Facebook is NOT the web

Facebook wants to get people into their clutches, and obscure the fact that there is a world-wide web of stuff out there. They will probably succeed, too; more’s the pity. Still, I’ll continue to avoid them, just in case they do require my participation to ensure full world-domination.

Facebook and Google spread ‘their’ net across the mobile world, by John Naughton in The Observer, Sunday 24 March 2013:

It’s a smart strategy, and it will have one predictable outcome, namely, that many new users of the internet from poor countries will think that Facebook (or Google) is the Internet. This would be a particularly pernicious outcome for those who find themselves inside Facebook’s walled garden, because it’s much more comprehensively fenced than anything yet constructed by Google.

Why does this matter? Well, in a way, it comes back to the guys who won the Queen Elizabeth prize. The network that Cerf and Kahn built was deliberately designed as an open, permissive system. Anyone could use it, and if you had an idea that could be realised in software, then the net would do it for you, with no questions asked. Tim Berners-Lee had such an idea – the web – and the internet enabled it to happen. And Berners-Lee made the web open in the same spirit, so Mark Zuckerberg was able to build Facebook on those open foundations.

But Zuckerberg has no intention of allowing anyone to use Facebook as the foundation for building anything that he doesn’t control. He’s kicking away the ladder up which he climbed, in other words.

Marco Arment on why you should own your online identity

Own your identity by Marco Arment:

If you care about your online presence, you must own it. I do, and that’s why my email address has always been at my own domain, not the domain of any employer or webmail service.

Sadly, most people don’t care about giving control of their online identity to current or future advertising companies.

But there will always be the open web for the geeks, the misfits, the eccentrics, the control freaks, and any other term we can think of to proudly express our healthy skepticism of giving up too much control over what really should be ours.

I am reminded of that old thing: “if you do not pay for a service on the web then you are not a customer, but rather your content is a product that is sold to advertisers”.

Blog Action Day

Bloggers unite. Today is blog action day, when we write about ‘the environment’ in order to ‘save it’. Oh yeah.

Tom Worthington calls for less emails; but I concur with Paul Kingsnorth, and say: smash your computer and lock on to the nearest airport check-in counter!

(I might say that, but I’m more inclined to sit in the shade under a tree, sewing my shirt and knowing the touch of the wind. Bring on the prelude!)

How CGDNs might help build a sense of belonging.

My brain is feeling pretty groggy at the moment, so excuse any pointlessness in this post. Not that there’s ever any point to my posts, but that’s beside the point. I’m at work, almost thinking that the afternoon’s nearly half-gone and so, well, what’s the point of doing any more work…

There are, in Australia, these new things called Community Geographic Domain Names, or CGDNs. They are domain names like ‘lyneham.act.au’ — that is, they are domain names in which every component is geographically localising. This is fantastic! I think that having a place online for one’s locality, a place that is easily discernable for new people or new places, has got great potential to act as repository for local stories, knowledge, history, and whatever else people want to use it for. Imagine moving to a new town, and finding the town’s entire history (well, a bit of it anyway) available for browsing, and writen by the very people in it. Like a hiking hut’s register (the book that hikers leave messages in on tracks like the Bibbulmun) but for a whole suburb, town, or region.

I am vaguely thinking about seeing what sort of support there is in the food co-op community for us registering acton.act.au. But maybe I should wait until I feel a little more dedicated to a place — which is actually what I find so interesting about this idea: that it might help people feel more attached to where they live and the people around them. That’s got to be a good thing.

Facebook vs. WordPress

The last few weeks have seen a great number of my friends turn to Facebook (and, of course, I know exactly how many). It’s great, it’s exciting, it’s suddenly become so easy to organise things and we can now all talk about Facebookwhen we meet for a coffee at the Front; however, all is not as funky as one might seem…

Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m all in favour of using Facebook — I just don’t think it should be used for everything. It’s great as a procrastination tool, for example, or for stumbling across long-lost friends, or being sent lovely pictures like this:

Picture: Sam got tapes for 35c.

But Facebook is, despite their oh-so-wonderful API, a closed system. We’re all piling our (desperately interesting, I’m sure) personal information into it, and giving no thought to what will happen to that information in the future. I don’t neccessarilly mean the usual conspiracy theories of governmental data-harvesting or derranged stalkers (they probably apply to wherever one is one the web), but what about ideas of cultural artifact preservation? (I know, I know, no one cares…)

Much of Facebook replicates systems that we’ve been using for years. Why, for example, did they have to build their own private messaging system? What’s wrong with email? Could they not have made it all work together — maybe someone will build an IMAP webmail application for Facebook, and prove my objections aimless.

But that’s all beside the point: I’m a geek, and prefer to build my own. An article in Wired started me off thinking about this, and since then I’ve been doing a bit of reading (eg. SNIX), and here’s my skeleton thus far of a distributed, home-grown, open-source, social networking system:

  • Start with a blog. I prefer WordPress, but the point of all this is that by using open standards it really doesn’t matter what software we use. Post whatever you want (images, movies, audio, anything) and enable comments on everything.
  • Collect feeds. Most blogging tools come with in-built support for news feeds of some kind, usually at least RSS and Atom. Create a page on your blog and aggregate all of your friends’ feeds there.
  • Post coming events. With a plugin like Event Calendar you can post future events, and produce a iCalendar feed to which your friends can subscribe. Add another page, to aggregate your friends’ events.

Unfortunately, that’s about where it ends. How does one have ‘Friends’ on a system that doesn’t mandate common software — or common anything save interchange formats?! I don’t know. Maybe Facebook does rock after all…

But I do know that I’d rather be using my own software, with all content remaining under my control at all times; the methods for sharing this with the world are maturing, and before long will be widespread and useable.