Rebooting in the New Decade

New Beginnings
Photo by Thomas Hawk

I used to have a blog, and even my own domain name. I’m not even sure what the domain name was at this point.

At first, I hacked together my own proprietary blog system in PHP. I remember rushing it out near the end of my senior year because it seemed like it was important. I recall it being serviceable but I don’t recall what features it had. And even though it had 100% customer satisfaction, it also had extremely low penetration in the blogging market. To be honest, I bet my little system wasn’t that impressive even though it definitely implemented a handcrafted RSS system. Artisanal even. Unfortunately for the world economy, no VC company brought my nascent company to the masses.

While I was nurturing my little creation, I remember seeing early versions of WordPress and being mildly interested. I was still a programmer back then and valued the ability to say I hand crafted my blog for all ten visitors a year. I don’t recall if I ever redeployed my blog in WordPress but I’m fairly sure I did because I remember cobbling together something to dump my posts database. After a while, I stopped posting to the site. Not when social networks were calling for us to join up.

Friendster came out shortly after college. Compared to hosting your own blog, this was far easier to use and all our friends were already there. It seemed like the perfect idea. But Friendster itself constantly had problems. So on we moved to the next fad, Myspace. The eyesore of a social network was a bustling online community with bands and celebrities bringing in the traffic. Everyone was friends with Tom. But things would change and Myspace’s downfall was coming soon. The masses depopulated for the cleaner vistas of Facebook. But then, on September 6, 2006, Facebook created the News Feed. I still remember the first day the News Feed popped up and how intrusive it seemed. But at the same time, the voyeur in me couldn’t resist knowing the instant the cute girl in class in front of me liked someone else’s picture. All of this was pre-Farmville and Cambridge Analytica. And over time, Facebook too lost its innocence to the point where many of us have essentially abandoned our profiles.

With the coming of social media, all across the Internet, communities withered and died. Those that have survived are very different now. LiveJournal is a shadow of its former self. Blogger still exists but the community there has mostly left. Same for many of the forums from earlier in the century (e.g., General Mayhem, Something Awful). Instead, we spend our time on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. The very glue that held together the blogosphere, RSS, is less and less common to see in these days. Twitter, which used to offer an RSS feed, does not anymore. Reddit still offers RSS as well as Hacker News as of this writing so perhaps there’s hope in this second decade of the 21st century even though much of the world has abandoned the idea of decentralization.

Google, owned by parent company Alphabet, is by far the biggest media owner in the world and attracted $79.4bn (£61.5bn) in ad revenues in 2016, three times more than the second-largest, Facebook, which pulled in $26.9bn, according to Zenith. The previous year, Alphabet took $67.4bn of ad revenues and Facebook $17.1bn.

But Google’s goal of becoming the world’s biggest advertising platform wasn’t what really destroyed the early and innocent web. We did that because we wanted to do what was easy.

This is my attempt to try and go in the opposite direction and have a place where I can write things down in longer form. And perhaps more. I don’t know how consistent I’ll be with it. But I won’t know if I don’t try right?