Motivation for renewed blog

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the internet presence I wish to create for myself. With all of this year’s revelations on Facebook’s serious data mismanagement (Cambridge Analytica), political interference (Russian hackers), failure to control hate speech (Myanmar genocide), and—most recently—dishonest efforts to shift blame (oh boy, where to begin), the backlash against social media platforms as a whole has reached fever pitch. It has caused me to reflect on my own contributions to the direction the web takes and our legacy for future generations of internauts.

As a self-described advocate of open science, open data, open educational resources, and open-source software, it comes as no surprise that I am also a big fan of the open web. The so-called “walled gardens”1 that have taken over the web—those same ones that sell their users and their data for a quick buck—clearly don’t have our best interest in mind. How could they? By design, their business model is incompatible with the idea of the open web.

The internet made it possible to connect to a highway of information. The World Wide Web ensured that this highway would be free from interference by powerful entities bent on controlling the on and off ramps to this highway, the direction that traffic would flow, and the toll stations that would have been placed along the way. Some early forces tried to become the guardians of the internet—they wanted to make the highways smooth and the landscape scenic, but with the understanding that they were in charge. Instead, the web was a lawless land of opportunity. It often led to potholes and dead ends, but it made every car, bicycle, and pedestrian on the highway a free traveler. Most importantly, it made it possible for any traveler to build a home along this highway that anyone could visit.

But over the last decade, things have changed. The rise of social media has made personal sites and blogs a rare sight. Instead, people flocked to these neatly-trimmed “safe” spaces to post about their lives and connect with friends. Why? Two reasons: (1) the “everyone’s here” mentality and (2) convenience.

Now, people have begun to realize that this convenience comes at a hefty price. A handful of monopolies have become the de-facto rulers of the road. These corporations gather more data about more people than has ever been possible, the ownership of which their users sign away unwittingly through endless pages of legalese under the heading, “Terms and Conditions.” Contrary to what these platforms want you to think, your data is an extremely valuable currency. The more the internet grows, the more that one’s online identity grows in importance. Unfortunately, for many people now, Facebook is the internet.

I’ve become enthralled by the idea of the IndieWeb. It’s an effort that a group of techies have undertaken to make it just as easy and convenient to create an online social presence on your own domain as on Facebook or Twitter. This means that everything you put up remains yours and yours alone. You control what goes up and what comes down. You decide who you wish to connect with and in what way. And best of all, when these big platforms fail—because they all eventually do—there’s no need to scramble to find the next big thing and start all over again. Everything is on your own domain.

So, that’s my motivation for this blog. But what am I going to blog about?

Seeing as this initial post is getting to a bit long-winded, that’ll be the topic of my next post. I’ll provide a plan for the blog and for this site as a whole. I’ll also discuss how I’ve organized different parts of the site, some of the technology behind it, and why I’ve chosen what I have.

  1. Or “walled factories,” as Alan Jacobs so lovingly calls them in his fantastic essay, Tending the Digital Commons: A Small Ethics toward the Future. [return]