inessential by Brent Simmons

2018: Some Hope

Mike Monteiro writes of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey:

Jack let it happen. He watched as a once-entertaining, once-illuminating, once-vital network to global communication became a garbage fire of hate. He did nothing to stop it. Or curb it. He didn’t see a problem.

Our current crises of democracy and good faith did not just blow in with the wind and transform the air without our knowledge or consent.

These crises were made by people, and we knew what they were doing, and we agreed to this.

Jack Dorsey is one of those many people. Just one. But one with a kind of power that nobody in the world should have: the power to directly control a vast amount of the world’s communication.

It’s not that Dorsey failed to consider the good of the world. Or, really, it’s not just that. It’s that this kind of power should not exist at all.

But we agreed to it. We’re still agreeing to it.

Twitter — and Facebook, and the power of tech companies — is not our only problem.

But I have no doubt that had Twitter not become a loving home for hate, Trump would not be President now. In that universe we’d still have big problems, yes, but not like this.

How we can stop agreeing to this

The great social network is, or ought to be, the web itself.

The unruly web — unregulated and uncontrolled — is, perhaps paradoxically, the easiest place to limit hate. Not because we can stop people from publishing, but because we don’t have to live by Dorsey’s and Zuckerberg’s rules and designs.

I don’t know all the details of how we get there, or what it will be like once we do. That’s fine: that’s part of what makes the journey fun.

Software

Consider a few apps.

Overcast and Castro and others help ensure that podcasting is not just a vital and exciting medium of independent publishing but is also open and built on standards. Anybody can write any kind of podcasting software they want to — but nobody can control podcasting.

And nobody can force you to listen to hate. You pick the shows you want to hear.

MarsEdit lets you write whatever you want to write and publish it on the web. You’re limited only by the law and whatever terms of service your hosting provider may have.

All the words you read in MarsEdit are your own. And nobody can make you read what other MarsEdit users write.

Evergreen (which I’m working on), NetNewsWire, Reeder, Unread and other RSS readers work like Overcast and Castro but for written words. You choose what to read, and if a blogger you like suddenly turns hateful, you hit the Delete key.

Then there’s Manton’s new service, which needs its own section…

Micro.blog

It’s a publishing platform and a social network, based on standards.

You don’t even have to use Manton’s Mac or iOS apps: you can write posts in MarsEdit or other blog editor, or read your timeline using an RSS reader.

People could, though, sign up for it and flood your mentions with hate. In theory. So I asked Manton about that, and he wrote:

Micro.blog is similar to MarsEdit in a way in that it can be used to write hateful posts, etc. What we have to do as a social network is limit the damage. So, by default, if someone writes something terrible… No one sees it. It doesn’t automatically show up in trends (because we don’t have them, for this reason) and it doesn’t show up in Discover (because that’s curated by a human). Replies are where it’s an issue, and that’s where good tools and automatic flagging and reporting are needed.

In other words: the rules are different, and the easy exploits on Twitter are not so easy on Micro.blog. And there’s an actual committment to fighting this.

Manton also writes on his blog:

Imagine instead a service based on blogs, where the internal posts on the platform were the same format as the external posts. The curators of the platform would have more freedom to block harassing posts and ban nazis because those problematic users could always retreat to their own web site and leave everyone else in the community alone.

That’s how the web is supposed to work. It’s a core principle of Micro.blog.

(I’m @brentsimmons on Micro.blog, by the way. Here’s my microblog. I plan to post there more often than on Twitter in 2018.)

I should also mention…

Slack

I’m not sure where to put Slack in all this — except to say that admins control who’s in their groups, and I’ve never seen hate and harrassment there. I run a few groups, and I would have zero tolerance for this, and so would everybody I know who runs groups.

Well. One more thing about Slack: it meets some of the needs that Twitter used to meet. The talking-with-friends-and-family needs are very well covered there.

And the more we find ways outside of Twitter and Facebook to meet those needs, the less we’ll use Twitter and Facebook.

Maybe, back in 2012, Twitter did five important things for you that only Twitter did. I bet, in 2018, that that’s down to one or two.

Fun

The period from 1995-2008 (roughly speaking) was fun. It seemed like everybody was coming up with new things, and people were experimenting, and we were finding new joys in new connections, both human and technological.

Then, as Facebook and Twitter (and Google Reader; can’t forget that thing) grew, it’s as if we froze.

And those things were fun for a while, but they’re not now, and it’s obvious we made a mistake in allowing that much power to concentrate.

It’s time for the thaw: it’s time to get back to having fun. You’re free to make whatever you want.

What I’m Not Saying

Rebuilding the social open web is not the one cure that we need for all our ills. I’m fully skeptical of technological solutions to problems of culture and politics.

But it is an important thing we can and should do.

My small hope for 2018 is the knowledge that I’m not the only person thinking that way.

Related Reading

Me in 2011: What we talk about when we talk about RSS

Me in 2013: Why I love RSS and You Do Too

Anil Dash in 2012: The Web We Lost and Rebuilding the Web We Lost

IndieWeb is a thing I need to learn more about.

Tantek Çelik (video) - The once and future IndieWeb