Internet, meet hierarchy. As Felix Salmon points out in a timely article from earlier this week, “How capitalism breaks the web,” the dream of an internet teaming with non-professional blogs, open content, and online identity is now lost to a small consortium of “web-hostile” hubs such as Facebook and Instagram. The cause? As Salmon describes, many web contributors would rather go with user-friendly interfaces than explore all that the web has to offer.
For the billions of people coming online today, the web can be just as hard, just as daunting, as blogging was to me in 2003. Anil [Dash] wants to “re-educate” them and to “teach them that there is so much more to the experience of the Internet than what they know”. But the fact is that most of them don’t really want to be taught such things. Anil and his readers (and my readers, for that matter) are atypical in caring about this stuff. I would loathe to live in a world where Facebook was my main window to the rest of the internet, but hundreds of millions of people find that world very comforting and personal.
Karl Marx would probably call this a fetishism of web platforms, which is to say, contributors have abstracted content being placed online from the value of their sources and locations–a picture placed on facebook can garner a few likes, which is more valuable than the relationships between content (and by proxy the people that created them). Yet there is hope. Salmon and his colleague Anil Dash (one of the first bloggers) offer a suggestion to big-budget platforms: complement the call to individual contributors mentioned above by embracing network culture.
So it’s easy to understand the appeal of services like Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram (and even MySpace, back in the day): they’re Not Hard, and they stay up without any work on the end-user’s part. If self-expression is the new entertainment, as Arianna Huffington likes to say, then the new entertainment industry is giving people the ability to express themselves as effortlessly as possible.
Now Anil’s point is that in doing so, these companies don’t need to break the web; instead of being “web-hostile”, he says, these sites could just as easily have embraced and respected everything the web stood for, with open standards and people owning their own content and so on and so forth. But the fact is that we had lots of services which did just that, including Six Apart, and they never got anything like the traction that the big social-media sites have achieved.