The web we never lost and the people who will never like it

So Anil Dash wrote this piece that got a little traction. It’s about the web and stuff. All the cool kids read it. A few are even talking about it.

Felix Salmon made some interesting points in response:

The network of non-professional individual bloggers which Anil and I remember from 2003 didn’t last long; while it still exists, it’s not much bigger now than it was then. What’s more, the individual bloggers who do exist tend not to blog on their own websites: instead, they use some hosted service or other. (Six Apart itself was part of this trend.)

And there’s a very good reason for that. Back in October 2003, I wrote a post entitled "Blogging is hard", which explains just how difficult it was to set up your own blog on your own website. Very little has changed since then, except that many sites have disappeared: except for the links to my own content, pretty much every other link in the post is now dead. Owning your own identity, it turns out, is an ongoing thing: if you let it lapse, then your identity pretty much disappears.

For the billions of people coming online today, the web can be just as hard, just as daunting, as blogging was to me in 2003. Anil wants to “re-educate” them and to “teach them that there is so much more to the experience of the Internet than what they know”. But the fact is that most of them don’t really want to be taught such things. Anil and his readers (and my readers, for that matter) are atypical in caring about this stuff. I would loathe to live in a world where Facebook was my main window to the rest of the internet, but hundreds of millions of people find that world very comforting and personal. And while Anil is right that Facebook could, if it wanted, be much more web-friendly, I think he’s wrong that doing so would make Facebook even more profitable than it is now.

Rusty Foster, in the comments of Anil’s post, had a strong point:

Most of the people I’m friends with online today would have found the web you’re describing creepy and Orwellian and probably not used it. Maybe instead of thinking we can re-educate a billion people into what we think the web means, we should look at what has made the web they built useful to them, and think about why.

(emphasis added)

Teresa Nielsen Hayden, also in the comments:

Message persistence and searchability encourages the creation of rich, thoughtful content. Deliberately ephemeral formats tell you every time you use them that what you’re doing has no lasting value.

But, of course, there’s no obvious signs that everyone, or even most people, want rich, thoughtful content with lasting value.

I’m with my brother on this point:

If people want to donate their time, copyrights, intellectual property, and personal data to companies and whoever else so they can sell billboards on it in exchange for heart and star icons, that’s fine.

That’s the internet they deserve.

But I’m also hopeful. I’m not hopeful about “re-education,” but about horses and carts and which should go in front of which. Basically I believe this,

And they’ve now narrowed the possibilities of the web for an entire generation of users who don’t realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be.

is horseshit.

For most people to want control, they’re first probably going to have to get sick of not having control. You don’t sign up for HBO until you get bored of network TV, and then regular cable. AOL Facebook is network TV, running a site is cable and running a site independently is HBO (or acquiring all your video a la carte.) While you can always make the more powerful levels less work, they’ll never be less work than having someone managing things for you, which is basically the deal with giant one-click social networks.

And let’s not forget that the web always worked for popular and influential people who got a community feeling and feedback, and oftentimes ad dollars, and much less so for everyone else, who often toiled in obscurity. One-click social networks solved this problem for people, giving them the modicum of attention and interaction they wanted for their own contributions, while offering the opportunity during the waiting-around-time to stalk, chat with friends and easily keep up with minutiae of everyone they ever knew and lots of people they didn’t. It’s not perfect, and there are a lot of sacrifices, but there were usually ads in both places and it sure beat the crickets a lot of people heard at the supposedly cool web place.

In fact, there were arguably far too many people on the open web back in the day, with only a small portion there because they cared about so-called "web values." They were there because there was nothing else, not because they wanted to be.