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Homepage vs Social Media

Posted on 2020-12-24

I know we're all tired of social media. How many times have y'all tried to "Quit Facebook"? But it fills a need, and to properly get rid of social media (especially proprietary shit) some of our modern needs have to be fulfilled. After all, how would you keep in touch with extended friends and family if not for these websites? Or favorite authors or aritsts if not on Twitter?

Sure, you might say that you'll keep up with friends and family via email, but email is full of spam - heck, my texts are full of spam. Social media pages at least give us a single webpage to go to to keep up with our extended network - back in the day, you'd have to keep up your browser bookmarks and keep track of each person's blog (Livejournal? Xanga? etc.) manually. Or, if you knew how, you could use an RSS reader to get all those updates in one place, but it required some amount of maintenance as well. Social media is just so easy. They wrote the code to let you simply "add friend" or "follow" and not have to do anything else - don't have to copy the website link or find an RSS link, go into a third party app, and paste in the data.

However, we've traded ease of use for lack of control. We don't get to choose how we read messages from friends and family or whatever randos you follow on Twitter; it's not in order chronologically. It's ordered by an algorithm that is built to keep you on the webpage as long as possible. It's built to learn what people look at and serve you these things as much as possible. It's not built to serve your needs. It's built to addict you.

"Well, what's the alternative?"

Many people have tried to come up with solutions for this.

There are distributed social media networks, such as Mastodon and Diaspora, that offer the same kind of platforms as Twitter and Facebook (respectively) but allow anyone to host one a server, allowing for groups like "Gamedev Mastodon" or "LGBT+ Diaspora" and so on.

The downside is, at the moment, they're not super user friendly for a less technical person to get into. You have to figure out what a "pod" is, find a server to join, and figure out the nuances of a distributed network vs. a centralized proprietary one. I don't think I'm going to get non-developer friends on these very easily.

There are still blogs of all sorts - Tumblr, Wordpress, even Livejournal, apparently as of writing there's a Xanga 2.0? Still, you're not storing your own data (unless you're self-hosting a Wordpress). Also, if each friend uses a different blog system you run into the issue of still having to visit different pages to keep up with each one of them. Something like Tumblr, at least, will give you a dashboard where you can keep up with posts from everybody. (I don't know if Tumblr has an algorithm or if it shows you stuff in chrono-order, though. And you can never rely on these platforms to stay consistent.)

I'm particularly fond of the Solid Project from MIT, where you have a central place where you host your data and other websites request data from your data pool to operate (any kind of website like a blog, social media, etc.) - but, it's still early on for this and definitely not layperson friendly. Heck, the homepage I made last year won't even load right now.

There just isn't a good alternative right now.

I think an alternaive needs to specifically:

  • Allow a centralized place for you to keep up with different types of feeds - friends, family, news, entertainers, artists, etc.
  • Be easy to sign up for, easy to start using.
  • Allow you to own your data; does not treat you like a product where your data is sold to others to make money and show you ads.
  • Allow you to set privacy settings; disallow certain people/groups from seeing certain posts, or making certain posts available to only a few; not completely public-facing.

"Cool, so you have no solution."

I mean heck, I don't know. I just think personal websites are cool, and I would maintain my bookmarks better if I could keep track of people that way.

Maybe at some point I'll build a fancy RSS reader and try to make some sort of system around using RSS for "social media". I could make something relatively user friendly, but like... I do my web development in PHP still. Sure, I've worked with C# professionally doing webdev, but I'm still stuck in my old ways for personal projects.

I wish we all knew some rudimentary HTML and we could build simple personal webpages. I wish social media still let you customize CSS to personalize the pages you do build on there. I wish everything weren't so oriented around making money. I just see us all joining these platforms to connect and socialize and be entertained, we're making content for these websites for free, and they're making so much money off of us.

The internet is wonderful for connecting us, for giving us tools to express ourselves, but there's also a dark side to it all. Everything we do online we pretty much do for free, but we get no profit off it.

Right now, the news is talking about the government giving us each $600 as a "stimulus" during this pandemic. So many of us are struggling in the U.S.A. because there's no safety net or support system. This country only cares about exploiting us - the citizens of the country are like farm animals. We do work for the country, and then we're exploited for the resources we can give them, and then we just die when we're no longer useful.

We as people are so valuable. Our art is valuable. Our self-expression is valuable. And sure, from a monetary point of view, it certainly is, but we as humans are worth so much more than immaginary numbers in a bank's database.

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