November Flew By

I dressed up as a consistent blogger for Halloween, and then let the site lay fallow for November (two posts! Or three, if I actually get this post out today). Sometimes that’s just how things roll. No shortage of things to talk about – it would’ve been easy to fill the blog just with posts about the continuing train wreck that is the Twitter acquisition, for instance. Life’s just been a little busy, between work and Thanksgiving and my girlfriend moving up to Portland (I’m actually in San Francisco right now, helping prep for the move).

I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to redesign my online presence, sort of a perennial topic for me. A lot of the time that thinking doesn’t really go anywhere (or amounts to slapping a new coat of paint on the same old shit). I feel like there’s a sea change right now, with a lot of people realizing that they need to change or adapt, and a whole lot of flailing to figure out what that looks like. I think it’s sort of telling that for many folks in the past few years, the answer was basically “withdraw from the public internet”, resorting to private backchannels, newsletters, (sometimes) blogs, or literally just going dark. Disillusionment with Facebook and Twitter actively catching on fire is driving a new reassessment for a lot of people, and I wonder where people will end up landing in this new era. There’s certainly a wealth of platforms right now vying to be the “next thing,” on the assumption that even should be a next thing.

Surprising no one: for me at least, I’m more inclined to believe that there shouldn’t be another big central platform. It may be inevitable as the internet goes in cycles and that we’ll be back to silos shortly, but I think we’re due for a new diaspora, a proliferation of platforms and systems, glued only loosely together by a series of protocols that allow for federation and interconnection. There’s been a lot of motion in the space of protocols and standards since we all siloed up – it’s not just pingbacks and RSS these days. There’s ActivityStreams and ActivityPub and WebSub (formerly known as PubSubHubbub), just to name a few. The standards have been around for a few years, and now tools are starting to emerge to use them (case in point, Mastodon, which gets a fair bit of attention these days, is an implementation of an ActivityPub system, but is just one of several, and even some existing sites like Tumblr and Flickr are seriously looking into adding ActivityPub support).

This all gets us back to a core (and sadly neglected) principle of the internet: interoperability and interconnection. You should be able to manage and control your identity online, and from there, share and communicate with others on your own terms. The key to this is open standards for interaction, so you can choose to use what works best for you, not what a corporation has decided is best for their bottom line. (Perhaps I’m just getting old and persnickety, but if this means the end of “influencer culture” and treating your identity as a “brand”, good. There’ve been so many studies showing that social media as it exists today is incredibly bad for mental health.)

I don’t think a social diaspora will suddenly solve all the world’s woes (or even just the internet’s). I think you’re still going to get extremists using the internet to gather, recruit, foment, and plan. You’re still going to get brigading and pressure campaigns. You’re still going to get viral misinformation (planned and unplanned). But hopefully – hopefully! – it will be tempered a little, by not providing central clearinghouses for all of the above. A little friction slowing things down is a feature, not a bug.

That’s all a bit of a tangent from the question of how I want my own online presence to be, but it’s definitely all part of the discussion. If I was going to boil it down to bullet points, my current thought is:

  1. Deactivate/delist (but not delete, for reasons) my existing siloed social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc).
  2. Commit to using services that federate or are otherwise open and interoperable wherever possible.
  3. Invest in my own site (whether that’s still WordPress, or some other solution) so that it can serve as a hub for both my own work, and for interacting with other services.

If you’re curious about the reasons for not deleting, there are a few: it reserves that identity on that service, so that others can’t take over that identity (this has come up in Twitter, for instance, where individuals are able to create an account with the same profile name as a deleted account and gain access to mentions, along with any intentional impersonation); it also preserves that account for historical and legacy reasons (I don’t know about you, but I hate dead links).

I suspect it’ll be a fair bit of work (and retraining my Pavlovian brain) to make that migration, but I feel like I’ll be happier in the end for having done so. I’m also not entirely sure the tools exist (yet!) to really have a single personal site truly act as the sort of hub I envisage, but I think it’d be a worthy endeavor to try and make it happen anyway.