Anil Dash – The lost infrastructure of social media

A great summary of various bits of tech that made the early blogosphere1 so alive and vibrant in ways that hasn’t been captured or reproduced since. How can tools give individuals control over what they create, where they publish, who they follow, what they read, and how they share? These are currently controlled almost exclusively by one of two companies for the majority people on the modern internet. Something amazing, powerful, and enabling was lost in that transition.

More than a decade ago, the earliest era of blogging provided a set of separate but related technologies that helped the nascent form thrive. Today, most have faded away and been forgotten, but new incarnations of these features could still be valuable.As social networks grew in popularity and influence, the old decentralized blogosphere fell apart and those early services consolidated, leaving all the power in the hands of a few private companies. That’s left publishers and independent voices even more vulnerable to the control points of a few social networks and search engines.

Source: Anil Dash – The lost infrastructure of social media. — Medium

Much of what I’ve been trying to do has been fumbling around trying to shift back to many of these bits of tech for my own use. RSS is still king because it lets me control what I read without opaque algorithms shaping and pushing. Blogs are still king because I can publish and archive whatever I want, without worrying or even thinking about where it goes or who gets to modify or transform it.


And, yes, I get that I saw Anil’s post on Medium rather than via RSS. Whatever.

  1. man, that’s something I haven’t said in ages… it used to be a thing. I desperately want for it to be a thing again. []

Anil Dash on The Web We Lost

David Weinberger shared his notes from Anil Dash’s recent talk at Berkman about social media and the (d)evolution thereof. Some really important stuff in there.

on shared values and culture:

There was a time when it was meaningful thing to say that you’re a blogger. It was distinctive. Now being introduced as a blogger “is a little bit like being introduced as an emailer.” “No one’s a Facebooker.” The idea that there was a culture with shared values has been dismantled.

on metadata and intentional sharing:

A decade ago, metadata was all the rage among the geeks. You could tag, geo-tag, or machine-tag Flickr photos. Flickr is from the old community. That’s why you can still do Creative Commons searches at Flickr. But you can’t on Instagram. They don’t care about metadata. From an end-user point of view, RSS is out of favor. The new companies are not investing in creating metadata to make their work discoverable and shareable.

on lock-in and the impact of corporate control over discourse platforms:

We have “given up on standard formats.” “Those of us who cared about this stuff…have lost,” overall. Very few apps support standard formats, with jpg and html as exceptions. Likes and follows, etc., all use undocumented proprietary formats. The most dramatic shift: we’ve lost the expectation that they would be interoperable. The Web was built out of interoperability. “This went away with almost no public discourse about the implications of it.”

on streams, and the algorithmic control of conversation flow:

Our arrogance keeps us thinking that the Web is still about pages. Nope. The percentage of time we spend online looking at streams is rapidly increasing. It is already dominant. This is important because these streams are controlled access. The host controls how we experience the content. “This is part of how they’re controlling the conversation.”

on the lack of historical context:

We count on 23 yr olds to (build websites/apps/tools), but they were in 5th grade when the environment was open.

First. Dang. That makes me feel old. But, how can we expect the people that are building the current and next generations of things to have learned from history, when they weren’t around to experience it to know how important this is, or how it can be done differently?

I’m not sure that we’ve lost the web. Yes, the open web is marginalized, and the corporate streams are predominant. But, it’s not over. Eventually, Facebook will fall – my gut says they’ll do something colossally stupid with the new Facebook Home android thing with constant tracking of users, and may (finally) attract significant attention and oversight. And then, people will likely withdraw. And eventually come back to wanting to control their own content and activities rather than unthinkingly relying on “free” corporate streams…

on rebuilding public spaces

Anil Dash’s recent post on the web we lost, and a follow-up post on rebuilding it, got me thinking about my own little corner of the web. In his follow-up post, he talks about creating public spaces:

Create public spaces. Right now, all of the places we can assemble on the web in any kind of numbers are privately owned. And privately-owned public spaces aren’t real public spaces. They don’t allow for the play and the chaos and the creativity and brilliance that only arise in spaces that don’t exist purely to generate profit.

I’ve really been liking having my blog as a no-comments place for me to just post stuff. I’d been hoping that people would respond (if needed) by writing blog posts of their own and tracking back. But that didn’t happen. Comments happened either via twitter, or by direct email. So the public play and chaos was lost. Is it worth changing direction (again) and re-enabling comments here? Maybe. One way to find out.

In response to Anil’s posts – the web we had hasn’t been lost. Alan and Bonnie triggered something this morning, and I realized it was parallel to suburban development. The funky neighbourhoods of the web are still there, and are still being built, but much of the activity has been gentrified into the suburbs and exurbs of the big box outlets.

So… Although I still feel like having no comments is what works for me, pushing any discussion away from the noise and chaos of public spaces and into various corporate silos isn’t cool.

Whatever. I’ll probably flip-flop again, for like the dozenth time…