Tag Archives: Facebook

Personal website disagrees with replacing Facebook with personal websites

I'm writing from my personal website to disagree with the following: Jason Koebler, We Should Replace Facebook With Personal Websites, Motherboard (2018-12-19).

See also: What were people expecting out of Facebook? (2018-03-23)

First of all: hello, this is my personal website. There's really no need to convince me that it's a good thing to have. I am On Board, and I have been since 1997. I could come up with 10 reasons why I think it's a good idea without even trying very hard. (I am my own top search result, I get to understand albeit in a very basic way how things work on the internet, I get to sometimes talk to new people, etc.) I am the choir you're preaching to.

But that article is written from the inside—from the people who know and care about self-publishing on the web to the same kind of people. "We posted every day—photos from trips, friend and relationship drama, complaints about teachers, inside jokes. We were conditioned to post because only the weird kids did not post." Let's be clear: the weird kids posted. We posted.

On a visceral level I understand the hashtag delete Facebook outcry. I think history will show that it's a reasonable position to take. We vomited bits of ourselves online to each other, without thinking too hard about obvious issues like who would be able to see it—the "who" being not just consumers of Facebook but Facebook itself and the customers of Facebook data—and we had a good time doing it. And it is obvious. If you missed it, you missed something obvious. If you're posting something somewhere, that something is sitting in a database, waiting to be accessed—that's what data like that is for. And Facebook—whatever that means as a concept, Facebook, the brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg or a massive company filled with employees or a collection of users or an evil empire, choose your own epithet—is certainly an asshole for abusing your trust; see Gabriel J.X. Dance, As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants, The New York Times (2018-12-18) for the latest episode of Masterjerk Theater.

Here's DHH beating a dead horse that he carries around with him in his backpack:

He's right. And I believe he's right. Yet I don't want to quit.

Reading the replies to that Twitter post, and reading the article at the top here, helps me understand the reason why. For those of us who know how to create things on the internet, whether we do it well or poorly, it is an easy decision to make. For the rest, it's not an option. You're probably not going to convince your parents to make their own website. Secretly this is a big reason this issue of running back to our personal websites rubs me the wrong way. One year for Christmas I did give them their own personal websites, nice URLs and all, and it didn't stick. It's not something they cared about. That's a reasonable response. Look around you and there are 1000 things that work, but they're things you don't care about how they work, or the conditions that brought them to their working state. Drywall. Shelf. Pen. Cat litter. Shirt. Plate. Etc. We rely on these things being produced without our understanding of how it happened.

It's an uncomfortable feeling standing up for Facebook. They don't deserve it. Let's end this.

There is a kind of opposition to Facebook that elicits its alternative solutions as something like: the people that I really care about, I can give them a call, or an email, or a handshake. Same here. Those are my Strong Contacts—people who I'm close to, people I know, people I trust. I really don't need Facebook for them. But the larger class of people I'm connected to on Facebook are Weak Contacts—people I met in college or high school but who weren't in my inner circle, people I met while traveling, friends of friends, etc. Life is richer for having given them a virtual high five, even if just once. Right? I'm not looking to know them or hang out with them, but there is something Good about having the connection, and occasionally manifesting it.

Something that pisses me off now is that Facebook, through its amazing execution, sucked the air out of the competition, and became a utility. All competition got beat, badly (unless you're measuring the competition on purely moral or ethical terms). We came there and—as the original article mentioned—abandoned our own half-assed web platforms to do so. It was the right thing to do at the time. Facebook the platform was amazing. It was easy. Everyone was there—it's not the sum of the individuals, it's the network effect that makes it magical. And when those of us who can inevitably do go off on our own, we will lose that. We might find—even create—something better, but probably not. Probably we all just shared a golden moment before returning back to where we were, but in different directions, never to coincide again.


I can't believe I didn't figure this out until now, but it just came to mind... the feeling that has been residing in my head while writing this is the crest of Hunter S. Thompson's own wave, from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (notes):

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning...

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

What were people expecting out of Facebook?

Cory Doctorow, "You can help the web be better in 2018: just ditch Facebook and use your browser instead", Boing Boing

Foster Kamer, "The 2018 internet resolution everyone should have: Forget Facebook", Mashable

I wonder: what were people expecting out of Facebook? I always looked at Facebook the way Kurt Vonnegut looked at existence in Man Without a Country: "We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different."

I think that's a result of starting on Facebook back in 2004 in college, when you had to have a .edu email address to join. At the beginning it was just a text entry. "Kirk Kittell is" was fixed—a literal "what are you doing?" More or less, that's the baseline of what I'm looking for in the site. I just want to see what people are doing. 14 years on the site, and now I have connections with friends from high school, college, early work days, the summer at ISU in France, people I met while traveling in India, some of my wife's business school friends. It's clearly the best way to keep in touch with such a range of people. There is no similar substitute that's that easy. I don't think all of the people I know should make their own web sites. It might be interesting if they did, but even if they created them I think most of them would stop maintaining them anyway. And I don't think I'd be able to maintain checking all of them. That's life.

But as for one of the main points, stepping back to using the browser bar and bookmarks to get to content—I'm down with that. I've been getting back to it myself. Google killing Reader seems to have damped the use of RSS for news, but I get plenty of it through Feedly. Getting news from Facebook and Twitter is garbage. It's rigged. As it should be. Their job is to make you want to go to them for whatever it is that they're selling. That's obviously the pitch.

Back, back, back in the day there were webrings. Do you know what those are? Congratulations. You're old. They were amateur and interesting ways to find amateur and sometimes interesting sites. (John Scott, "Whatever Happened to... Webrings"; "What Ever Happened to Webrings?", Hover.)

I don't remember where I was going with this. Whatever it was, it devolved into some variation of: things were better when we were younger.

I don't believe it was all that much better—there was a lot of crap—but there are a few things I'd like back which have dropped off along the way. Web site discovery via other web sites is one of them. Webrings were super cheesy. They can stay on the shelf. But I think I'm going to bring back my /links page.