The web is a visual medium, more than just a text based social oracle. Brutal MySpace-esque ghettos are the same, no matter what the visual design looks like. These servers are homogenizing the web to the extent that it is losing its richness and diversity. Not just because everyone and everything looks the same, but because it’s easy to imagine the patterns of the internet becoming more and more addicted to the same feedback loops of current. Rather than flickering in bursts of local dialect across different regional lines all over the world, the signals all swell toward the same data centers.
While I am a big supporter of what the Diaspora guys are doing and I even donated money to their project myself, I feel like they are missing the real imperative for evolving beyond Facebook. My frustrations with Facebook not just about privacy and social sharing, but also enhancing the quality, diversity and personality of content and experiences on the web overall. I want to see this technology make our experience of digital communication more real and human, whilst not pigeonholing and eroding the brilliant tradition of graphic design, typography and film that has educated modern generations.
I am aware that I am speaking to a fairly privileged minority, yet mine is a long wave view. We need to do more than treat progress as simply rebuilding open source versions of the same functionality that Facebook and other similar services have.
We should be looking to leverage the power of personal websites like blogs, portfolios, journals and the like in order not just to publish, but also to share private information with our direct personal contacts. We should have tools that we can host on any web server, or run locally, which allow us to dip into the streams of messages from people we care about on private and secure channels that we have complete autonomy over. Ideally, such a protocol would support both subscriber-hub and peer-to-peer communication, depending on the device and the context of use.
Rather than come up with opaque and fiddly privacy models, the approach I propose works on a simple basis using familiar everyday terms. The basic distinction of a personal publishing system should be between “sharing” and “publishing”. In today’s current terms, sharing is what you do on your private Facebook feed wheras publishing is what you do on a blog or gallery or video channel. Twitter is an interesting hybrid which I imagine, could fit under both models (if your Twitter account is set to private, then you are by default, sharing not publishing).
By maintaining your own distributed control over your identity in your own private web app, you have a real online space that actually belongs to you instead of a sty in the cube farm. You should be able to use email, Google, Twitter, Facebook, whatever you like to communicate with your friends, but it’s best for you to migrate to a distributed model where those services are outside extensions, rather than the central hub of what you do online.