On The Web

One anniversary which will not be celebrated by anyone at all this year is that this year marks the tenth anniversary of this blog. I’d blogged in various places before (some still up, most thankfully deleted), but 2008 was when I started this site, back when there was still some small amount of hope left in the universe.

And one thing I used to do when I started, but which has become less and less common on here, is the linkblogging. I used to regularly collect five or six links, more days than not, and post them, and they’d be to things about comics, or about quantum physics, or… well, mostly about those two things, but sometimes about other stuff.

But after the Readerpocalypse, when Google got rid of Google Reader and thus single-handedly more-or-less destroyed RSS feeds as a way people found information, blogging more or less died out except for a few die-hards like me. Now people consume their information through social media — and so what used to be a collection of many different sites with different ethoses and outlooks has become, essentially,, everyone in the world commenting on the same handful of news stories at the same time, with those stories provided by a handful of advertising-funded big sites.

There’s some interesting stuff going on on the Internet, still — but a lot of it’s happening on YouTube and in podcasts, which makes it more time-consuming to experience, more difficult to discover (no keyword searches or linking — on YouTube you discover stuff by what YouTube thinks you want, not by what the person who created the video links to) and again often more geared to insta-reactions and charting within walled-garden ecosystems.

What there isn’t, any more, is much in the way of longform writing (or even shortform non-Facebook-or-Twitter writing) by people other than paid journalists, and the odd person like myself who still has the compulsion to turn out multiple thousands of words a day. This means that my linkblogs are far less interesting than they used to be.

It also makes social media much less fun than it was. Some of that, of course, is because we live in fairly horrible political times, but part of it, I think, is that if all you’re sharing is either content-free stuff like cat images or angry political rants, you get none of the *fun* discussions you used to get.

Part of it, as well, is that social media is ephemeral in a way that blogs aren’t. You post something on Facebook, it goes off your main page never to be seen again until in five years time the site reminds you “hey, remember before you fell out with those people you now hate?” — you can’t build up a body of writing that people can come back to and reread. I still find myself, five years after he last updated, linking people to essays on Brad Hicks’ LiveJournal, but even if I wanted to link to someone’s old Facebook post I can’t find it to link to most of the time.

And you certainly can’t do Quixotic but fantastic stuff like The Life of Reilly, a thirty-five-part blog series analysing, over tens of thousands of words, a not-very-good comic crossover from fourteen years earlier, on social media. You need a stable archive of posts that link to each other and which can be read on their own, separate from arguments about Donald Trump or which celebrities are Bad.

If we want social media to be fun again, there needs to be a concerted effort to rebuild the web, and to make it once again a collection of independent sites producing idiosyncratic, individual, pieces of writing or images that can be linked to and discussed. We need to have comments sections building communities again.

And I think there are some signs that the world is turning back:

There’s been a recent uptick in use of Dreamwidth, and Mastodon is very like what Twitter was in 2008 before it became the site exclusively for journalists, politicians, media people, and people who wanted to be in those categories. People on Mastodon have recently started doing #SubSaturday, where they recommend RSS feeds for people to follow.

And, most promisingly of all, Facebook has decided to stop primarily putting news into people’s feeds, turning it back into a social site rather than a sharing-political-arguments site. For many people that will simply mean they stop seeing the outside web altogether, but for those who actively seek out new stuff, it’ll mean they once again actually have to seek out the new stuff.

So… there are signs. But it’s tough. In the last decade we’ve lost the web, and it’s been replaced by a handful of siloed argument-apps where advertisers monetise your anger. It needs to be rebuilt, and it needs to be rebuilt with the people using it in mind, rather than the people who can profit from it.

In the meantime, it’s become more and more difficult to do those linkblogs — I find tons of stuff that’s interesting enough to share on Twitter, but not stuff that I find *absolutely fascinating*.

But I’m going to start doing more of them anyway (you may have already noticed that both the frequency and the quality of my linkblogs have gone up in the last couple of weeks). And I’m also going to try to post far more here, and to incorporate more links when I do. My plan is to post a minimum of three hundred posts this year, between here and Mindless Ones, along with the books I’m working on. But it’s easier to post things when you’re in a dialogue, or a conversation. I want that conversation to move off Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and back onto people’s own sites.

I miss the old web. The web of text, and message boards, and of communities built on shared interests. I miss following link after link after link until you end up trying to figure out how you got to a series of essays on quantum chromodynamics when you were originally reading a piece about an Elongated Man comic from 1965. I miss websites that didn’t assault visitors visually and aurally with a myriad autoplaying ads, while tracking them and selling their data to fascists.

The infrastructure for that old web stil exists. It’s just not being used any more. And we can rebuild it if we try. I’m going to do my part towards it this year. Are you?

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5 Responses to On The Web

  1. Irina says:

    I’m with you. I don’t post very often (roughly once or twice a month, with ups and downs) and I don’t think that what I do post is particularly interesting for others, but it’s personal, reflections of my thoughts. http://valdyas.org/fo3, for what it’s worth.

  2. plok says:

    Oddly: yes!

    At least I hope so. It’ll be a couple of websites, with a few different parts to them, and hopefully it will serve to reinvigorate my old enthusiasm for the online world, now kept alive pretty much just by this site and Mindless Ones and the scattery path of recommendations on Twitter that I peep in at from time to time. The Web won’t stop existing — the code is still out there! — but fewer people will live there, okay fine, well I wonder if I could be one of those people? And we’ll just have to work harder at finding one another? Jeez, it’s almost like the Web is hitting its late thirties, and suddenly it takes effort to meet up with your friends, you have to actively intend it, you have to make the time, everybody’s answer to “what are you doing for New Year’s” is slowly bending toward “nothing, just staying home, and quite looking forward to it actually”…

    But it’s a better way!

  3. David Lewis says:

    I haven’t blogged for ages. The majority is reviews of some of your books, as it happens. (All glowing). There’s an elegance to good blogging that social media doesn’t have.

    Congratulations and long may you write.

  4. William Shaw says:

    I’m also going to try and blog more this year – I want to do more book reviewing(especially of SF periodicals) but it’s partly a matter of fitting it in around the day job etc.

    Here’s the site, if you’re curious: https://williamshawwriter.wordpress.com/

  5. ms_xeno says:

    Heh. I think my last sustained Dreamwidth project was a week devoted to sharing favorite covers of Randy Newman songs. I had no particular reason for doing so, and I got comments from 2 or 3 people. Also, I then had an excuse to create a “Newman’s On” tag. It was fabulous. :D

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