacks?)
Obviously running their own federated social network infrastructure is not going to be an option for everybody. But, again, I think there’s a happy medium between “everyone is their own admin” and “Facebook owns everyone”. Think family- and community group-run instances of Federated Social Platform X, which can talk to but retain backend infrastructure/data isolation from other instances.
This is, obviously, idealistic and the main barrier here is money. Facebook has the money to run servers and pay devs to put in the features in a way, say, diaspora* admins don’t.4 Again, this isn’t a new problem; more people use iPhones than Ubuntu, too, despite them both technically being forks of the same operating system. But Apple, like Facebook, has the money, and the devs, and the designers, and thus the ability to produce (and market) a polished, commodified user experience.
All that being said, money alone won’t save Facebook if, for example, its bad PR gets to critical mass and/or (more likely) its business model is ruled illegal. And if the empires of digital feudal lords start to crumble, then Web 1.0 v2.0 will be waiting for it…
- Speaking of LiveJournal; one of the things a lot of people seem to forget is that LJ was originally only the official hosted version of a free codebase. In other words, anyone with a server could set up a LiveJournal clone… and they did, which gave us things like DeadJournal, InsaneJournal, JournalFen, and Dreamwidth. In theory, you can even still set up your own clone; I’m not sure where the LJ code lives these days, but DW’s fork has some fairly straightforward instructions. ^
- … Assuming they have APIs to do so. ^
- Obviously, I don’t run my own datacenter, so I’m still on someone else’s infrastructure somewhere down the chain. But there is a lot more choice of providers here than if I were relying solely on a SaaS/PaaS service like Facebook/Tumblr/Medium/WordPress.com/Blogger/etc., and also the financial relationship is a lot more traditional; I’m my provider’s customer, not advertisers or data brokers or governments. ^
- This is also one of the reasons I think Mastodon has gotten much more traction versus Twitter than diaspora* has versus Facebook; Twitter’s more abbreviated service and kinda crappy product management makes it a much softer target. ^