The Internet is awesome because it connects computers, which can then connect people. This allows people to share information and work and have fun together. In the past, there were different ways that this connection happened, such as bulletin board systems (BBS's), Usenet networks, forums, message boards, and IRC. Some of these systems are still around today, but they are not as popular as they used to be.
We all know blogs have been around for a while, starting as online journals in 1994. They evolved over time, becoming more social with features like comments and likes. Webrings were also used to find personal blogs, and people would share other blogs on their own through Blogrolls. The experience of finding cool blogs was decentralized and based on serendipity.
When I think of the early internet, I remember forums, IRC chats, and personal blogs. These were the “social networks” of that time. They were all about connecting with people, sharing passions and opinions, having conversations, and learning from each other. Forums were especially useful for finding expert advice and detailed guides on many topics.
Blogs became more popular in the 2000s and reached more people. However, this also meant that they became part of the internet advertising economy, cluttered with ads, pop-ups, and annoying banners. Around the same time we saw the emergence (and eventual decline) of some networking platforms such as Six Degrees, Friendster, MySpace, LinkedIn, Orkut, and Facebook. These services began as a means of connecting with groups of people who shared common interests, or were friends or relatives.
But something happened around 2009-2010 that turned “Social Networking” into “Social Media.” The advertising economy had taken hold. Ads were everywhere online. With the rise of smartphones and social media apps, billions of people began to view themselves as potential celebrities. Comments and likes created a social-validation feedback loop. This led to the influencer economy, where users got paid by companies to promote products.
Surveillance capitalism worsened the situation by harvesting user data for ads. Social media lured users with money for “content” but also hooked them with addictive features like endless feeds, “like” buttons, and clickbait algorithms. We all know the negative effects these apps have on users’ well-being. Mainstream social media platforms are now in a bad shape, and I believe people are aware of the problems and want change.
It appears that people have become accustomed to being in one crowded place all the time on the web, but this is not an ideal way to socialize. We can bring back some of the old Internet vibe by creating smaller, more manageable groups. The first step is to establish our own spaces on the web, which are separate from the large, walled social media gardens.
After using mainstream social media platforms for years, I realized that everything I wrote on these platforms didn’t really belong to me. My content and identity were owned by mega-corporations. Bothered by this, I read books by Jaron Lanier, Shoshana Zuboff and James Williams. To my relief, I discovered that there were alternatives to the “corporate-owned” Internet, including initiatives like the Indie Web, the smol web, the federated ActivityPub protocol and so many others.
I deleted my social media accounts. I got a domain and created my blog on Write.as, a privacy-focused blogging platform that is a delight to use. I am not pressured to write to keep up with the trending topics, or to grow my audience. It's my little corner of the internet, it's clean, and quiet. It's a safe space for me to express myself and connect with others on my own terms.
There are various ways to connect with people online, such as microblogging, chatting on IRC or joining the small web / IndieWeb movements. It's important to remember that the internet is a tool, and we have the power to shape the way we use it. By taking control of our own data and creating our own spaces online, we can recreate the sense of community and personalization that defined the early internet.
I think we all deserve to have choices that suit our technical skills and tastes. The decentralized web offers choices for everyone. You can pick and choose the platforms and protocols that work for you and your goals. And I hope that as more people discover the ad-free and decentralized web, they will find more options that are rewarding and fun to use.
This text was originally published on Ctrl-ZINE (^Z) Vol. 1 – Issue 3.
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By Noisy Deadlines
Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.