For the first time in years, I’m starting to feel a bit excited about the web again. For the last ten or more years the dominance of major players like Facebook and Twitter, commercial walled gardens that made accessing content and community without joining difficult, meant that the utopian decentralised idea of the web seemed to be withering away captured by corporations farming your personal data with an interest in disincentivising movement and sharing between their silos. Of course the wider web never went away but these large companies dominated most people’s online experience.
But recently both Facebook and Twitter have started to falter and there’s been a resurgence of interest in alternatives that neither exist purely to farm your behavioural data or lock you in to a particular platform. In particular the weeks since Elon Musk took the reins at Twitter have led many to start shopping around for somewhere else. Some are exploring alternatives such as Post or Hive Social but what really interests me is the Fediverse, probably most familiar in its Mastodon incarnation. I don’t really know that much about Post other than it’s still in beta and has a waitlist; Hive Social looks a bit like Twitter and I wonder how the small team running it are keeping up. But I’m just not that interested investing any time at all in another privately-owned walled garden.
I’ve never really been that active on social media. I’ve got accounts on most of the big platforms, but rarely do anything other than drop by occasionally to see what’s going on. The exception for a while a few years ago was Instagram but this has been utterly ruined more recently; my feed is mainly ads, crappy videos and noise and I miss stuff posted by the people I actually follow, so my use has dropped right off, both in terms of lurking and posting. This defines the problem for me - you find a platform you enjoy and it goes off in a shitty direction and you’re stuck. A problem you never had in the days before the walled gardens and a problem that perhaps the Fediverse is far better suited to solve than yet another privately owned service where you’re at the mercy of the owner’s whims and financial circumstances.
Also over the past year or two I’ve been gradually rediscovering the world of blogs and RSS. This never went away entirely of course but it felt like there was a lot less of it going on. Many of the blogs I read back in the noughties went dark, sites stopped providing RSS feeds (I guess because they want you on their site munching their affiliates tracking and analytics cookies) and although I kept a feed reader going with a few subs there just didn’t feel like the same community and engagement that there once was. The big platforms just sucked the life out of everything and my disillusionment with the state of the web in the 2010s just meant I couldn’t be bothered any more. But more recently it feels a bit like there might be a renaissance on the way. My feed reader has started to fill up again with some old voices and many new ones. Lots of these people have also appeared on Mastodon and there’s a feeling that something is going on. Maybe Musk’s Twitter revolution will turn out to be the catalyst for something good.
Who knows what’s going to happen, but it’s going to be interesting.