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Time to rebuild the web? (oreilly.com)
596 points by BerislavLopac on April 16, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 439 comments

I don't believe the problem lies in any technology. We don't need blockchain, it's not JavaScript minification, it isn't the centralisation of services that are the problem.

It's the business model.

No amount of tech is going to change that. If you want to change the situation, start social media businesses with a different business model.

It's not just social media, and it's not just ads, about which other people responded to you.

The root of the problem - or at least the trunk very close to the root - is Software as a Service. It's the trend of turning software into services. Sure, it's nice for the vendors, and it's nice for corporate clients who can write off responsibility to a third party. But it also makes you no longer in control of your data, and the code that runs on it. The availability of your work becomes completely dependent on business decisions of third parties, which can - and frequently do - disappear suddenly. It's what leads to proliferation of ads, surveillance and growth strategies like dumbing down software to the point of almost complete uselessness.

If technology is meant to be - or at least is capable of being - empowering to individuals, then turning everything into a service is an exact opposite of that.

>It's the trend of turning software into services. [...] But it also makes you no longer in control of your data, and the code that runs on it. The availability of your work becomes completely dependent on business decisions of third parties, which can - and frequently do - disappear suddenly.

Here's a thought experiment I'd like people to ponder: Suppose we had this decentralized hardware utopia where every homeowner had his own web server node ... such as a "FreedomBox"[1][2] or a hypothetical ISP smart router with builtin 16GB RAM and 10 terabytes of disk to hold Sandstorm[3] or whatever self-hosting app stack you can think of.

Even with those favorable conditions, I'd argue we'd still evolve towards Youtube centralization. I'd encourage people to think about why that counterintuitive result eventually happens. (As a hint, Youtube does things that localized technology installed in the home doesn't solve and can't solve.)

>If technology is meant to be [...] empowering to individuals, then turning everything into a service is an exact opposite of that.

To further explore if eventual mass migration from home self-hosted videos to centralized Youtube is inevitable, we have to be open-minded to the idea that thousands of people will conclude that "putting my video on Youtube instead of hosting it on my own server is what empowers me." Why would people think that opposite thought?

[1] https://freedombox.org/ [2] https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/16/nyregion/16about.html

[3] https://sandstorm.io

> Youtube does things that localized technology installed in the home doesn't solve and can't solve.

Are you talking about search and content discovery? Are you talking about replicating the most popular videos over many servers so that the system can efficiently serve all the demand to watch those videos?

Maybe existing, fully-distributed products don't solve these problems. But it isn't obvious to me that they can't.

He is talking about monetization.

It’s not even that counterintuitive with some capitalist forethought.

Monetization is easily possible, we just need a reliable way to transfer small amounts of money electronically at a low fee. Right now the large credit card players have a stranglehold on digital transactions, we just need something new that makes it not awful to pay someone a few cents online.

Consider that the people watching the videos have repeatedly shown in no uncertain terms (even when given the option and it is made really really easy for them), that they don't want to pay.

Really? I absolutely will not pay 8$ a month to read the occasional NYT article. I will not pay 4$ per episode of TV shows I watch (I have tried this multiple times and it sucks). I would absolutely pay 5 to 25 cents to read an article. I would absolutely pay 1$ per episode. Unfortunately, no one is offering their content at these realistic price points. Nor could they with credit card processors taking 30 cents per transaction. We need a new model that makes costs realistic. I bet a lot of people would pay 1 dollar a month for social media to avoid ads and tracking.

Facebook had revenue of about $40 billion in 2017. Facebook has billions of users, so if every user gave Facebook a dollar a month, that could add up to about as much as they made last year. (I don't think every user would do that, especially the users who live in developing countries and can't afford to spend a dollar, but let's use the best case for the sake of argument.)

What happens when a startup decides to take on Facebook by offering a social network that focuses on protecting user privacy? We would want that startup to succeed, but how could it ever get there by charging a dollar a month? It would start with a small number of users, so the total dollars per month would be small. If Facebook was only charging a dollar, this startup couldn't charge more than that -- a social network that has fewer of your friends on it than Facebook and costs more to use is not a very attractive.

In other words, I think the subscription model would make it difficult for social media startups to succeed.

I think the lock in effect of social networks is orthohonal to monetarisation model. It is difficult for social media startups to succeed regardless of how they (or facebook) make money.

There's a difference between "$9.99/mo for no ads" and "skip this ad for 2c". I'm not aware of any popular video sites offering the latter.

You are wrong. They won't pay to watch an individual video, and they won't pay to watch Latest Gigacorp Product Placement Hour, but they will pay the creators they care about. Many are making a living supported by their audience via Patreon while posting their videos to YouTube. Which is really the worst case apocalyptic scenario for YouTube... Kinda surprised they haven't made more overt moves to try to destroy that setup. Especially given Eric Schmidt's book 'The New Digital Age' and his views that since Google are rich they can and should take direct control of human culture to save the poor from themselves.

At this point it becomes clear to anyone interested in open but connected technologies that respect your privacy is that monetisation itself is the problem.

One thing I've heard harped on recently is how common the Pareto type distributions are.

"80% of the work is done by 20% of the workers".


Where this comes into play with regards to your thought experiment... is how the larger the playing field, the fewer the large players are - they tend to get "concentrated".

Plenty of Facebook alternatives exist... but why go to them? No one uses them. Large chunks of friends/family/acquaintances aren't "there" - they are on Facebook.

Plenty of authors other than Steven King exist... but given a few spaces on shelves at kiosks, who's going to get those spots? You can guarantee King will get one of those few spots...

The majority of activity is going to condense down until a few spots. Why? Because that is where everyone else is. That's where the skilled "creators" are.

The question becomes... how do you make sure those spots are fair, open, balanced, secure, etc.

Data in the hands of a few companies? What happens when they all lean left - politically? What happens when one of them gets hacked? When a "foreign actor" learns how to game that system?

I've thought for the last decade that things will continue to get "worse" before they get "better". How much worse? How can we make it better?

Million dollar questions.

I may be accused of nitpicking here but the Pareto Principle is, although related, distinct from the Pareto family of distributions.

I don't intend to derail the conversation so, rather than typing out an explanation of obscene length, I will refer all interested parties to the following:

Pareto Principle https://betterexplained.com/articles/understanding-the-paret...

Basics of Pareto Distributions https://actuarialmodelingtopics.wordpress.com/2017/05/21/par...


Example of some limitations in the application of Pareto Distributions https://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/0504217.pdf

> The root of the problem - or at least the trunk very close to the root - is Software as a Service

Once upon a time, to start a certain class of technology company, you needed to buy and provision a small data centre. There is a minimum capital cost associated with that. That cost presents a barrier to entry. Now, one spins up an AWS or Heroku instance.

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser argues the reason cities are more productive is they turn fixed costs into variable costs [1]. (The density allows for the expensive, fixed capital assets to be reliably distributed to variable payers.)

TL; DR It's complicated. Reducing all software as a service to being dis-empowering to individuals ignores the barriers to entry such models tear down.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/books/review/Silver-t.htm...

> If technology is meant to be - or at least is capable of being - empowering to individuals, then turning everything into a service is an exact opposite of that.

What? No. Plenty of new companies are being built off these SaaS providers. Why should a company just starting out build their own infrastructure, host their own CRM, build their own AI models. Companies would move much more slowely if they couldn't rely on these services.

I imagine the point being made might be more along the lines of owning software versus renting it.

If you purchase software that your company relies on, it belongs to you. Regardless if that third-party disappears. You still have use of the software until you can determine if you need to replace it or if it'll still work out for your needs.

Now renting the software as a service is a different matter. If the third-party goes under, well then you have problems. Problems you may have to solve immediately.

As an individual who is trying to build something, a disappearing third-party may not be detrimental if you still have the software at hand. You would not be locked down by that third-party's SaaS.

Renting software as a service has made it possible for people who could _never_ previously have owned the software to own it in perpetuity, and receive product updates throughout the product lifecycle.

Letraset's ColorStudio cost $1,995 (in 1990 money), and Photoshop 1.0 cost around $1,000. And that didn't even buy you the upgrade, which was quite significant when layers were two point0 upgrades away.

> to own it in perpetuity

Nah, you "own" it only as long as your rented keys are valid - what that means depend on implementation, and can mean anything from "you get to use the latest version for which you paid in perpetuity" (quite rare; notable example: Jetbrains), through "you can use only current software, as long as you pay, with forced upgrades, and only as long as we think it's not yet time to arbitrarily cut you off (and only as long as we're in business)" (the common way), to "software? what software. it's in the cloud, you have no say in anything, it's a service that works only as long as we care to provide it" (becoming the norm).

I suppose it's kind of like renting vs. buying a flat/house - the former is definitely much cheaper on a month-to-month basis, but you're subject to random landlord whims, and ultimately, you're just paying for a service - so when it ends, you're left with nothing.

I’m not sure about this.

As an Adobe customer, the software I use has become more “affordable” because it is easier for me to turn up $45 a month for software than the $X000 that it would cost up front. On the other hand, I am paying for software I don’t use, because to get the few programs I need I have to get the “everything” bundle.

My suspicion is that Adobe software is cheaper now because a) it has that new feeling of “affordability” (which could also be done through an instalment plan) and b) demand has gone up more than production costs have, which was already happening before they went SAAS (iirc PS CS6 was hundreds, not thousands).

Not to say that SAAS doesn’t sometimes work out the way you suggest—I don’t know enough to venture an opinion on that—but as an Adobe customer I definitely don’t feel like Creative Cloud is giving me a good deal. It feels like I am getting slowly soaked, according to some careful calculation of just how much adobe can get from me before they push me away entirely. Their CC software manager also gets a lot more cursing from me than it does appreciation.

Maybe my opinion is wrong, but if it is, I think it is a real marketing failure on their part...

> host their own CRM

I take your point but, for this one, you'd be surprised how far you can get with a decent email client and a spreadsheet.

The root of the problem is that the Internet does not intrinsically have a concept of genuine identity.

Yes, first amendment rights are preserved in the "real" Internet through anonymous posting. And information gets shared that otherwise would not if identity were revealed.

But that begets spam, fishing, scams, and a number of bad actors that drive people towards walled gardens for communications.

"It's the trend of turning software into services."

I don't see how any western capitalist society couldn't fall into this trend. It's all about making more profits, no different from say buying some land with natural water sources, close it to the public, bottling the water then sell bottles. All perfectly legal and fine, until the day there's no more competition and whoever owns that land raises the prices so that some people cannot afford water anymore. That day ten people dead of thirst or shot by guards while trespassing won't make a difference when a thousand of them still can pay for that water. Still perfectly legal although not fine at all, but capitalism as we know it has no moral limitations. It's not just turning software into service being dangerous, but also what happens next.

And of course the total loss of control of our data. Lawyers using cloud services and social media for exchanging sensitive documents and discussing them may seem crazy, but I've already seen some doing exactly that. Being ignorant about the implications of today's technologies misuse can have disastrous effects.

> It's all about making more profitS

This part is blatantly wrong. Saas enable on demand consumption and lowers tco by a great deal, i.e. indesign used to be 700$ each release, that now covers you 3 years of subscription and you don’t have to fear obsolescence.

Same with many many other software. Once you factor in obsolescence and upgrade cycles it’s very hard to keep the position of saas being more expensive.

The other point about losing control of your own stack do remain valid.

> It's what leads to proliferation of ads, surveillance and growth strategies like dumbing down software to the point of almost complete uselessness

How did SaaS lead to all these things? Unless you're broadning the definition of SaaS from a revenue model and software deployment strategy to somethibg like "any software that you use that runs on remote servers". But that's the whole point of connecting computers together in a network!

But as a customer, relying on SaSS solutions is so convenient. You can't just preach to people about the long term collective harms caused by SaSS - in game theory terms, the strategy where everyone willingly endures the pain of non-SaSS solutions to avoid collective harms is not a Nash equilibrium

Agreed 1000%. Everyone wants unlimited high quality content that is also free but no ads and conditional privacy and "true" information and ... and ... and ...

The ongoing success of Netflix proves not everybody is a freeloader, and a report from Spotify made the news for their estimate that 2 million people are using ad-block software to get premium without paying for it - the bigger news should really be that they have 150-some million users that aren't cheating the system, and that 70 million people pay money to Spotify.

Everybody wants something for free, but there are some people that recognize things are worth paying for.

As a paying customer, I'm genuinely surprised that adblocking is possible with Spotify considering they control both the servers and the client.

That said, I started on the free plan and have friends who still use it and the ads really aren't intrustive at all - it hardly seems like it would be worth the effort?

Also as a paying premium spotify customer, I can say they still serve up ads, they're just incognito...

1.) I recently had a splash screen for a Hulu partner "free trial" membership. Turns out it's actually a bundle, but I don't want to pay more for Hulu so keep your "ads" out of my premium feed Spotify. Put it in a special offers section where I can peruse at my liesure.


2.) My email is constantly bombarded with ads like "[pick a artist] wants to say 'thanks' with presale tickets". I already get presale with Amex. Again, these ads can be placed in a 'shows near you' section vice shoved in my email face.

No ads my hiney.

> My email is constantly bombarded with ads like "[pick a artist] wants to say 'thanks' with presale tickets". I already get presale with Amex. Again, these ads can be placed in a 'shows near you' section vice shoved in my email face.

Doesn't CAN-SPAM legally require them to have an unsubscribe button on anything like that?

IIRC they do have an unsubscribe button, or some other opt-out method, because I know I clicked it, and I don't receive any of the aforementioned ad emails.

Yes, the visual ads in the Spotify client are no big deal, it's behind other windows most of the time when I'm using it anyway. The interstitial audio ads are pretty bad; annoying, repetitive, and too frequent. But the audio ads still take up less "air time" than ads on Top 40 broadcast radio.

I haven't used an ad blockers for Spotify in a long time (because I'm a premium user when I can afford it), but when I was using one, all it did was mute the ads when they came on.

Not perfect, but it certainly didn't break the mood as much as a randomly placed ad.

I use Spotify web with uBlock. It doesn't mute audio ads, they just aren't there. Not sure how it works.

As a side note, the web app is hidden -- they want you to download the desktop app, from which you can't block ads. The thing is, the desktop app performs even worse than the web app

You can watch uBlock's logger when using the web player to see what it does. AFAIK the blocking rules are imported from EasyList.

However, as far as user experience goes, I don't share your experiences at all – the web player is almost unbelievably bad, with frequently malfunctioning (disabled) player keys, volume slider jumping all over the place and common problems when resuming playback after a while. (Also, the desktop application has more features, including the ability to select multiple tracks to perform an operation on, and naturally the support for media keys.)

You can definitely block ads on desktop Spotify: I did it by modifying my hosts file.

As for your first question, I think when it encounters what should be an audio ad in the queue, it attempts to play it, due to the host file, the ad request gets blocked/sent to a black hole and nothing is returned, so the application presumably assumes that everything was fine and continues on.

It’s probably intentionally tolerated. It gains them mindshare.

They control the client but not Browser/DNS/OS

May be that's a consequence of poor society I'm living in, but if I learned any lesson about life, it's that most people won't pay a penny if they can get away with it. You won't make a profitable business believing that some people will recognize the need to pay, because they won't.

This is a compelling thought, but the evidence doesn't seem to back it up. What we actually see in the real world seems to be the opposite - people absolutely _will_ pay for things they could get for free so long as it isn't less convenient than not paying.

Given that the act of making a payment is an inconvenience in and of itself, this does suggest it's _harder_ to get people to pay for a service, but the success of things like netflix and spotify is a clear indicator that people really like the "pay a consistent amount of money and get access to whatever" model.

I've heard that in western countries there are people who track torrent users and threaten them with blackmailing letters. So people are afraid to use torrents to download pirated movies. If that's true, it can be a reason of Neflix success: fear, not convenience.

In my country nobody cares about torrents and I don't know anyone who's using Netflix. There are some people, who don't know how to properly use computer, I can imagine that they could pay for something like that, but that's because they have no other choice, not because they like to pay.

I think it's more complicated than that. At least in my (rich, western) country there aren't any actual concequences for that kind of piracy. I believe there is a system in place for sending emails, but not threatening ones, and not ones with any teeth at all.

The bigger factor might be that for a more well off audience, the cost of these services is low enough that it isn't meaningfully more expensive than piracy anyway, and can be much more convenient. `Search -> Stream` is a much smoother workflow than `Search -> Select well seeded torrent -> Initiate download -> Wait -> Play`.

... and Wikipedia and NPR are excellent if imperfect versions of that model.

Both of which are constantly asking for donations

In case you were curious, the Wikimedia Foundation has plenty of money to keep their sites running. Most of their funds are going to other projects, like conferences and "Wikipedia-in-a-box" type stuff. [1] [2]

[1]: http://mywikibiz.com/Top_10_Reasons_Not_to_Donate_to_Wikiped...

[2]: Despite linking to "reasons not to donate to Wikipedia," I'd still prefer more sites run like Wikipedia and less sites run like YouTube, and I think you should donate to the Wikimedia Foundation if you're a power user. Do not donate to the Wikimedia Foundation unless you're heavily involved in their wikis, but if you are heavily involved and have the money, you should. Their donors need to hold them accountable, and that's not possible if they're getting tons of money from people who have no idea what's going on behind the scenes.

The idea that something in the commons should be funded by the majority isn't a new one. At this point the debate turns into an argument on tax policy and its peripherals...

I don't think that debate will end until we all create some sort of hive mind AI by networking our brains together.

>it isn't the centralisation of services that are the problem.

I strongly disagree. These giant monopolies on different corners of tech caused by centralization are the very reason we end up having to have these stupid discussions about how everything should work.

All of this crap tied up in walled gardens means we just have to cry on the outside with #DeleteFacebook hash tags and hope stuff changes.

You claim we need to change the business model. I claim the business model is irrelevant if we instead focus on open source and distributed platforms.

I agree... With centralization so pervasive in technology today its harder to carve out sustainable business models.

Google is largely pay to play for search, content creators are having to leverage twitter, instagram, facebook and pinterest to try and deliver traffic so 90% of our business is derrived from creating value for thse social networks and search engines in hopes of return.

It really blows when the majority of your day isn't adding value to the web but trying to play in the perpetual game of fighting for morsels of traffic from the giants.

and as we've seen, those with money can manipulate...

The alternative monetization schemes like Steemit are interesting. Overall, it will lead content that is, on average, better because of monetary rewards/incentives.

The reason why it's so hard to build a different type of business model within the web is because the business model precedes the web - and I'm surprised that this hasn't been mentioned already. The original post blamed the business model over centralization, but the whole reason the internet was built to be centralized was to protect profits in the already existing business model for media distribution.

> You claim we need to change the business model. I claim the business model is irrelevant if we instead focus on open source and distributed platforms.

I think the organizational model is relevant. Would we be having the discussions around the most popular social network selling our data and completely disrespecting user privacy if the most popular social network were a non-profit organization?

I have to think there is some middle ground between publicly traded megacorp and complete decentralization.

I agree with this. Everyone using the internet today can learn SQL and store all of their personal data in their own SQLite database, with blobs pointing to folders in their hard drives. Which sounds impossible, because it is.

The middle ground is instead of a few major players in a given market, we have thousands of players in a market that people can move between easily. Kind of like mastodon, but every node is a different community with different interests. It would be like if we “upgraded” all of the existing forums on the internet today.

So instead of Facebook, we should have 10,000 smaller “social networks” all competing. This sounds like a much better outcome than never trying to compete with Facebook or twitter or google.

How can these large tech companies today serve the interest of every “user”? They can’t.

Decentralization is nice, but you don’t even need it to solve this problem.

Which is why we need a social media protocol more than just a new platform.

I don't really understand what the term "protocol" means in this context or how a protocol can provide the foundations of a social network. Can you elaborate?

Protocol is the thing that makes sure you can get email from anyone, independent of what client they used to send it and what client you used to receive it.

There's technically nothing to prevent sending messages from facebook to twitter etc, those companies just didn't want it to happen so they didn't agree on a way to do it, that is a protocol.

While Facebook and Twitter may not have collaborated on a protocol for distributed social networking, other interested parties have, and they've come up with standards like this:


Whether Facebook and Twitter end up supporting such a standard may well depend on how expansively the European Court of Justice interprets the right to Data Portability that is being introduced by the GDPR:


Certainly when read in the light of existing competition law (not to mention the bad reputation Facebook in particular has right now, nor any cynical political protectionist goals that an EU court might have), it is possible that large near-monopolistic American social media companies may end up being forced to allow automated pushing of user's posts to friends on 3rd party competing websites.

The problem is that it assumes that people in general understand and want to use protocol based services because they are protocol based services. Look at instant messaging as an example of where consumers/users vote routinely to choose features over the foundation of the service. I would love to chat with people on XMPP but I don't know anyone who uses it.

I'm familiar with the idea of voting with the wallet.

But not every transaction is a valid vote.

Sure, it means that there would be a set of rules for social platforms to connect with each other, or people to connect to each other. The implementation is open for debate, but the general gist of it is to allow competition by not excluding users that are on different platforms. Blockchain technology for example, is protocol heavy, and different software (wallets etc.) can be created for it without excluding users.

>disrespecting user privacy if the most popular social network were a non-profit organization?

Quite possibly. Non-profits still need to make money.

The question is what does a centrally controlled organization buy us? Why is that any kind of good compromise for users over a decentralized protocol?

> These giant monopolies on different corners of tech caused by centralization are the very reason we end up having to have these stupid discussions about how everything should work.

NPR basically has a monopoly on public radio, and yet we don't constantly hear about all the evil stuff they're doing. Why? Because they're not being run as a loss leader to sell missiles and landmines or whatever.

Centralization isn't bad as long as the central organization exists to serve the relevant stakeholders in an equitable way.

> NPR basically has a monopoly on public radio

NPR does not have a monopoly and it's answerable to the member stations so it's not a great example of centralization but I agree that centralization is not inherently bad.

"monopoly on public radio"

If you think about that phrase for a second you'll realize how ridiculous it sounds.

I think you may be using "monopoly" in the colloquial sense of "dominant market share" and not in the more specific sense of "using dominant market share to prevent competition" which is the legal sense.

There is nothing about NPR that discourages other public broadcasters.

(I'm not sure I'd call Google or FB a monopoly by that definition either, despite their market shares.

> and yet we don't constantly hear about all the evil stuff they're doing

We do, though, from conservatives.

How do you focus on open source and distributed platform when all the money - both investment, and revenue - is in centralized proprietary ones.

Money is focus.

Totally agree. It's ads and the attention economy. They thrive on controversy - it's the psychological version of the banner ads in the 90s, but 10,000x more effective.

Is there a study on the (in)effectiveness of online ad campaigns? Is it or is it not a bubble that drives all this ad publisher to the ad platforms instead of buying ads more directly? I don't know the prices but I can bet buying an ad directly from a vlogger is cheaper and more effective than any ad platform out there. Is it really the dumbness of ad publishers that keep this system alive or is it me that I'm really ignorant when it comes to the economy of internet?

It's scale. Finding individual vloggers, making deals and tracking results would be to time consuming to scale up to $1M/day per company. An ad platform is a centralized management and spend system for large groups of individual sites, bloggers, vloggers and apps.

Some medium sized companies will test with an ad platform, find the best performing sites and make deals with them directly.

Just watch what the big advertisers do. Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Procter & Gable, etc...

When your company spends millions on advertising, you have teams of people to figure out if your strategy is effective.

Follow the leaders.

I haven't seen one of them advertise online. Online adverts are way different than TV adverts. For one the latter costs way more, if I'm not mistaken. And even if that's not the case, still, those companies have so much money that running ads is like a hobby for them. So I'd rather not follow them. Just like Google can get away with killing Reader, they can get away with many things which if a smaller company did would be suicide.

Remember that if you're not in an advertiser's target demographic online, you won't see their ads.

I've seen plenty of McDonald's ads online. Coca-Cola, usually around Christmas and the Super Bowl. P&G? Occasionally, but probably more often than I realize because it has so many brands.

> Remember that if you're not in an advertiser's target demographic online, you won't see their ads.

That's one statement I can not believe. But it might be the case that I have not indeed seen the ads from those companies, maybe because of where I am.

Disagree completely.

The business model doesn't need to be profitable. Almost every website is unprofitable in itself, and only exist to serve as a person's or company's marketing interface. Websites ARE the ads, because that's their point. The web is a giant marketing device to sell stuff, like your resume or your local plumber or your open-source software project.

The problem is the tech, and in particular, how a person can create a website from scratch, without going through any other gateway company.

Facebook/Twitter/Instagram makes it super easy to post your content online. Ebay makes it easy to sell. You don't need to write any HTML or any other piece of code, or build a server and find hosting or configure AWS. You just post content from an app, and that's it. Any elderly person can do that now.

There really is a huge technological barrier in making the usable - in particular, the entire UX ecosystem of creating content on the web. This difficult UX problem will be a hard limit to expanding creation of the web by the public, and should be a focus on anyone that wants to make the web open.

I would recommend that groups like W3C or WHATWG or hardware vendors like Apple or Cisco develop standards that not only display content, but also entry, storage, and distribution.

Why isn't there a default app, like SMS/MMS messages, on an iPhone that lets you post your own website? Think of all the infrastructure that had to be built to get SMS/MMS messages working... the web needs the same thing. Can you imagine if sending an MMS, you had to write your own software? Or build your own hardware interface?

This is the level the web is at right now.

>Almost every website is unprofitable in itself, and only exist to serve as a person's or company's marketing interface. Websites ARE the ads, because that's their point. The web is a giant marketing device to sell stuff, like your resume or your local plumber or your open-source software project.

This works fine for a business that sells direct on the internet, or a company that advertises themselves there (like my BigCo that has a website so people can learn about it, find people to contact, etc.), etc. It doesn't work so well for a company whose product is intangible, most notably news companies. How is NY Times going to stay in business if they don't make a profit on their website? In this age, people don't really want dead-tree newspapers any more. Also, sites that don't really have a product can't survive by selling stuff. Reddit, HN, etc. are good examples here; how is HN making enough money to operate itself? Basically, it isn't, it's run through goodwill by a VC company (though it might also be a form of advertising in and of itself). Smaller, more specialized discussion forum sites are also like this, probably to a greater extent: unless they're being financed by some sponsor (which is then likely going to advertise on it directly), they need a way to pay for themselves, and that usually means ads.

> Websites ARE the ads, because that's their point.

Sounds like that's a perfectly profitable business model, broadly defined

People want to give away responsibility. That's imo the core problem. So even another business model will either fail (it's not like there aren't hundreds of other social networks out there) or will turn centralized as well.

> People want to give away responsibility.

What do you mean by that? What is the point of technology, if you don't save time or effort by using it? Can you explain what should people do?

No, I will not take responsibility for your decisions from you. But thanks for the example and evidence.

Such a fallacy!

I've always felt that we need some kind of ubiquitous and low friction micro transactions for small time websites to succeed and to move away from the ad driven model. A niche blog could be successful with a small audience if each of them donates a penny or two to read new stories. That way people are directly supporting content that they find useful, rather than having to create controversy to drive ads and clicks.

The problem with metered schemes is that they inhibit users who feel they are burning money every time they touch a page. It's kind of like having to pay by the megabyte every time you use your phone on the Internet.

What about a general subscription model that gets you access to a wide range of websites? The point is to have a fixed price for consumers so they can read as much as you want. Distributing the money to sites you visit is a backend problem.

That's what the Brave browser is doing: "Set up automatic micro-donations. Brave will automatically divide a monthly donation among the top sites you visit." (brave.com)

The downside is the high entry bar of installing a new browser and setting up a cryptocurrency wallet (payments are made with Basic Attention Tokens).

I would look at implementing this using some sort of SSO (single sign-on) scheme. That gets around the problem of having to install new client software.

One obvious problem with all such schemes is how to prevent actors from gaming the system, e.g., to get free logins for self + a bunch of friends. I

Coase's transaction cost theory of the firm seems to imply that low cost, ubiquitous transactions would lead to a reduction in the size of corporations generally, which might do something to redress the imbalance of power between individuals and corporations as well.

There is (was?) a service that did this. I had it on one of my blogs a few years ago. People could use it to donate as little as a penny, and the donate button appeared on each article.

I was very surprised how generous some people were. 10¢, 20¢, or more. But in the end, even with tens or hundreds of thousands of views, the article that got the most donations still only racked up about eight bucks.

Flattr is the name, I think.

The projects emerging to build a P2P Web bring an additional non-monetary reward system to this, which is that in return for publishing good content, you get readers/viewers who are willing to help offload server costs.

The naive implementation might work by simply reseeding, say, the Wikipedia articles you've already got in your browser cache to whomever is also interested in them.

There are also UI concepts, however, to give you fine control over how much and how long you're willing to help seed. (Like [1].)

The latter might end up being the currency of low-friction microtransactions that actually stands a chance of taking off. The downsides here are that it only helps in offsetting distribution costs, but it's not good for turning a profit (i.e., funding the creator's real life living situation). It might be fruitful to create a more fungible currency on these principles, though.

1. https://twitter.com/taravancil/status/983361106461720576

> It's the business model.

Absolutely nailed it. Although I'd go further, and say this cuts to the core of human nature, and perhaps speaks to how fundamentally bad actors can lead to a general degradation of behaviour and standards across the board. So much behaviour in business is driven by the feeling that you have to do something because everybody else is, especially in industries that are in a downward spiral already (publishing!).

Technology was supposed to leverage human capacity, and not centralize it. The problem is a technology one in the sense that the paradigm for a different business model have been co-opted, and usurped by authoritarian corporations.

What in fact should have been a "protocol" based system has become a dictated, and law based one. That is to say the internet should have emerged as a means to distribute data by means of certain forms of etiquette, and agreements to communicate, but instead has emerged as means to centralize data where the protocol is obscured and dictated by a third party. To this day it is hilariously obscure, especially for the average person, for p2p communication, and so the driver for the "business model" is in fact the convenience that centralization brings, and the headaches/unreliability of decentralized systems.

The problem is a technology one.

> Technology was supposed to leverage human capacity, and not centralize it.

Where can one find that definition of technology?

> What in fact should have been a "protocol" bases system has become a dictated, and law based one.

Do you think laws should not be applied to the Internet?

The lever is a primitive technology but also an apt descriptor of it. I'm not describing technology, but rather describing the application of it.

>Do you think laws should not be applied to the Internet?

Depends. For now I think it depends on what your opinion on communication between people is. Are the laws to regulate, monitor, enforce, and use coercion to prevent or hinder people from communicating with each other, or to allow the freedom of expression with each other?

In long term, since we are in the infancy of such a tool, I think computers/internet will eventually rein supreme over the old laws.

I argue that blockchain technology enables the development of such a distributed network to succeed with much better odds, as monetary value and network effects are intertwined.

Traditional software products whose success relies on network effects often require enormous sums of money to get up and running, with the promise to somehow extract profit from the users at some point in the future.

Blockchain tech allows those kinds of products to succeed without the implicit agreement that your (as a user) data will be siphoned and monetized however the company sees fit. In fact, the owners of valuable content/contributions can be rewarded fairly.

I think Solid (https://solid.mit.edu/) is a tech that could change that (if only partly). Instead of the social media business holding all of your data and locking you in, you would hold your data and the social media site would serve as a platform to view that data. If you dislike what a particular company is doing, you could easily switch to someone else and not lose out on any of your social connections.

> If you want to change the situation, start social media businesses with a different business model.

There's a question of what kinds of business models are feasible in the current environment.

There's all sorts of business models that would be nice, if they were feasible, but which aren't currently feasible.

So actually, if certain types of business models are desirable, but aren't currently feasible, there's a deeper question of: are there ways we can change the environment the business models need to exist within?

Blockchain may be a tool to experiment with different business models.

Salon.com's new experiment is a great example. https://www.tweaktown.com/news/60862/salon-offers-users-cryp...

It's brilliant, most people probably won't care about the extra workload as long as it doesn't make their computer "slow down" or get too noisy and it realigns the content providers incentives from "collect more/better data and pack in as many ads as possible" to just "keep people on the site as long as possible". The cost is also just the price of electricity which, while not totally trivial, is cheap enough for this to work and something people are already paying for.

I found it intriguing enough that I actually let them have a go at it rather than disabling Javascript (my usual response to ad-blocker-blockers). So far it works "as advertised", the only way I notice is through the system monitoring I have on my desktop.

To repost an older comment of mine suggesting a new business model:

Mhh, why not go with a kickstarter style payment scheme? Have a campaign to fund the operating budget, another one to fund feature a and another one to fund feature b. You get user aligned prioritization for free while users are happy to be able to choose their level of support. Can’t believe I haven’t seen this model in action, yet!

agreed. The incentives of the business model need to align with the goals of protecting privacy and keeping fake accounts to a minimum.

I can see small services like SDF.org and Eskimo.com making a comeback. People who want to #deleteFacebook and who have woken up to the problems with FB's business model, but who don't have the tech skills to do it themselves might pay a subscription fee to get access to webmail, Diaspora, Mastodon, Riot, and other services.

One could argue the business model was tailored to prevalent tech when many of the giants emerged. Ads were perhaps a lot easier than data encryption, distribution, and secure payments back then.

Ads are only so prolific because they can be tracked. If we eliminate avenues for sites to track us their popularity will drop tremendously.

TV, Newspaper ads exists with its limited trackability. Banner ads existed long before tracking. So your point is mute.

In fact, I think tracking has reduced ads. If not, ads would be a throw at the wall regardless of what works affair.

There will always be ways to track and identify people. If all else fails, you build your profiles from the stream of keyboard and mouse events the user generates on your website.

Okay, it's maybe a bit cynic, but stuff like this will happen if the web browsers are twisted further to provide the appearance of privacy and security to the user.

I think the Brave Browser and associated Basic Attention Token (BAT) are a step in the right direction. It's hard to escape ad revenue if you want to avoid paywalls, but Brave at least gives users privacy, control, and revenue share.

technically, browsers can break the monetization incentives.

For example, Google found it a wise investment to sponsor an entire browser just to keep referrer header and 3rd party cookie enabled.

If all browsers disabled this (apple already got rid of 3rd party cookies) then the cost to monetize the web as it is being monetized today, would be too high to be effective.

It's more nuanced than that, of course. For example the technological barrier of "our payments infra suck, so credit cards charge a minimum fee" rule out some kinds of micropayment business models (other barriers like UX or cultural attidudes do too), but not models like Spotify's. I would consider a different business model necessary but not sufficient.

Ad revenue needs replacing with a viable alternative.

It feels like this is already a work in progress using Beaker Browser and Dat.

- Beaker lets you browse entire websites (dat archives) and fork them.

- It lets you create and serve your own sites directly from the browser and seed it from a server (like a torrent).

- It lets other sites create templated sites under your name for user generated content.

- Visitors by default temporarily seed your website which may reduce single point of failures, hug of deaths and costs.

With this peer-to-peer torrent-like approach, the web can become distributed again and feel more like a "web". There's still a lot of work left and maybe Beaker itself isn't the best implementation for this idea, but it's a good start.



I'd like to also add that not only does Dat / Beaker / Bunsen offer a great way to decentralize the Web for existing users, it also makes it more affordable for billions of other people to browse and host websites because you can sync websites P2P over offline wifi. The use of cryptography under the hood guarantees users don't get hit by man-in-the-middle attacks. It's like SSL for offline.

*Disclaimer: I am a volunteer contributor to Bunsen Browser.

In Bunsen Browser and others, while browsing offline, are you aware if there is a feature that allows version control tracking, so willing websites can have an API call that shares latest version - to return to say if an update is "required" or available?

> are you aware if there is a feature that allows version control tracking, so willing websites can have an API call that shares latest version - to return to say if an update is "required" or available?

@loceng Yes, that is how Dat works, thus any browser serving Dat Archives help propagated changes to Dat archives. Note that only changes that are signed with the archive's private key for the archive are propagated. All of that happens under the hood as an owner of a dat archive though. You just run `dat share` command in a directory, you get a public address for the archive, and any time you make a change to a file in the archive it automatically signs with the private key and share it out to the network.


Oh cool, thank you.

It seemed to me that the OP was making a distinctly different suggestion: the real challenge is offering a better UX.

Emerging distributed tech won't fix a UX problem just because it happens to be technologically sophisticated (he calls out TOR, but I think he is making a general comment here).

Instead, he asks, why not spend some effort giving older tech like RSS a better UX?

I'm inclined to agree, but on the other hand it seems like the marketplace of ideas speaks for itself and we should be keeping our eyes on the future.

I would argue that Beaker is providing a better UX for the web while solving the centralised nature of it. Its API allows websites to provide interfaces for creating and modifying websites tailored for specific audiences, owned by the user.

So you can have your own RSS subscriptions in a Dat, a feed reader in another Dat, click a button on a website to subscribe to it and add it to your Dat. The Feed reader can keep track of what you've read and store it in its own Dat or a different Dat (if you want client/data separation). Your mobile phone can sync to your Dat(s) so you have Desktop/Mobile sync all in a single place.

I've not tried this, but I don't see why it wouldn't work.

How does a mobile phone sync dats? The main drawback I see currently with beaker is their is no mobile version (for iPhone)

I've been helping to develop Bunsen browser for Android but we don't have an iPhone build yet. The hard part is just building it with nodejs all wired up correctly for iOS, but there are tools for that. We just don't have the volunteer working on it yet.

Mobile as a whole is an unsolved problem for decentralized systems. The mobile revolution is and has been by far the most powerful driver of centralization in the last 10-15 years.

Mobile devices are slower, have less memory, and must consume less power than desktop, laptop, or server devices. To achieve good battery life they really need to be in an almost-off state most of the time. Add to this the fact that cellular data plans limit bandwidth and cellular networks are a lot slower than most land-line networks and you also have to be very efficient with the use of bandwidth.

This means that decentralized systems that rely on peer to peer participatory propagation of data or distributed compute just don't work well on mobile. Anything with P2P data propagation will use too much data plan and run the radio too much, shortening battery life, while anything with distributed compute will destroy battery life and turn your phone into a pocket hand warmer.

Mobile devices really are thin clients. I call them "dumb terminals for the cloud." Since the cloud is mainframe 2.0, mobile devices are the "glass TTY" (e.g. VT100) 2.0.

The best solution is probably not to fight the nature of mobile devices as thin clients but to tether them to stationary devices. But which stationary devices? Laptops are themselves mobile and are off half the time, and most people (myself included) no longer own desktops. I have a personal server but I'm a geek and a huge minority. Most people just do not own an always-on device.

Farming this out to random always-on devices is a security nightmare or at best is no better than the vertically integrated silo-ed cloud.

I see only three solutions:

(1) Create a niche for a personal always-on server type device and successfully market one to the end user. It would have to be open enough to allow the server side of 'apps' to be installed. Many have tried to do this but nothing has caught on.

(2) Create a mobile device that's designed to be a "real computer." With 5G coming the bandwidth for this might be on the way, but you'd also have to contend with battery life and heat dissipation. One avenue would be to split the CPU in two: a high-power burstable CPU and a low-power slow always-on CPU. Require the always-on parts of decentralized services to run there and as a result to be very optimized. The problem is that a mass-market mobile device is a huge undertaking. Another route might be to sell a snap-on case that carries an extra battery and also includes a mini-server CPU, RAM, storage, etc. This would make your phone a bit bulkier but if there are benefits / killer apps it could catch on.

(3) Solve the security problems inherent in appointing random stationary nodes to serve random mobile devices. This would probably involve a major innovation like fast scalable fully homomorphic encrypted virtual machines or really tough security enclave processors.

Very good analysis. I found myself thinking about this phrase:

> The mobile revolution is and has been by far the most powerful driver of centralization in the last 10-15 years.

Many of us who were active users of Skype in its earlier days (mid-2000s) might remember Skype's first attempt at a mobile client. They took all the distributed P2P goodness of the desktop client and tried to have that run on the mobile environment.

The result was sadly a smartphone app that was slow and rapidly drained your battery. For those of us with many Skype group chats open, the mobile client was basically unusable.

So Microsoft/Skype had to go back and rethink the mobile client. To your points in your reply... they made it a "thin client" with all the power in the centralized servers.

As they did that, it seemed from the outside that they determined over time that maintaining a desktop P2P source code and a mobile thin-client/server source code didn't make sense. And so ultimately the desktop P2P was abandoned and everything became client/server. (Which is the case now - Skype on your desktop is basically a wrapper for a web client.)

And so... the quest for a good mobile user experience wound up being one of the drivers for centralizing one of the original decentralized P2P apps. [1]

Good analysis!

[1] Yes, there were, I'm sure, many other contributing factors, including the issues around the supernodes that led to one of the major outages. And yes, I do realize that Skype, even its earliest form was NOT a completely-decentralized communications app. They did have a centralized mechanism for logins / authentication and also for PSTN gateways and other services.

I really enjoy your thinking.. Do you have some kind of blog where I can follow you? :D As you already mentioned, contributing whatever resources you consume is relatively unreasonable on mobile devices, because it would pretty much double data and battery usage. So while there is most likely some kind of overhead connected to the third solution you suggested, I still think it is probably the easiest one because it doesn't require any new specialised hardware.

Maybe regulation can solve some of the problems with the current systems, but the idealist in me really wants to see provably transparent (open source) and secure solutions which don't require trust in the hardware so we can still make use of modern, efficient (federated) server farms without having to giving up control over our data.

My seldom-updated personal site is http://adamierymenko.com/

It's actually worse than doubling. The nature of distributed systems means that participating in resources consumed normally triples resource consumption at least. I'm not aware of any approach to decentralization of services like Facebook, Twitter, etc. that would merely double it.

Your typical desktop or laptop has a lot of resources to spare. Your typical mobile device has none. Mobile promotes a client/server mainframe/dumb-term architecture for fundamental technical reasons.

We would love for someone to test these theories using Bunsen Browser! Getting some solid metrics would go a long way to starting to solve any problems that might be there. Theoretically it shouldn't be eating up much bandwidth because every device visiting a Dat Archive helps contribute to the network.

Mobile devices could certainly be used to host such services /when they are being charged/. In practice most of us charge our devices during the night and, like cheap night-time electricity, we could have overnight mobile seeding. ... and it is always night-time somewhere in the world.

For the battery problem, what about the proliferation of wireless charging ?

Most families have an Internet router which could help there

Yes, the personal router is a logical spot to put an always-on converged router/server device. Unfortunately nobody's done it well enough yet. It's an area that's ripe for an "iPhone moment."

The other problem is that we're in an era where it's very hard to market anything if you're not Google, Amazon, or Apple, and those firms have negative interest in promoting any form of decentralization.

This is something addressed in a side project I'm building. Websites are converted to JSON (or built as JSON), then built in the browser by a small Javascript engine.

Since sites are just JSON, they're highly portable, and sections or whole pages can be simply copied from one file to another, to add content to your site.

The project is in late alpha - I'm just now completing the in-browser editor that uploads to S3. Other than requiring fewer server calls, it uses traditional browsers, servers, networks, etc.


Because there's no money in making a better RSS reader.

I'm sure the internal story of why Google killed off Reader is far more mundane office politics that we'll ever know, but since then, there's not been another that's risen to popularity. As the article mentions there's Feedly who's UI is functional if a bit baroque (why does every feed need to be tagged?) but ultimately it's still like trying to drink from a firehose. There's not been an RSS reader company that has come about since that shows Google was wrong to kill off Reader.

It's easy enough to think up improvements to their UX, but we don't have a marketplace of ideas because there is so much friction (even ignoring the work involved in starting up a company and hiring a team, there's no way to introduce a small tweak to Feedly without recreating their platform - and then you'd still have to convince enough people to migrate to your Feedly-clone first).

What we have a marketplace of VC-funded corporations, and branding is king. There's no stock exchange for listing specific features Feedly could implement in order to promote better RSS reader software.

In the near future I will be in a project that generates sensor data in PostgreSQL/TimescaleDB and/or InfluxDB which I'd like to open to the public.

Any recommendation on how to make time series data available via Dat or IPFS is highly appreciated.

There will be base data of different systems and experiment data from experiments running in those environments. So far I have no concrete idea on how to segmentize and make available the data in a sensible way.

I know IPFS is happy to help with implementation advice on discuss.ipfs.io or #ipfs on IRC, they did for me.

It does depend on the scale of your data and whether you want upload data in a streaming or discrete fashion. If by segmentize you mean to like chunk your data into smaller sections, then that is handled automatically by both DAT and IPFS.

A new version of the mobile browser with support for more Android devices is coming soon: https://bunsenbrowser.github.io

Short Beaker browser review:

Interesting idea and project. The browser's UI is very different... and lacks some (most) customization options... I spent a long time looking for a way to increase the font-size, for example. (Not all of us are accustomed to squinting at phones.) Preferences to set: I thought that was hiding, but it seems to be missing. Say what?

After an hour toying with the interface: technically it looks to have a lot of possibilities. I have serious concerns about the lack of transparency ... unlike most browsers today ... what's going on in security, ad-blocking, tracking? I found no way to tell.

In sum, cool project. The potential is clear. I can't imagine anyone non-technical not running away on first sight. It's more opaque than Ello, even. More like an oscilloscope than a mobile!

Beaker dev here, quick question: did you try our beta release? We've done a ton of work in the past few months to make it less opaque and to freshen up our UIs. Would love to hear your thoughts on the beta if you have the time!


OK I can see the results of the work. I'll keep checking back for a font-size setting so I can see the type.

Won't promise anything but having a look.

I like it. It's not clear to me though from skimming over the sites, whether beaker and dat are standards or pure tools. If they are standards and therefore people are able to do their own implementation, I believe it can be successful. However if it's just a tool without standardization efforts behind it, then it's still a centralized system.

Beaker dev here. Dat is a protocol that can anyone can implement, and Beaker is a tool that implements Dat in the browser. We built Beaker as a demonstration of what becomes possible when you put a peer-to-peer protocol in the browser, with the hope that other browsers will someday follow along in our footsteps.

But that only works for static data?

I think most websites can be generated statically. But yes, it does mean a lot of the existing patterns used on the current web needs to be redesigned for it. Again, this is all very new so there's a lot that needs to be worked out.

I can give an example of non-static data (though what is static vs dynamic can be a grey area):

SPAs work great with Beaker/Dat since users can download the app and use it offline. The data can be any Dat archive. So for a social network, each user can have their own Dat archives of images and posts. The root site can hold an index of each user and download individual files from their Dat and display them using client-side routing. In this scenario, each user has their own database as a Dat which is indexed by a parent Dat website.

Demo, a Twitter clone: https://github.com/beakerbrowser/fritter

Also, at the end of the day, they are still websites. So you can still use a central HTTP server to:

- Serve your data directly

- Provide an API to edit your Dat archive instead of distributing it into multiple user-owned archives.

It also means you don't need to migrate a website to a completely different paradigm in one big bang.

Dats aren't static. They're public key addressed, so you can make changes. The next protocol iteration will have support for multiple writers using CRDTs (sometime this summer).

Web apps can read / write existing Dat archives and new Dat archives from Beaker Browser using the Dat Archive API. https://beakerbrowser.com/docs/apis/dat.html

Myself and others are currently volunteering to help bring the Dat Archive API to Bunsen Browser, a mobile Dat Web client currently only for Android (unless someone wants to jump in and make the build for iOS).

Beaker looks rad!

Are there any DAT:// homepages or web-rings or whatever that I can start using to browse around? I have it installed but can't find any cool DAT sites to browse.

Shameless plug for my personal website: dat://tomjwatson.com

I also wrote a blog post about my experience with dat/beaker and getting my domain set up for access in beaker - dat://tomjwatson.com/blog/decentralising-the-web/

You can find some here: https://hashbase.io/

This is pretty incredible, thanks for posting.

It is somewhat ironic to see such an article coming from the VP of a large publisher. How can he seriously suggest to use Feedly as tool for finding relevant and high-quality content? Where one of a publisher's main services is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to guide the reader to content useful for them.

The whole issue I see with these articles is that they view the Web mainly from the content producer side. However, the majority of Web use is consuming content. And also the problem of the few walled gardens is on the consuming side. Everybody can nowadays put content on the Web with ease outside of these gardens. It is just hard to get attention for that content.

So if you really want to make the Web more distributed again, you need to come up with models for distributed relevance assessment, spam filtering, quality checking, etc. Work on a new 'Web infrastructure' totally misses the point.

(context: I have worked in P2P research for a while)

It's doubly ironic to see such an article from a VP of a large publisher that recently shuttered its own digital bookstore that sold unencumbered PDF copies and moved it's own content into walled gardens of concentrated content.

They still operate their subscription service, Safari Books Online. Other digital sellers, like Amazon Kindle, can and do sell books without DRM, if the publisher wishes it. The only thing lost seems to be per-book purchases in PDF, instead of EPUB or Kindle's format. Doesn't seem like much of a loss, an EPUB can be converted to PDF anyway.

When I ask friends and family who use Facebook daily, privacy and security never come up as pain points. Media is blowing everything out of proportion.

Replacing Facebook with RSS or Feedly is nonsense. My friends and family have no idea what those are. Facebook makes it easy for people to connect with old friends and family members through active human interactions: like this, follow her, read that. By doing so you do tell Facebook about you and others. Its interactive and solves a pain point - keeping in touch and interacting with others, your community. Feedly does not do that.

One of the few times I’ve heard a counter to this was an old fisherman who took us out on a boat here in Melbourne, Australia. Proper bloke, skin like leather from the sun, done nothing but run fishing trips his whole life.

He was lamenting the loss of a particular forum with one of the other guys. “All just on Facebook now”, he said, and he said it with sadness. He missed that old forum.

Actually that makes a lot of sense, it's not that we need to have RSS replace Facebook, we need a resurgance of forums to take back from Facebook.

Perhaps if forums could talk to each other you'd have an experience more like mastodon, but in concepts that more people understand.

Something like an open source Stack Exchange network. So you can log-in to one of them but then easily create an account using the credentials of the original forum that you signed in from.

Edit: I know discourse [0] is kind of working along these lines, but I don't think they're designed to have activity between forums.

Perhaps it could just be called 'Friend Forums'.

[0]: https://www.discourse.org/

I run a popular forum in a certain niche -- and have played around with discourse as an alternative. It doesn't seem to solve any important issues with growing a community. Additionally, it is rather difficult to customize, making it even harder to solve problems specific to my community. I am not a professional coder, but I can hack pretty much anything I need into my php based forum.

Though, maybe discourse has gotten better since I tried it a couple of years ago.

To be fair as Ruby/Rails developer I say the same about discourse VS everything else. It follows a lot of rails standards which makes it incredible easy to hack. While phpbb and friends are hacks in itself to begin with.

I think that gets to the core of it --

It follows standards that you need to know if you want to be able to easily hack it.

Which means learning standards.

Ruby On Rails is really powerful, but it is not easy to start hacking on without a fair amount of base knowledge. In addition, discourse uses a lot of javascript, which makes it even more difficult to modify. The barrier to entry, in terms of creating a custom template, is quite high. You need to learn quite a few things before getting started.

On the other hand, hacking something like a Wordpress template takes almost zero knowledge. You can just start poking at things.

The lack of a relatively simple templating system is a big drawback in Discourse. Especially if you're not a rails developer, and you're running a community forum as a hobby.

I know how to program because of software such as phpbb and Wordpress, which are pretty much hacked together. Maybe because they're hacks, they have easier entry points.

I do think the Discourse people have different goals than I'm talking about here, however. If their goal was to make software that was easy to modify, hack, and deploy, they would have made different choices.

Yeah when it's a pristine beautifully structured code base people are more cautious about weighing in because they can't code as well. When it all looks like shit no-one worries about hacking their own.

WordPress has both it's own forum bbPress and it's social network buddyPress. As far as a hackable system for everyone it's an attractive start. WP is based around the concept of everyone installing their own. Their 5-minute install is still the gold standard as far as I'm concerned.

So as controversial as it is on HN I think the idea of using PHP is still a sound one. But as a geek I'd much rather go down the Python route in some kind of homage to the foundation of reddit.

Python is a great language for beginners to learn and it's designed for them. Plus it's still a very relevant skill to learn.

1. Open source StackExchange :- ) There's Talkyard, which looks a bit like StackExchange. ... Minus the single-sign-on part though. I'm developing it. Here's an example StackExchange discussion, copied to Talkyard: (CC-By-SA license)


2. Single sign-on, and (as you wrote), "using the credentials of the original forum":

What about using Scuttlebut's identities? Everyone has his/her own ed25519 key pair. "The public key is used as the identifier", see: http://scuttlebot.io/more/protocols/secure-scuttlebutt.html. These can be created in a decentralized manner. The keys are really long, but maybe, in a specific forum, one wouldn't need to show the whole key. One could instead show a forum-local-@username + the shortest unique key prefix (unique in that forum).

And now that guy on the fishing charter can’t use it because he has no idea what that means.

He learned to sail and fish, he can learn to use a key pair.

I despise cynics who in the process of underestimating others crash the party, our party.

If the man wants his damn forum back give him his forum, in as many possible flavours and sizes as we possibly can. Then let him deliverate, hopefully learn and ultimately adapt.

Actually when one installs Scuttlebutt, one doesn't need to know about ed25519 key pairs. Instead one just downloads the software, picks a username and starts reading & posting. (As far as i remember.) The user interface makes everything fairly simple.

Distributed community discussion/chat clients, with universal single-sign-on, could maybe be equally simple?

Two tricky tech things could be 1) how to share one's key, between all one's devices. And 2) how can all one's browser tabs, and discussion apps, get access to the key, once it's installed on localhost? without being able to steal the private key.

(If one is a Scuttlebut developer, though, then one might need to know about ed25519 identities.)

This is basically the setup I've been discussing in my articles about a decentralised Reddit alternative. A system where forums are all hosted independently, but can share login data, reputation data, post history, etc.


It would hopefully avert the issue Reddit like sites have where different groups want to control what others can say on the platform, by taking control out of the hands of a large corporation.

Excellent post, pretty much exactly what I was thinking of

> Of course, it still raises questions about how it’d be financed or supported. No investor would back a service that couldn’t be controlled at all and could lose most of its userbase overnight.

I think the WordPress/WooCommerce model works for this. So you handle forum set up for businesses, or have paid for plugins. You can also still have a centralised system like basically reddit/wordpress.com , but allow subdomains just to be redirected to someones own domain (all for a minor cost).

I actually mostly appreciate the moderation/censorship Reddit does nowadays. E.g. banning subreddits like "beating cr-ppl-s" and "r-p-ng w-men". Isn't the world better of, when it's harder for people to give advice about, and encourage, those things?

Anyway, you wrote (in the blog): "independently hosted forums" — I like that, for various reasons.

Actually, I might slightly have built a Reddit alternative minus single-sign-on. Here's an a bit Reddit like discussion:


And one can create per site sub communities, a bit like subreddits. Actually, there are improvements over Reddit: https://www.talkyard.io/-32/how-hacker-news-can-be-improved-... . Someone is actually emailing with me about migrating their subreddits from Reddit to a Talkyard community at their own domain.

You wrote: "It would be a very complicated forum aggregator with a ton of features necessary to create the combined community side like on Reddit or its alternatives." — I agree. And it'd also be lovely with a mobile phone app, that could connect to all these disparate communities. So one didn't need to type the address in the mobile phone browser. Instead one just clicked in a list of recently visited communities. And it showed notifications too. ... A bit like mobile Facebook and Reddit, but connected to 999 decentralized communities.

I've been thinking a bit about building this mobile app, and forum aggregator / search engine. And initially make it work with Discourse (https://www.discourse.org), Flarum (http://flarum.org) and Talkyard (https://www.talkyard.io).

I do not get discourse. I've only ever come across it on Jeff's own blog, but it seems no different to Disqus. And both don't load with uMatrix without manually activating them. I don't want more Javascript in my life. I want more static forum posts.

Disqus is a centralised data harvester and no better than Facebook as far as I can tell.

Discourse is just another forum software, but it's open source and you can setup your own. Jeff's taken some of the ideas from StackOverflow and tried to apply them to forums. To be honest I think most people are happy with regular forums, they work as you expect and there aren't many rules to learn. I've come across Discourse forums a couple of times. Plotly charts use Discourse for their forum [0]. They work well, but as you say Discourse tried to rebrand the forum and so introduces a layer that most people just won't get.

[0]: https://community.plot.ly/

Except both have a comment functionality there is nothing they really compare to each other.

That's what https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezboard was where your username worked across all forums.

https://www.proboards.com/ is still around but doesn't have global accounts as far as I can remember.

I'm not convinced there's much payoff waiting for you if you were to create such a system.

I think that Reddit's format is so popular because you get to just scroll a stream of provocative/vetted headlines. Even the comments are geared in a way where you're scrolling a stream of one-off provocative comments. There is no long form conversation over time. Everything is ephemeral.

By the way, kind of interesting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezboard#Technology

Isn't this basically Reddit?

I think they were raising the possibility of having multiple reedits, each owned by a separate entity, yet still compatible. Like we have multiple email providers, for example.

Which kind of is the concept of reddit. What am I missing?

The each owned by separate entity bit. I think the earlier posters meant that if (somehow) a Reddit-like service was federated and anyone could set up their own server that hosted its own subreddits while sharing auth, it would be a very interesting product.

What would compatible mean? Why is compatability needed?

Reddit sucks for high-quality, long-lived discussions.

Of all places, G+ does reasonably well at this, with a suitably selective group.

Mailing lists / usenet are still probably the pinacle.

Sounds like subreddits.

I was reading something the other day about how reddit has killed the community feel of forums. And thinking about it I agree, I can remember pre reddit I used to be reasonably active on a few forums, made friends etc. Reddit interactions feel a lot more ephemeral if that’s the right word.

Because there aren't avatars and signatures. Those are essential to recognize users and also find out what they're about (signatures with links to other sites helped everyone). Also even a little personalization will be an incentive to invest a little more time in the community.

Also the concept of voting and strictly time-based decaying.

Yeah, without bumping threads on new posts, there's almost no reason to even comment on older topics on HN/Reddit. If it's not on the first two pages, nobody is going to see it.

Even worse, the only person who might see it is the one person you responded to since it's in the profile comment feed, and a back-and-forth isn't very interesting.

This makes forums much different where each new reply bumps the topic into the eyes of any number of people who are online.

The upstream is wrong. Avatars and (ugh) signatures don't make a forum. Being able to converse over time is what does it. That's how you get to know regulars beyond spotting their one-off posts per submission.

Yeah for sure, and even here on HN. I don't reply to comments older than a few days because the only one who will see them is the person I'm replying to. And if my comment is a correction or a clarification, the person I'm responding to may not take it well, so my comment hits 0 or even negative numbers, without the possibility of the general population correcting that (then again, without the risk of them further correcting me if I'm wrong). It's just not worth it.

Here's a Reddit & HN like discussion system (I'm developing it) that mitigates? (solves?) the problem with Reddit & HN that [only the one you reply to see your comment]:


Because: 1) when you post a comment, the topic bumps to the top of the topic list. Like a normal forum. 2) inside the topic, people quickly find the recent comments, via the sidebar (as shown in the video "Finding new comments").

(B.t.w. agree that Reddit & HN feel ephemeral. I remember maybe 2 usernames here at HN, and 2 at Reddit, although having spent a lot more time here, than what I've done at Discoure's forum — nevertheless I remember many more people over at Discourse.)

Stack Overflow has the 'active' sorting. This is similar to bumping a topic with any activity to the top. This is the default as opposed to new.

The mentions there work nicely too, I never get swamped with inbox messages, you can only mention one person in a comment, so there's no @channel nonsense as with Slack.

I think you're right on avatars. Goofy as they are, they seem to matter.

It somewhat hurts HN as well, IMO.

Even Facebook allows avatars.

The ability to express yourself in all it's unprofessional ways is important. It's a way to show you're not Facebook. Each topic is built up from the colours of the people that participate there. Individual expression is allowed. Then it's just up to the forum owners to decide what crosses the line.

Yes, there's that. But I'm referring to the visual connection and neurological wiring. There's something about label + picture that transcends just one or the other.

I've developed my own set of, ugh, "collateral" -- avatar, icon, hero -- which seem to work well across several sites. I find the anchoring works pretty well. And see the same for others I follow, again, both over time and sites.

Mostly: G+, Ello, Twitter, Mastodon.

Reddit, HN, and Metafilter would be exceptions.

There is 'flair' which is essentially a signature. And people get creative with usernames to replicate avatars.

Not so much. The "flair" I've seen is very, very limited (so a bunch of people will end up with the exact same ones; there might only be a handful of choices). And part of the usefulness of Reddit is having the same user account across the entire site, so you don't have to separately log into a dozen different forums about different topics. A creative username for a car-related subreddit is going to be pretty useless when you browse over to some subreddit about programming, where no one cares about your obsession with Skylines or whatever. Finally, that stuff isn't really visual the way iconic avatars are, where someone has some small picture for their user account.

There are custom text flairs available on some subreddits (for, say, camera models in r/photography) as well as icons (the club badges in r/soccer). It's quite flexible.

Reddit now has profile images too but they are only displayed there.

Most of the subreddits I frequent allow you to choose freeform flair, and it's specific to each subreddit. Sure, though, it's limited in length and it's more closely analogous to a signature than an avatar.

Yeah, that was part of my point. That's not an avatar, it's just like a signature like you said.

Just pick smaller subreddits. Of course if you stick to one with half a million users, you're not going to have a good time - the Facebookization of the site has been extremely evident in recent years, but smaller subs are still more or less independent forums.

Pick a few niches and make a new account that only subscribes to small subreddits about them; it really does put a community feel to it all.

sigh ...newsgroups...

I remember when I knew everyone on rec.sports.basketball.college and then the damn web came along, and everyone was on the internet.

I read newsgroups a lot (and posted some) not before the web was born, but certainly back when the web had only hundreds or thousands of users whereas newgroups had millions.

I used to miss some things about newsgroups. For years, I missed the simplicity with which I could make a local copy of a news article for offline use -- something the web was always pretty bad at doing in such a way that I could count on being able to read the article while offline. But eventually I noticed that I almost never read those local copies (even though 25 years later they still exist on my current local machine and being plain text are still easy to read in isolation).

If something on a web page does not register as interesting right away, but only after I've gone on to the next web page, the page after that, then the page after that, I can with .999 reliability go back to the web page that I've slowly come to consider interesting. (In other words, I can use the browser's history menu or history page to return to the page that was current 3 pages ago -- or 5 pages ago or whatever.)

Going back to the news article I was reading 3 articles ago on the other hand was much less reliable. I learned how to use the arrow keys combined with the "tree view" in trn to get the reliability of the operation "go back 3 articles" up to something like .6, and going back one article could be done (with the = key in trn IIRC) with a single keystroke with a reliability of about .85, but if the article I wanted to go back to had fallen off an edge of the "tree view" (which consisted of no more than about 35 columns and 16 lines) then I would just give up on ever getting another look at the article.

Of course this deficiency of newsgroups could've been fixed simply by someone's writing another newsreader, followed by my switching to it, but there were other things about newsgroups not so easily fixed that discouraged reflection and contemplation: for example, chances were about .07 that that the parent or any particular child (i.e., reply to) the article one was looking at was missing from one's news server. Often this had a predictable reason (i.e., many news servers culled articles over 30 days old, and the parent is probably older than that) but it was not rare for it to happen for no discernible reason.

In other words, for me, a reflective reader, i.e., a reader who often wants to revisits things he read 10 minutes ago or a few hours ago that at the time of the initial reading I did not consider interesting and consequently did not bother to bookmark or make a local copy of (the rough newsgroup analog to the making a bookmark to a web page), the web or at least the web of the 1990s was a significant improvement over newsgroups.

Subreddits also have a strong tendency to become echo chambers due to how Reddit works. Controversial opinions are downvoted into oblivion and fewer people see them. Traditional message boards have none of that.

I feel you. But my 2 cents on this:we just got old, lazy and wise...

The reddit model is more centralised than I'd imagined.

Each forum could still have their own domain and installation.

Ideally it would be in some way compatible to existing forums.

Perhaps better integration of forums via RSS. One thing regular forums tend to still have is RSS feeds built in. They can also be a nice go between of email and online users (although as has been said many times, email an be the death of forums).

50 years ago people who smoked didn't care about the adverse effects mainly because they didn't know the dangers.

As people who know the dangers of poor privacy choices we should protect those who have not had the opportunity to consider it yet.

Smoking will kill you. Liking funny cat videos on Facebook won't. I think you are comparing oranges and apples here.

Liking the wrong thing might not get you persecuted or killed in your current time and place, but there's no guarantee that those opinions which are safe to hold here and now will continue to be safe.

Social media creates a semi-public record for bad actors to identify targets to persecute for whatever they've decided to retroactively declare to be a crime. That may be a small risk in a stable democracy, but it's still worth considering due to the magnitude of the potential consequences.

Poor privacy choices can severely damage your future career and thereby quality of life. I'd say that is also pretty severe.

That is a good point. If any type of legislation should come out of this, it should be about usage of social media data by companies. They should not be able to discriminate people because of things they do in their private lives. In fact, they shouldn't have the right to investigate it unless it relates to the job (i.e. checking that a community manager does in fact use Twitter and Facebook in an efficient way). There may be exceptions but for 90% of the jobs out there - it makes no sense.

It's just very hard to make laws against that. There are laws forbidding discrimination based on gender and race, yet we still know that this is commonplace.

I personally think it is better to tackle the issue by making it harder/impossible for companies to obtain this data and allowing users to force companies to delete ANY data they have on them by request.

It is hard but needs to exist. Discrmination will always exist and its no reason to give up and not have a law. The law is important.

Information should be freely available. Making it impossible to obtain would lead towards information control like China and Russia. Its the wrong approach.

> Information should be freely available. Making it impossible to obtain would lead towards information control like China and Russia.

How does giving natural persons control over who has their data lead to information control as seen in Russia and China? It's the polar opposite.

Gambling won't kill you either, but we still try and encourage people to gamble responsibly rather than become addicts. An unhealthy behaviour doesn't have to be physically unhealthy to be an issue.

And yet a lot of people smoke.

In the US there has been a steady decline: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/tables/trends/ci...

Almost three quarters of all smokers in the US want to quit: http://news.gallup.com/poll/163763/smokers-quit-tried-multip...

I think it is pretty clear that the information and social stigma campaigns run by people who care about the health of their fellow citizens have been effective.

That doesn't mean much. I know several people who have wanted to quit smoking for 20+ years now.

This means that they are addicted. They still want to quit. They know it's bad, but are incapable of quitting because they value the short term fix over long term health.

So why not try to help them do what they know is best for them instead of throwing our hands up in the air and saying "your problem buddy".

Humans are notoriously bad at estimating future vs. current value. I think we should help people make good long term decisions instead of letting biology sabotage us.

Quitting smoking is easy, I've done it 5 times!

in many other countries smoking is on the increase so it hasnt been as nearly effective as you think.

Can you give some data please? What I found was current data, but not trends.

Not only do (our) family and friends have no idea what Feedly is, most of them would have no idea where to start with the websites / content providers they’d want to add to their feeds.

This is clearly a huge appeal of social media sites, as they act as content aggregators that do the ‘dirty work’ (oftentimes very poorly) in getting relevant content to chosen eyeballs.

As much as I want there to be a reversion to more ‘vanilla’ content consumption, I’m completely in agreement with your refutation that Feedly would indeed be a nonesense bet to make on where we should be headed.

it's also a fault of the websites themselves. In the off chance that an average facebook user uses google to search and end up in a website outside facebook, they 'll be typically be pestered with signing up to a newsletter and then with a popup to get browser notifications (along with a cookie popup in europe). The User experience will be usually atrocious, with content hidden way behind the ads. At that point the user is not only lost in the UI, but has lost all trust to the website itself and runs back to its trusted facebook. Why would they ever want to subscribe to such monstrosities? It's a tragedy of the common monetization "secrets" that marketers promised equally to everyone.

If webmasters and bloggers realized the benefit of a honest , dead simple user experience, they might earn themselves a bookmark (which is currently the only alternative to social media that average users can probably understand)

yeah, wholeheartedly agreed.

and it is also sometimes the peoples fault when they forget civility and humility in discussions and behave like a$$holes.

othertimes sane and healthy online communities fail to defend themselves against those and against more sneaky trolls.

on top of that communication manners seem to degrade more and more with social media usage. I am often appauled by the tight lipped one line responses to contact messages on $craigslist-like-service. a friendly message asking about the availability of an item on sale is met with "yes it is still available.". no "hello", no end greeting, nothing along the lines of "if you'd like to buy, give me a call at $number".

The huge number of forums which have that Tapatalk insanity pop up on mobile...

I think both Facebook and poorly used screen space are good indicators for low quality content.

Makes it incredible easy to just move along.

> When I ask friends and family who use Facebook daily, privacy and security never come up as pain points.

Another anecdote: a few days ago my Mum mentioned she was going to cut down on Facebook and move to other social media in light of what's been happening. And she's about as non-technical a user as you get.

> cut down on Facebook and move to other social media

Thanks for sharing, but I wonder if she realizes this isn’t going to help...

There is nothing wrong with Facebook. Its a legitimate use of the web.

We just need to tweak the advertising model to disable micro targeting by both advertisers and platforms. Google is a far worse offender here. This will kill the incentives for surveillance and stalking at source.

> We just need to tweak the advertising model to disable their entire business model.


Nope. That's a false argument. Advertising does not in any way depend on micro targeting.

People stalk others because they want to, because there are no rules against it yet, because they are greedy and don't care about externalities, because they are happy to profess and expect ethical behavior from others in society when they can't demonstrate it themselves. Advertising existed and thrived long before the existence of the internet.

Advertising by textual context and immediate location will retain their business model. The hoovering up of data, stalking and building profiles for micro targeting is unethical and has to go.

> Advertising does not in any fundamental way depend on micro targeting. Advertising existed and thrived long before the existence of the internet.

I get that.

The comparative advantage of Google and Facebook was that they could provide a demographic with greater specificity than anyone before, by a lot. There is an old saying, "I know half my advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half." Google and FB were going to end that.

What's wrong with micro targeting?

The goal of course is that technology like RSS is presented in a way to non-technical users so that they are happy to use it without needing too learn all about it.

Right now privacy is such a big deal with 'older' people around me. Nearly every friend of my parents will ask random questions in the last weeks and months.

I agree that RSS and Feedly are no replacement. But other replacements (closed media enabled chats) are happening right now and people happily switch because they see their privacy in danger.

Tl:dr: it's in the point of view.

>When I ask friends and family who use Facebook daily, privacy and security never come up as pain points.

This scandal is so incredibly overblown it's crazy. I've been arguing this since the beginning.

Media blew this up because it's loosley connected to Trump and because there's no better story than when you tear down a high flyer. Facebook was/is an American success story.

What is overblown is the "sudden realization" of facts the have been long known to anybody who cared.

Yes. But even with that the underlying 'crime' (i.e. a not-an-actual-crime) is a nothing-burger.

These articles are annoying. They completely miss the point.

The web as it was in the early 90s was an alternative to major content delivery platforms (TV, press, mostly). So there was these massive systems that were the press and the TV who would own most of our attention span. And then there was this cute alternative technology with a great community that was yet unpolluted by the big guys.

Today, the big content guys colonized the medium, so it no longer feels like the web is "a cacophony of different sites and voices" to quote the article. But in fact, we're in the same situation: big guys with money and loads of content on one side and small guys with communities on the other side.

The web as it is today doesn't prevent you from spreading your ideas to the world on your very own server... And websites like reddit and hacker news are great amplifiers of small voices.

I would probably never have read this article if it had been published in the 90s. Since it's #1 on HN, perhaps 50k people have read it today! The way I use the web feels very much like the 90s: a few aggregation sites, a lot of excellent content written by independent guys, links between them...

Who cares about the centralized internet when the internet that we've loved since the 90s is still there and thriving?

Which works great, until ISPs start offering subsidized plans for Facebook, Gmail, Spotify, Twitter, and expensive plans for everything else. When that happens, there is very little economic incentive to have smaller websites, smaller e-commerce websites end up being part of Amazon, and Google starts providing more and more of its own content.

EU is about to enforce GDPR. Net neutrality seems to be American problem, while rest of the world is moving to the opposite direction.

Which economy has better prospects in the long run? Currently internet is very U.S. centric because most of the big players are located there. That could change if European legislation is more supportive for small agile companies to evolve.

> EU is about to enforce GDPR [...] if European legislation is more supportive for small agile companies

Surely you see the contradiction there.

> Currently internet is very U.S. centric because most of the big players are located there. That could change if [...]

That's not just a coincidence and I don't believe it's any kind of first-mover advantage. It's about the environment in which you operate and passing more and more laws and rules, regardless of the intentions, is the opposite direction. One can lament the digital lawlessness, but we can't pretend it didn't have value or that tailored laws could have a similar effect.

Not necessarily a contradiction - GDPR could have many possible effects; it's too early to claim that these effects will disproportionately harm small companies.

One possibility, of course, is that larger companies will have more resources to tackle GDPR compliance, and thus be better able to respond effectively than small companies. However, it's also possible that, by taking privacy / security seriously from day one and storing the minimal set of user data needed to operate, a smaller company will have a distinct advantage over some BigCo that must now migrate sprawling, inter-tangled distributed systems never designed for GDPR compliance. After all, that small company now has a compelling legal reason to avoid feature / data warehousing bloat and save their limited engineering resources, whereas the larger company most certainly has that bloat baked deeply into their stack due to years and years of "Big Data" hype.

It's not strictness being the problem, it's the uncertainty. GDPR seems like a framework to take out anybody at will, because nobody can really conform to the laws due to that uncertainty. If you do anything really disruptive/innovative, you're probably gonna get problems.

I really dislike this use of the term "disruptive / innovative" - it's almost a circular definition in this context, since it's effectively being used to mean "anything new that has a high chance of running afoul of the law". English has better words for this sort of thing: criminal, negligent, etc.

Launching a new product / service does not give a company carte blanche to do whatever they like, no matter what Uber et al. may prefer to believe. Suppose I want to create a "gun-share" app, because, you know, sharing economy and stuff. I should fully expect that, where laws exist that make this infeasible (e.g. background checks, transfer of ownership laws, etc.), those laws will be enforced. I should also fully expect that those laws might change.

If I've been paying attention to the broader world - something that Silicon Valley isn't historically that great at - I should probably have seen this coming for years, since that's how long it takes to build support for legislation. GDPR didn't come out of nowhere; data privacy, security, and ownership concerns have been building for a while now.

In the case of the GDPR: my personal position is that it gives EU citizens rights we should all have had from the start with respect to our data. Good on them for passing it, and for giving it teeth. If that tramples on some service that can't be bothered to respect those rights, I couldn't care less - and I say this as a small business owner who's fully aware that, yes, someday I too may face a GDPR compliance request. Maybe I'll be prepared, maybe I won't, maybe it'll never happen; that's part of doing business.

> it's too early to claim that these effects will disproportionately harm small companies.

It's not too early to claim that the risks are disproportionate. Those of us with small companies really just count on subjective enforcement. Sadly, it seems everyone says "do nothing wrong, nothing to worry about" with these kinds of laws and don't understand risk management or the cost of conformance.

> That's not just a coincidence and I don't believe it's any kind of first-mover advantage. It's about the environment in which you operate and passing more and more laws and rules, regardless of the intentions, is the opposite direction

You're presenting the situation as a failure of the EU, but I think you've missed the point here. The big players are located in the US because the environment there rewards big players and has a general snowball effect. The EU system rewards small-player innovation and limits the creation of very large, dominant, monopolistic big players. This should be a net benefit to the overall system, if it weren't fot big players just coming in from elsewhere. Unfortunately, due to the global nature of the web, this leads to less-regulated US big players dominating the EU players. Solving that is tough, but the fact GDPR applies to US companies is an interesting start.

> The EU system rewards small-player innovation and limits the creation of very large, dominant, monopolistic big players.

I disagree. Do you believe this is the case today or is it the goal? From what I understand, the gap is quite large between number of small companies based on environment. Many of us with smaller companies stand on the shoulder of giants. Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good, and that can mean the financial incentive to become large spurs those of us who are small. Artificial ceilings, however altruistic people tell themselves they are by limiting the big, bad, scary companies, often are just a low tide lowering all boats in a trickle-down way.

> Do you believe this is the case today or is it the goal? From what I understand, the gap is quite large between number of small companies based on environment.

You're right, but what I was saying is that I believe it is the case today in the EU to a far greater extent than in it is in the US. That's not saying in any way that the EU is close to an ideal situation, or that there aren't big, dominant EU players. Along with the case of the influence of big non-EU players skewing the environment to a large degree.

Net neutrality is still a problem outside the USA. For example, a lot of network providers provide "Unlimited Streaming" where they pick popular music and video streaming providers and allow you to use them without using up your data allowance.

Example: http://www.three.co.uk/go-binge

GDPR and Net neutrality are two different things. Net neutrality is very much a problem in Europe. It's not talked about as much as in the US unfortunately.

Also, GDPR applies to companies of all size - which can hurts small companies more than bigger ones.

Interesting how badly I was misunderstood.

My point was not that they would be about the same thing. My point is that GDPR is pretty clearly about the rights of the little guy. Lack of net neutrality is clearly about the rights of big businesses. Neither alone does not seem to do that much good or harm. But if those attitudes are permanent in the legislating systems, that will have an effect.

So do you believe companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook are going hire the best people, make the best money and offer the best content? It could be. Or there could be something disruptive. Where is that disruptive going to happen?

As a EU citizen after watching all of Zuckerberg talking to Congress I was really amazed. I do not think any country in Europe would have such open discussions. Most articles I've seen have unfortunately picked soundbites to make a point, or claimed the Representatives were not tech-savvy. But for me it was really great democracy in action.

if European legislation is more supportive for small agile companies to evolve

GDPR is great, but it seems to me many of the Congresswomen/men were questioning how would legislation impact the ability of US tech companies to remain agile. I do not think we have such pro-business forces in the EU. That's why we are so far behind US and China in tech. I fear more and more legislation will make us less likely to have small agile companies.

> As a EU citizen after watching all of Zuckerberg talking to Congress I was really amazed. I do not think any country in Europe would have such open discussions.

No need to get infected by American exceptionalism. The UK Parliament Select Committee asked Zuckerberg in for questioning over this, and he would have received a comparable grilling. Zuck refused to go.

Honestly I think Europes structure is mostly perfect for small agile companies. It is not very welcoming to big business however.

It's easy to found a company and pay a fair flat rate percentage tax rate as eu (or schengen for this topic) citizen. It's just not economical to stay here once you get big tho.

GDPR is a bit heavy handed where it counts, and generally ends up as a net-loss.

The US definitely has its problems, but as long as there's still an ISP in the Valley who upholds Net Neutrality, development is still probably going to happen there.

Asia will replace it, if anything.

Yo, I live in the Valley, I'm not aware of any actual alternative to Comcast. Sonic isn't available in my neighborhood, I can't do the dish on the roof one because of landlord rules, and fiber options aren't available in my neighborhood.

I agree that could be an outcome, but could there not also be a reverse "Eternal September" where niche communities thrive? Since people would need to make a conscious, meaningful choice to join them?

The evidence thus far has seemed to suggest that when deprived of the oxygen of search & RSS traffic & the independent blogosphere and niche communities have withered on the vine. Less traffic and less commenting means less incentive to post, which means less posting. What seems to have happened is people have gathered around the last remaining campfires for warmth.

Of course net neutrality matters for the small guys to thrive. My point is that net neutrality is the only thing that matters. This is not about HTML or RSS or Facebook feeds.

A non-neutral internet would have impacted the 90s internet in the same way.

And in fact almost did. Things like ISPs blocking VOIP services, blocking VPNs, preventing more than one device being able to use a connection, are things that actually happened, though a couple of years too late in some cases to count as 'the 90s'.

> until ISPs start offering subsidized plans for Facebook, Gmail, Spotify, Twitter, and expensive plans for everything else.

Is priced content worse than the current situation, where services are monetized exclusively by essentially running malware on the user's machine?

> Is priced content worse than the current situation, where services are monetized exclusively by essentially running malware on the user's machine?

You're conflating two things: the revenue model for publishers and ISPs cutting off access to services which do not sign an agreement with them. The fee ISPs charge, you can take as read would not go towards subsidizing independent content.

But then you just choose an ISP that doesn't do such dastardly deals. It might cost more, but that's your choice.

In the US, one's choices are often (1) ISP A, (2) no internet.

Do you not have cable as well as the phone system? Do you not have sewers a competitor could run fibre through? Do you not have unlicensed p2p wireless?

Those are two separate things. OP is talking about the pipe being monetized. That is an extra charge we will pay just to get to the sites that then monetize via ads or gathering our data.

My point is that there might be kickbacks from pipe operator to content mill.

It's a discoverability problem. All that great small community content isn't monetizable and gets de-incentivized over time by algorithmic changes in search engines and link aggregators.

Everyone is being nudged to where there's money to be made.

> Everyone is being nudged to where there's money to be made.

This is an ass-backward way of looking at what actually happens. People (you, me, CEOs of large corporations) are the entire system. You and I want a thing, there is a demand, smart people notice that demand and fill it. Folk flock to the product that satisfies their demands.

I admit there is clever marketing that manipulates our ape brains in very effective ways, perhaps that nudges us toward one thing over another, but there is legitimate demand beyond the marketing.

Then there are communities and marketplaces. These products are largely successful because of a demand for an agreed meeting place to share ideas, sell things, exchange messages. You don't need to be 'nudged' toward these places, they just happen to be objectively very useful places because everyone else agrees they are.

Money being made is a byproduct of the success of these places. I am so tired of people looking at big successful corporations as somehow being existential to an otherwise utopian perfect system. Regular people give power to corporations by patronizing them, it's as simple as that. Most-always no one is forcing anyone to go to one place over another, we almost always have a choice. We need to recognize that as consumers we should take responsibility for the companies we promote to the forefront. If you don't like marketing or large corporations, reject them! Take responsibility for how you spend your money, we have the power.

The pre-google internet also had a discovery problem. Remember webrings? I think OP is right that the decentralized internet is the same as in the "golden era".

It's more a question of culture. Theoretically, yes, nothing has been lost since the 90s. All those technologies still exist. But culturally, the norms of the web have shifted. The proposal is to create technologies that encourage/empower regular people (people who don't read hacker news) to make a cultural shift back to the web's original vision.

Culture shifts with awareness, education, and well-designed solutions being available. The next "Facebook" platform that isn't designed to control or have a strategy to collect or hoard data will exist.

The layman doesn't generally know what's good for them in any specialized area, that's quite clear when we saw the level of technical understanding shown during questions to Mark Zuckerberg; it's obvious career politicians will need to eventually evolve over to successful people with strong holistic standing of all systems, with the ability to learn in depth and have strong critical thinking.

We need to do a better job as a society of developing these people, and of capturing society's attention with genuine interest and excitement, and not merely with hype and paid-for reach.

There is some irony in painting the major content delivery platforms in the 90s as bad actors when in actuality much of 90s media (like BBC) had much higher standards than so much of what comes via the web today.

Today we don't "pay" for quality content. Today content simply has authority if a lot of people who think like "me" read it _else_ -1.

There is some irony in painting the major content delivery platforms in the 90s as bad actors when in actuality much of 90s media (like BBC) had much higher standards than so much of what comes via the web today.

I don't think that really means anything. There is so much junk, that anything that honestly attempts to be good is better than "so much of what comes via the web today."

The problem is that the average user is being nudged (pushed, coerced) to submit his content for free to a publisher who then forwards it to others with advertising or other monetization attached. Self-publishing is very rare.

> I would probably never have read this article if it had been published in the 90s. Since it's #1 on HN, perhaps 50k people have read it today! The way I use the web feels very much like the 90s: a few aggregation sites, a lot of excellent content written by independent guys, links between them...

Don't forget that you're on Hacker News, a relatively small site with a very aggressive name for "normies" :)

The little guy spreading ideas is not as easy as it was, though. If the search engines don't index your site, if Youtube removes the informative videos you made, if FB and Instagram are filtering you out, who is going to see it?

No, the Web has been weaponized by a collusion between corporations and government in order to press as hard as they can for censorship and thought control. Because at the end of the day, if people realized they didn't need big government or big corporations, where would that leave all these billionaires with their revolving doors in and out of publicly appointed power roles?

I honestly get depressed when I think about the dream of open government and more widespread knowledge that was supposed to come about with all this technology working for the little guy. Well, some of it came true, but as soon as it became a threat to the orthodoxy, they found a way to shut it down. And now the baseline model for all these companies is China. Google would be happy to censor Americans in the same way they censor content for the Chinese Communists. One policy for the whole world, and it's not a policy of freedom and openness, but one of oppression, as usual.

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