In light of so many recent headlines regarding social media, security, privacy, data mining and so-forth, and having found enough support on the fabled “open Internet” as well as a nostalgic longing for the decentralised structure of the “wild wild web” from our more formidable years, I have made the decision to strike out on my own and claim a small virtual homestead outside of the walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk. Many of you have seen this coming–the odd link with my photo in your Facebook timeline or a bold “Hello World! TEST POST” showing up on Twitter–and I must tell you that the switch is being thrown as I write this.
Actually, it’s more of a dial. Digital is a bad metaphor because so much has to happen incrementally, but I digress.
Those that know me well know that I don’t sit still and spout rhetoric for long. When I believe in something, I stand up and do something about it! That’s the driving force behind my move: I am simply tired of being bought and sold as a product, having my thoughts, my photos, my interests, and my identity being packaged and sold to make someone else a sliver of coin. Moreover, what do I get in return?
Social media came to rise in an era of nearly limitless connectivity, riding on the back of the “free and open Internet” that we had built, fostered, and engaged in throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. During that time, if you were savvy, you could carve out your own little slice of the web and build something that was truly yours. Well, “yours” as much as Geocities’ or Angelfire’s servers would allow. Sure, you had to play host to some adverts, but they were never pervasive and always based on whoever paid the host for exposure network-wide. You had an open canvas. HTML was your paintbrush (either through a number of WYSIWYG editors or–if you were 1337–raw code in Notepad). Your website wasn’t crawled in an effort to glean as much personal information as possible, it was crawled so it could appear in search engine results. The advertisers were sponsoring you, not the other way around.
From that romantic early web, our biggest obstacle was exposure. Outside our circle of IRL friends or AOL chat buddies, there wasn’t much we could do to get our message out there. Sure, there were web rings and linking services, but they were clumsy, slow, and inefficient. Social media was born of this need for exposure and, though several iterations (LiveJournal, MySpace), we have arrived at what many are calling “Peak Social Media”–the era of Facebook (and, hopefully, the era in which social media use will be at its highest, tapering off from here out)–where nearly everyone on the planet is connected to the same umbrella site, with the same structure, the same options, and the same layout worldwide.
This wasn’t always a bad thing. Social media, and Facebook in particular, promised easy and effective, streamlined communication with your classmates. It was built as an easy way to keep in touch with people that you would want to remain in contact with: college classmates and professors, people who could put in a good word for you in a future job interview or give you a tip about a hot job opening in your field (I joined Facebook back when you still needed a *.edu email address). I remember it was rock-basic in the beginning: there was no elaborate setup, no colour selections, no “Top 8” to pick, and (for the love of God) no ANNOYING FULL-VOLUME MP3 AUTOPLAY when you opened someone’s full profile. This was a platform destined for greatness.
Then came the ads.
At first, it was innocuous: a simple sidebar ad like any of a million that we’ve seen before and ignored. It was an easy way to pay for hosting, which had to come from somewhere. God forbid that you make people pay for a service! We are the Napster Generation, dammit! We don’t PAY for things on the Internet! Oh, how wrong we were!
Some time ago (I don’t recall exactly when), I noticed some names start appearing next to ads being served to my sidebar. “So-and-so likes this” or “Recommended by So-and-so”. In my mind, I thought that this was novel, but I paid it little attention, as it was new and a natural step in the direction that advertising would take. Besides, what was the harm? Facebook was still a very private community.
Then came the data breaches. Then came the forced adoption of Google+. Then came Ed Snowden, the CIA, and PRISM. Then came the “real names” policies and the outright flagrant disregard for privacy in the social sphere. Then came the realisation that we had sold our souls to a handful of creeps who have access to much of our most intimate details (even private messages are subject to Zuckerberg & Company’s all-seeing eye). All for what? So we could see a photo of a friend-of-a-friend’s baby sleeping in a stroller at Disney World?
I propose a better solution. Maybe we don’t all go back to the stone-ages of sitting isolated in unconnected pockets of sloppy HTML code, but we can’t all be shackled to the light emanating from our collective pockets, trading our life’s details so someone can else collect massive advertising revenues. The IndieWeb movement, I believe, is that solution.
With the IndieWeb, you can post all your moments and all your thoughts for anyone you choose to see. You can finally dedicate that entire website to Jordan Knight, sharing it with fellow fans, instead of littering everyone’s feed with photos of outdated pop stars. The best part of all is that your data–your words, your photos, your videos, and your heart and soul–remain YOURS. In addition, you can easily share your stuff using the same platforms (“silos” in IndieWeb parlance) that you’re used to and you still get to enjoy all the likes and comments, favorites and retweets, and even +1s that you’ve come to rely on for validation!
It’s all still very early, and I know it’s not for everyone (what with their busy lives, kids, and limited technical knowledge), but I hope that this sort of thing catches on and we can take back our Internet; I wish to free it from the gilded cages of Silicon Valley! Self-hosting is getting easier, and takes very few new skills. There are programs like WordPress (what I use right now) that build a site for you in a matter of minutes, are nearly infinitely expandable, and completely customisable!
I hope that many of you will watch me on this journey, and follow in my wagon tracks as I leave the walled cities and strike out for the wilderness ahead. I am always open to questions and comments as well. I want to be someone who can help bring IndieWeb from a small cluster of pioneers to a thriving concept being adopted by households around the world!
Let’s do this! Let’s take our Internet back!