thoughts on the networks that control our internet experiences

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On Those Who Control the InternetCertain things about the internet leave me very uncomfortable. I dislike the near monopoly of book sales that Amazon has, and the way in which supporting that monopoly is one of the few way in which bloggers can make money – through affiliate links. I tried that for about a week and then gave up not because I could not stomach the idea of helping along the growth of Amazon.

Then there is the growth of Facebook, and the knowledge that so many small businesses and organizations depend upon facebook, yet facebook changes the rules repeatedly to make it harder and harder for them to get the free advertisement ability. Perhaps I should be glad that it leaves spaces for local newspaper advertisements, but instead it makes me nervous about what depending on one source for disseminating information can lead to. Bloggers who put a lot of time into trying to build up a blog following on facebook find that their posts there barely reach any of the followers. Politicians or want-to-be politicians face newspapers reporting about their facebook followers as though that was an accurate count of popularity.

I think about how all these networks – YouTube, google, facebook, twitter, etc – all try to customize the internet to what we think we want, and in doing so create echo chambers. I re-read Vi Hart’s commentary about the merging of Youtube and Google+ and how the reworking of things ends up encouraging inflammatory comments rather than rational debate.

I think about how I’m beginning to like both twitter and google+ and I like sharing different things at each place, but I also have this weird creepy feeling about the internet that I didn’t use to have. I have this sense that its like a holodeck program of Star Trek, where no matter how far it feels like I’m walking, I’m really in the same room. I might think I’m in control of my own social media content but really, I’m not.

The internet still allows small voices to speak out, but the intrastructure is highly controlled and slanted against us. Bloggers might be huge content producers but because we depend upon social media to get things out there, we offer ourselves and our audience to the advertisers who pay the social media companies. It’s all very uncomfortable to me, as I try to carve out my own little home here on the web. How can I be more responsible in the ways in which I participate in the structures on the internet? And by responsible I mean responsible not just for my own privacy and my own experience on the internet, but in trying to resist the systems that control internet users for their own profit?

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  • Paul Burt

    Christy, there are certainly uncomfortable things happening all over our commerce system. I have a model to begin to change how we do business to make it fair and simple for the individual and small company. It will take an organic group effort, but technology can be employed to serve us rather than sell us.

    We’ll start with books and publishing and move into music and other arts quickly. Some features will take more time to create as we expand. The key differences between what we collectively will create are: integrated transparency in all aspects, user democratic input on corporate governance, including profits, and a mission focused on serving people rather than profits. The system is rooted in aligning the self-interests of buyer and seller in every transaction while serving the common good.

    I found your blog through the Indie Book Reviewers List, and would like to add you to our initial email list to receive information on how it works. We need readers as well as authors, editors, etc. Hope to hear from you!

  • Shad

    Do you know about Flattr and Patreon?

    Flattr has been around for years, it’s intended to facilitate giving small amounts of money to content creators. If you put a “Flattr button” on your page, other users can choose to “flattr” your content, which means you get a share of each of those users flattr budgets for that month. https://flattr.com/

    Patreon is newer, and is aiming for ongoing support rather than monthly hits. I haven’t used it, but the basic idea seems to be of pay-what-you can subscriptions. http://patreon.com/

    I’m not sure how much of the problem is sites trying to customize content to what they think you want, and how much is sites trying to get visitors as a group to pay them as much as they can get. In one of his videos Veritasium compares the approaches taken by Facebook and YouTube, and explains why he prefers YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9ZqXlHl65g
    (Most of his videos are science videos, which are also worth watching.)

    I didn’t find Vi Hart’s post very convincing. Bad comments are a nearly ubiquitous problem on the internet, and for a long time most of the worst comments I’ve seen have been on YouTube. I don’t doubt the G+ integration has been problematic for some of the other reasons he gives, but if the comments I see have changed any they have improved a little. I don’t see an indication that the merging provided more encouragement for inflammatory comments that was already there.
    Getting comments right seems to be a hard problem even without modeling what you want to see and what can make them money. I see very few sites running their own comment system, and the ones that do are huge sites that largely consist of sharing comments – such as Facebook, Google+, and Stack Exchange. Almost every other site I see uses a third-party comment system, and I expect most of the work on getting comments right is done by the developers of those comment systems. The system I see most is Disqus, which is reviewed along with two other systems here: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/3rdparty-comment-discuss-systems-reviewed/

    I prefer to use feed readers and email rather than big aggregator sites. Since Google Reader shut down, there aren’t many options for feed readers. I use BlogBridge, because it’s the only reader I found that can handle authenticated feeds: http://www.blogbridge.com/
    I would really prefer a sort of decentralized social network, with features much like Facebook but where the content generated by each user lives on that users server, and where no person or data mining bot would have access to your content unless you explicitly grant them access. But that’s really hard to monetize, so I don’t expect it to be viable.

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