I’m still stuck on this idea of how to enable comments and feedback on personal netlogs1 in this world of Facebook and Twitter.
Almost everything I can come up with falls into a couple of broad categories.
Hosted by me. For example, enabling comments here or in a self-hosted forum. Comments here are obviously the easiest and I’ve had comments enabled ever since I started (although now limited to new posts only). A self-hosted forum is adding a barrier to entry that offers no incentive for people to bother, and isn’t really appropriate for my readership of three2.
Outsourced. This includes all discussion on Twitter, Facebook, Discord, Telegram, Discourse, or Disqus. These all require readers/commenters and me to both use the platform, and give up our privacy/rights to those comments to varying degrees based on how much we trust those platforms.
I have a couple of guiding principals I believe in when it comes to the internet. One is that it’s super important it remains as open as possible - as free from government interference as possible (within reason), but also as free from corporate interference as possible too. Governments will always overreach and overreact, so it’s handy that for years the internet has sort of routed around the problem when governments go rogue. More could be done on this front of course, but to my mind the biggest threat isn’t government interference as it is citizen indifference.
By putting so much of our online lives in the hands of large social media companies, we’re dulling the gears that make the internet such a powerful force for social change. Think about it - imagine a group that uses Facebook to mobilise their protests and activism in a country similar to our own. I’m going to use Facebook through this example, but it could just as easily be any other large social site.
So imagine this group of activists - their message is irrelevant, suffice to say it’s something important to them, and potentially dangerous to powerful people in their country. For those powerful people, all it takes to decommission the group is cut off their access to Facebook. If that group hasn’t met in person, shared contact details outside of that channel, or prepared alternate means of communication then they’re effectively deaf and blind when they try to continue communicating. Not only that, but they are mute as well.
On top of that - to people in other countries not affected by the same struggles - they might as well be invisible if their only presence has been on Facebook. On the flip side, for people outside those problems we’re allowing a company - or even a foreign power - limit what we see. We’re also limiting ourselves to those formats that get traction on those sites - for Facebook it’s the Single Grainy Image With Text. How much can we learn about the world from a single picture?
I’m stumbling into /r/iamverysmart territory here, which is not my intention - I have a limited grasp of the socio-political realities of my own neighbourhood, let alone what other people are struggling with elsewhere in the world, but relying on Facebook (or Reddit, or Twitter) as our means of engaging with the world leaves us vulnerable and open to manipulation.
Which is why I miss the days of netlogs. It seemed like for a period of about two years, the internet was exploding with this vibrant eclectic mix of freely shared, highly personal content. Going through my site and cleaning it out I remembered I used to be subscribed to a guy who just talked about toy Transformers. That guy stopped writing in 2011 without any fanfare and I completely missed it. There was someone else who I discovered when I realised I needed a way to be a good parent to my child when my wife is a Christian, and I an atheist. That guy stopped writing his netlog in 2013 and again I didn’t notice the loss. So many more sites refuse to load at all - buried in a sort of DNS graveyard, or worse returned zombified as placeholder pages full of ads. The least worst fate is for a site to at least still load - quiet and untouched by human hands as a monument or shrine to the moments they capture.
How much of that is captured on Twitter or Facebook now? The content might be there - but it’s trapped behind accounts and subscriptions, real-time feeds and algorithms that show people what they’re told they want to see. And it’s making it easier for corporations, foreign powers, and your own leaders to hide what they don’t want you to see.
That’s enough of a trek into conspiracy theory and nostalgia for one night. I understand how much I’m teetering between crackpot and melodrama with the above. I really just want more people to think about this stuff. It’s much easier to talk about possible solutions when we’re on the same page. Because I don’t know what the solution is. Spinning this site up is step one. Figuring out how to discuss this stuff with people who want to talk is step two. … Profit?
- I will use this term unless one of you can come up with something better than blog ↩