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Bringing people back to the open web (chrishardie.com)
96 points by ChrisHardie on Apr 23, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 90 comments



>If the closed web is a place where hate speech, harassment and bullying thrives, the open web can be, needs to be an experience where it does not.

I am strongly against this appeal to censorship. Luckily in the real open web, where you host your own content the incentives and mechanisms for censorship are few and difficult to achieve. No, my dream of the open web is diverse. Full of things people hate and full of things people love. Not just some gentrified, marketable, set of opinions from a narrow slice of the possible. The overton window has shrunk enough.

That's how the web was and how it can be again. Without extremes there's nothing exceptional.


The reason we're in the mess that we are is the shit show the open web was. People were delighted to have a walled garden where they only communicated with friends, instead of random drive-by trolls in the open.

And frankly, it's understandable. A place that justifies bullying and hate speech as a good thing, with mumblings of "b.. b.. but free speech", is not a place where anybody wants to spend their time. (Except people who either like or don't mind bullying)

And given that we're currently debating if the Overton window should include actual real-life Nazis - "because free speech" - I'm OK with it shrinking some more.

Extremes in thought are indeed necessary. But they need to be followed by a realization of how far is too far, and an ability to moderate how much of that extreme thought is publicly shared, respecting other people. Maturity is a necessary tool of useful debate.

"How the web was" was (and is) mostly kids screaming in the backyard, with sensible adults carving out spaces that exclude immaturity.


> People were delighted to have a walled garden where they only communicated with friends, instead of random drive-by trolls in the open.

I spend most of my time on the open web, and don't see many drive-by trolls. I don't think that is the reason the web became closed.


Sensible adults have long been a proponent of free speech. It’s the call to censorship for comfort that is new and seemingly coming from younger generations who don’t have experience with why that may be a bad idea.

The ACLU has long defended all speech: https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/why-we-must-defend-fre...


Sensible adults have long been aware that censorship is something the government does, and that private individuals (and by extension, corporations) are perfectly fine restricting what speech they're willing to accept in their environment. The rule commonly known as "my house, my rules". The problem many people have with the open web is that many people don't step up and spell out house rules, which others interpret as "sure, we can pee on the carpet"

And you'll note that even the ACLU is perfectly fine with the government restricting speech in some well-defined circumstances[1].

[1] Visible if you see the full text of the blog post you linked: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/09/28/why-we-must-still...


This is wrong, even in the United States. There are rare circumstances where a company's property is open to the public to such an extent that they become subject to first amendment restrictions (e.g. Marsh v. Alabama). Some states, such as California, have even greater restrictions on private parties in their state constitution. CA's constitutional speech protections prevent shopping malls from expelling petitioners from their premises, even if the mall disagrees with the speech.

Extending this body of law to, say, Facebook would have problems, of course. But I don't think it's so clear that all sensible adults know that censorship is only something the government does, and are happy letting any corporate behavior, no matter how extreme, pass without scrutiny.


I stand corrected. And am happy to learn about Marsh v. Alabama, thank you!

The larger point I was trying to make still stands. I think.

Specifically, that speech in a private context is not subject to the same amount of regulations as speech in a public context (with the incorrect interference that only the govt can restrict speech in a public context). Marsh v. Alabama specifically argues that the sidewalk in a company town is equivalent to a public space. (And I think that does hold interesting questions for large web sites).

But free speech rules still apply to a lesser extent on both commercial and private properties. The idea that "censorship for comfort" in general is bad is misguided.

(In the context of above lawsuit, I'd love to hear a lawyer expand on if content restrictions qualify as restricting speech in a semi-public content, or if they qualify as making the space less public - i.e. are they barriers to access, or to speech?)


I agree, and if I were forced to answer I would say that even the CA constitution probably doesn't apply to Facebook et. al.

I think the point I have in mind is that there are less restrictions on speech as the venue becomes more private, and this is for good reasons, large websites as a platform for mass conversation are relatively new, and come with their own benefits and drawbacks when they choose to restrict speech. And because these trade-offs are new, the debate should be about these pros and cons, rather than flat statements that censorship is bad, or that private companies can do whatever they want, no matter how severe.

It should be a policy debate. The CA constitution probably doesn't apply, but the legislature can intervene anyway, and I don't think an argument that says "these platforms are important enough to modern-day communication that they should do so in some manner" is completely insane.


Uh, that's not quite exact. That may be something americans think, but at least here in Europe we have rules that control the speech that happens at private venues that enable public speech (like, newspapers).

For example if a newspaper publishes inaccurate information about a person, that person has the right to publish a correction[1] explaining their point of view on the subject; and the newspaper is forced by law to publish the correction in the same venue and same prominence. This is considered quite sensible to us.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_of_reply


The saddest part is how the younger generation turned college campuses, the place where radical & worldview-challenging ideas could thrive, into places wherein you're protected from any such challenging ideas.


That's a very common and entirely overblown hypothesis. Sure, there are student protests about a tiny number of speakers each year. But there have been student protests about anything ever since there have been students.

> More importantly, though, we can see here why reaching broad conclusions from sets of anecdotes is inadvisable. There are around 2,600 four-year universities in the United States. Friedersdorf tried to compile all of the most outrageous instances from a single year, and found about 10 of them. Those 10 were probably roughly evenly distributed according to the political affiliation of the students; i.e. there are more shutdown attempts by liberal students than conservative students, but students are also more liberal. And among those high-profile incidents, a bunch of the speakers ended up coming and speaking and the petitions went nowhere.

https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/02/why-do-those-college-...

"college campuses" are quite safe from the "younger generation".


If you want a book that uses national polls conducted over the past 40+ years, plus a little bit of anecdotal evidence to make the data tangible, I recommend iGen by Jean M. Twenge[0].

There's a noticeable trend that the kids of this upcoming generation are ill-prepared for college and expect the authorities to protect them. In highschool, they're less likely to go out without their parents or work a part-time job (And on a positive note, less likely to drink or have premarital sex).

[0] https://www.amazon.com/iGen-Super-Connected-Rebellious-Happy...


Yeah, about that:

> For instance, Twenge argues that young people have become increasingly self-absorbed since the advent of the Internet. One piece of evidence she uses is a search she ran through Google's Ngram (which searches through printed books) for the phrase "I love me." She found a sharp spike in the phrase in the last few decades. But "I love me" sounds slightly off — surely most people say "I love myself." And lo, if you search "I love myself" (as I would guess Twenge did first), you find that the phrase fluctuated with much less satisfying results, and in fact occurred at a higher frequency in, for instance, the 1770s, than in the early 2000s. So, Twenge discovered a grammatical shift and disguised it as a cultural one.

> It's a small example, but the book is dizzying with this brand of deceptive spin.

https://www.npr.org/2017/09/17/548664627/move-over-millennia...

I'm not arguing that the book is without merit, but I really don't think it comprehensively and inarguably states that the "younger generation" are as damaged as the "older generation" might suspect (and "the coming generation are wrong about all the things!" is a trope as old as time)


Still, I recommend the book. You can't deny the statistical significance of the polls. There are a few far-fetched pieces of evidence, but that's to be expected with sociology.

I think the main issue is that we're trying to measure changes over a long period of time across a wide swathe of people. Those are two very difficult areas to study.


Why is less premarital sex a "positive note"?


It probably depends on whether you're focusing on the pleasures or consequences. Which probably correlates with your social/political bent. Since it seems to be conservatives who complain most frequently about the environment of college campuses, the frame of the discussion might be directed to conservatives, who are more likely to focus on the consequences and find that a positive note.

And yes, we're better as a society at statistically mitigating the some of the consequences of intercourse, but that doesn't mean they don't exist, and that younger & unmarried folks are probably less prepared to deal with them, so there's a reasonable (although limited) general argument that less pre-marital sex among late adolescents is a turn towards more responsible or at least age-appropriate behavior.

There are other reasonable approaches to the topic as well.


No, they didn't. The sad part is people apparently believing that minorities being subjected to a bunch of hate speech directed toward them are "challenging ideas."


I think it's funny you were immediately downvoted for this. It betrays this crowd as a population that largely hasn't experienced the kind of the politely-expressed but openly hateful things that are passed off as challenging. Or how quickly people berate groups as delicate because they meet for the purposes of not feeling like shit for a few hours.


I don't find it funny. I find it rather sad, but unfortunately rather predictable for this crowd.

Fortunately, at this point, the comment has been upvoted into the positive.


[flagged]


I started to explain why safe spaces are necessary, but I realize that "Muh safe spaces" isn't an argument.

In a world where my rights are debated, my family is attacked, where I've been afraid for my life and well being in public spaces, where some of my acquaintances have been murdered in public spaces, and where some of my safe spaces have been bombed, I don't understand why my request for a place where I don't have to fucking deal with that shit is so bad.


Nobody should have to deal with violence or threats of violence. But that's way different than trying to shut down a speaker who holds political views different from the students or professors doing the protesting. College should physically be a safe place as much as possible, but intellectually, it's fair to ask students (and professors) to be challenged by a variety of views.


That's a separate argument, however.

We can disambiguate the "Safe places are necessary for non-privileged groups to have an area where they are predominant members and the space is catered to them rather than the predominant culture" - examples would include a place like a gay bar or youth group, or a club that is only of one ethnicity - and "we should expect a college to be a safe space."

A college that is governed by the predominant culture cannot be a "safe space." The redefiniton, then, is that college spaces should be a place where one's group should be default be treated with respect. That is, we make it "more safe" to exist without prejudice.

If we want to argue that a college space isn't a place where people are by default treated with respect, that's an argument that can be made, but it's not germane to the original argument that people expect to have private, safe, spaces to communicate via the web. The "friends" or friends-subset restriction that Facebook makes is that private/semi-private "safe" space. The open web does not have a great equivalent. (Password-protecting is insufficient - we would need some sort of Mozilla Persona system and for various reasons, that never caught on.)


> A college that is governed by the predominant culture cannot be a "safe space."

I disagree with this line of thinking. College shouldn't culturally be a "safe place". It should be physically safe, but culturally? You should be challenged when you go to college.

This "safe place" idea could apply to anyone. Should the highly religious, sheltered home schooler feel culturally safe at college from the predominate culture that went to schools with other kids and were exposed to different views?

Of course not.

> If we want to argue that a college space isn't a place where people are by default treated with respect

Treating people with respect is different from exposing them to ideas that might challenge their beliefs, or might be culturally different.


"You should be challenged when you go to college."

Challenged is an entirely different beast than being told that you don't deserve to be there, that you don't deserve the same basic human rights of others, or being told that you shouldn't exist. THOSE are the things that "safe spaces" are meant to provide respite from.


It's a manifestation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs among a certain cohort that's allied with targets of discrimination and feeling politically cornered by the opposition's shift to the right. They see that the Overton window about certain types of discourse being mainstream has shifted because the opposition has moved further right -- both in terms of leadership and the views of the membership. They see radical positions working for their opponents, and escalate in turn.

There's a lack of nuance about whether they wish to push certain viewpoints underground and out of the mainstream, or if they wish to silence them altogether. Some probably don't care, which is troubling, but not altogether hard to understand. The effort is internally justified by invoking the 'paradox of tolerance', where they propose that the discourse of their opponents is fundamentally intolerant and presents a clear and present existential threat to society at large, and must be reactively suppressed for the health of diverse and open discourse to continue.


I never had much exposure to nazis and other scum on the open web. It’s behavior not tolerated on a place like HN, and I don’t frequent places that welcome that conduct.

Facebook is a machine designed to generate reaction. I deactivated a long time ago, one of my catalysts for moving was when the platform kept trying to keep me away from things I cared about and towards things that would trigger the most base/id reaction.

Thanksgiving Dinner isn’t about trolling your drunk uncle.


Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.

Besides, censoring Nazis and other undesirable types (e.g. ISIS propaganda) is ineffective at shutting them up and endears potential recruits to them. It would likely be more effective to subtly mix their propaganda with counter-propaganda instead of playing whack-a-mole with their accounts.


You got me. In my personal environment, my house? Speech that I don't accept doesn't happen. And it turns out that that's actually perfectly fine, because free speech should only not be restricted by the government.


>In my personal environment, my house?

Weren't we talking about freedom of speech on the open web though?

When you mentioned walled gardens I assumed you meant Twitter not your living room.


Absolute free speech is not a sustainable position, because it conflicts with other basic rights, freedoms and laws.

Would you not accept that directly inciting violence against specific groups or individuals must be banned?


It's better to ban nothing when it comes to speech. Any restrictions at all rapidly escalate into enormous restrictions, hypocrisy and logical contradictions.

Actually by now, I automatically assume anyone who uses the phrase "hate speech" doesn't actually care about violent speech at all, just shutting down people they don't agree with.

Consider that students in America keep arguing that any opinion they don't like is "violence" that makes them feel "unsafe", and of course anyone to the right of Marx is "promoting intolerance and hatred". That's a pretty bad abuse of the word violent, but if you say the only kind of speech that is banned is speech that incites violence then pretty quickly everyone is claiming any ideological enemy is "inciting violence" with whatever justification they can find.

So there had better be really good reasons for such bans. But are there? I am struggling to think of cases where someone stood up and announced "kill those people" and it actually happened, outside of extremist Islamic preachers e.g. the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. That's rare, but also, the moment you say that sort of preaching isn't allowed anymore you run into the question of people's right to practice religion, as there is quite a lot of incitement to violence in basically every ancient holy book.

And then there's the hate speech that doesn't get prosecuted because it's by politically important groups: https://www.salon.com/2013/05/07/twitters_latest_unfunny_tre...

In the end, when I see the apparently small amount of physical world violence definitively and directly caused by speech, vs the huge numbers of people trying to classify things they disagree with as hate speech, I am forced to conclude that the cost/benefit ratio is not worth it and the first amendment has got it right.


I agree that there is a danger of overreach and political instrumentalisation and that we are seeing it in full force in many public debates right now.

But I think that the sort of wording that nokcha posted in the sibling comment does a pretty good job at putting the breaks on any tendencies to extend the meaning of inciting violence endlessly.

I think the real problem of overreach arises because governments are trying to outsource censorship to huge corporations that are running our centralised internet.

These corporations are not going to be as wise as the judge ruling on Brandenburg v. Ohio. They are going err on the side of caution and ban everything remotely suspicious to avoid controversy. And then everyone will say it's not censorship because it's not the government doing it.

You are right that bans on speech are only very rarely needed. But that's how it should be. It should be a tool of last resort just like the use of lethal force by police should be a very rare exception. But I think we do need tools of last resort.

I want this particular tool of last resort in the hands of the courts though, and not applied automatically on a massive scale by corporations trying to stay in the good graces of governments.


>Any restrictions at all rapidly escalate into enormous restrictions [...]

This is a slippery slope argument and it is as weak as any.

Hate speech is that speech which has historically been used to 'justify' vast amounts of violence against mostly innocent people. More accurately, it is speech that is used to promote emotions which cause people to conveniently accept justifications of violence that overlook the individuality of a person. The speech that does this is designed to do it. And the consequences of engaging in such thinking can be almost arbitrarily bad.

The first amendment was written before WW2. It was written before Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, radio, television, internet, and modern journalism. It was also written by people with a questionable understanding of modern liberalism and to appease people with a far worse understanding of liberalism.

The first amendment is not sacred. Even if you can find fault in every alternative, this does nothing to absolve the faults already within it.

> the moment you say that sort of preaching isn't allowed anymore you run into the question of people's right to practice religion

Clearly christianity is outlawed in the US because stoning people (and by extension, homosexuals) is illegal. All that's happened here is that you're not allowed to grant yourself arbitrary rights by claiming they are 'religious.' All societies restrict the authority of religion. Either through secular principles such as this, or through religious persecution committed by another religion.

>I am struggling to think of cases where someone stood up and announced "kill those people" and it actually happened

This is laughable. Your ignorance isn't a argument. "I can't find any examples of something I didn't bother to look for examples of."


Just to clarify: under Brandenburg v. Ohio (395 U.S. 444 (1969)), such speech can be punished (by the government) only if it is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action"; abstract advocacy of illegal violence is protected speech.


Didn't really work either though. Trolls gonna troll no matter what.


I am sorry, but who is actually giving voice to these groups. Sure there are trolls that co-opt this stupidity, but it is a fact that the number of people involved in hate-groups are going down.


"thrives" != "exists"

I don't see a contradiction between allowing hateful content to exist but not actively promoting it to users. Time and time again we've seen algorithmic feeds that are entirely dedicated to making users click on more things serve up more and more hateful content (think: YouTube's recommended videos).

As I interpret it, the OP is calling for a return to neutrality on the open web, not censorship. No-one uses YouTube because they're enthusiastic about the recommended content that appears after their video. They use it because the potential audience is huge, and in many ways it's the only choice if you want to start a successful video career. The linked post is asking what if people had a choice?

Take Twitter for example. There was a mild uproar a while back because they started banning alt-right accounts. Those banned users then set up Gab (I think?), a Twitter alternative for the alt-right. In an open world where dozens of different social networks exist this wouldn't be an issue at all, in fact it would be how things should work. Anyone can make their own playground, and anyone can decide their own rules. But the closed, centralised world we have today gives companies like Twitter far too much power, and far too broad an audience to effectively use that power.


> I am strongly against this appeal to censorship.

Why do you interpret "experiencing a web without harassment and bullying" as implying "censoring speech"? People may publish all the hatred and bullshit they want on the open web, but I don't need to be forced to watch it. Both things are not exclusive.

IM applications with limited groups (Telegram, Whatsapp) show us a way this can be done. If these tools were open, you could create groups to communicate anything you want; but only people subscribed to those groups will see them, and you won't reach people that isn't interested in that content, or which have blocked you after an awkward interaction.


Because what a small, loud minority of people call "bullying" simply isn't. Because sometimes mocking ideas is the right thing to do. The idea that "bullying" or "harassment" should be eliminated comes from a place where people believe they can define an absolute right or wrong. And even more unbelievable, they think that there is a person (or worse, a group of people) that know these absolutes.

If they want to block that communications on their forum it's fine. But I'll post to my personal, self-hosted website whatever opinions I want.

The way to cut the gordian knot of what to allow is simple: everyone should self host, federate, and set up web rings. Everyone should be a full participant on the 'net instead of going through centralized proxies that create perverse commercial incentives for censorship.


I don't think your proposed solution will really change anything and would probably backfire if it became reality. Congrats, you now have a public website espousing opinions that would have gotten you banned from the former central platforms. But it doesn't really matter since the practical reach of your message is basically nonexistant. You're blacklisted from all the popular webrings who are empowered to moderate even stronger since they're not platforms for general speech anymore and their users love it because it's not fun to be bullied and harassed.

Everyone gets what they want I guess?


Except none of that happens because the people pushing for stupid things like anti-bullying were in the minority all along.

Also, my self hosted website has been doing fine for ~20 years now. And because I don't care about reach or other marketing and business terms even in your scarecrow scenario I'm just fine too.


It seems that you use HN a lot, and this is a heavily (well) moderated forum. That seems like an implicit endorsement of just the kind of “censorship” you and others are railing against. If HN became oppressively censored, another option would tske its place.


I believe there is a middle ground between hate speech being "allowed-but-not-thriving" and censorship, and I think we can do a better job of finding it than we do now.


On the open web, registrars regularly suspend domains, isps block ips, in the name of 'we are protecting you'. But at least you own your data and you can move it to somewhere else.


These two things aren't in necessarily in conflict. Using moderation to prevent threats, harassment, bullying, and hate does not prevent diversity of thought.


You're confusing censorship with no platforming, they are not the same thing.


True enough. But when the government creates the economic and legal incentives to force private companies to de-platform people (ie, FOSTA-SESTA) the difference is marginal.


I don't believe there will be any silver bullet that will make people back to the open web any soon by sheer technical merit. In the meantime, we should not abandon efforts to make people understand why huge centralized walled gardens such as facebook are a problem. It would be like if society had stopped anti-smoking campaigns in the past, waiting for a miraculous safe cigarette to solve the problem.


Open Source has done a lot for developers, but it's not very present on the actual surface of the web – the surface that people interact with, and that defines the Open Web.

If developers are going to build up the open web, then it feels like this is something of an issue. To live up to one's potential as a developer, you can't just make your own choices in support of the open web, you have to facilitate other people. But I sure as hell don't want to run a service hosting people's content. It's a pain in the ass! And to top it off I have to pay for the privilege.

Building up a whole company in support of a service is an option, but then I'm not a developer, certainly not an open source developer, I've instead become an "entrepreneur". I don't want to be an entrepreneur! Hell, that's even more of a pain in the ass than giving stuff away.

I think we (open source developers) really need a platform to build on. An actual hosted platform. One where, as a developer, I can do interesting things that empower people, things that participate in the web as a whole, things other people can build on. I'd be willing to compromise SO MUCH if it means I can give people cool things without any of the incurred debt.

As a strawman, maybe it could start as just a bit of static hosting, with easy discovery and management from in-browser code. Neocities has an API, for example (https://neocities.org/api), but you have to already use Neocities, so I couldn't publish an app that would be easily used by non-Neocities users.


technology isn't going to solve a culture problem. I also don't think that the walled gardens are even part of the problem. It's that anonymity gives too many people the license to treat others poorly. I'm not saying we need to take anonymity away, we need to change the culture (of the world) that regards mutual respect as a default even when remaining anonymous.


We did have a way. It was called a kill file.

Unfortunately, we don't have adults anymore. We have children that need to be protected from hearing anything they don't like to hear and must be giving the right to shutdown people's speech they disagree with ("heckler's veto").


> Unfortunately, we don't have adults anymore. We have children that need to be protected

I absolutely agree and this is a problem of our own design. This issue goes beyond the web. We hear about how a neighbor called the police when a child was left unattended in their front yard. Or the countless posts on community forums starting out with "who do I contact to report XYZ?" and the most controversial response is always "did you talk to the person?"

Everyone today is so afraid that they're being exploited and taken advantage of by everyone who isn't. They don't want to speak out or stand up to anything, they'd rather just have someone come and take care of it for them.


But kill files didn't work. Many newsgroups were destroyed because people relied on killfiles instead of allowing proper moderating tools.

Trolling your way past a killfile was trivial, and sock-puppeting evolved on Usenet as a troll technique.


In a walled garden, like facebook, I have a private/public space. I can send out a message to a subset of my friends. The open web does not have these controls.

Further, if one of the people I thought was trustworthy starts abusing that trust, I can kick them out. Because it's a walled garden. I don't have to worry about spam. I don't have to worry about hate speech. I don't have to worry about any of that shit.

Facebook means that I can approve anyone from seeing that content individually. As of now, we don't have an equivalent way to handle that on the open web.

Facebook means I don't have to deal with spam to have a conversation with anyone involved. As of now, the equivalent ways to handle that on the open web take far too much time to be practical.

Facebook, over the last decade, has solved a legitimately hard problem, and I don't see "kill file" as a sufficient solution.

The open web is about public space. Facebook is a more private space.


How are the ads that FB pushes into your feed not spam? Seems more or less indistinguishable too me


Do you consider ads on cable TV to be spam? Likely not.

Like them or don't, but the ads on FB are not spam because they are not unsolicited and are targeted.


Of course I do. It is one of the reasons I do not have a TV.

If there was a plain choice between without ads and with (probably at different prices), I could accept them as a transaction I have accepted. But such choices are often not available, they are bundled in with a bunch of other choices.


Agreed on all counts! It's pretty weird that we pay really good money for TV and then still have to sit through commercials, isn't it?


100% agree. I hate paying for TV which still has ads. It's why almost all content I consume through the flat screen in the living room now is either Netflix, Amazon or Youtube. About the only thing I watch OTA or via Sling now is sports. And I was born before Nixon was President.


When I hear something I know to be untrue that knowledge is not enough. It's not enough to tell that speaker that what they said is untrue. It's not enough to tell any potential listener that what the speaker said is untrue. Nope, I need to make sure that there is no listener for that speaker. Nothing less will satisfy.

If necessary I'll use a public club i.e. the government. Everyone will rightfully shout "Free Speech!" Maybe I don't use the government though and just get the speakers platform to walk away by asking platform to do that, or yelling at them.

And the I'll sleep easy with the knowledge that no one will hear those lies. No one will think those lies.


I would love this idea to take off and be successful but I have many reservations on the feasibility of such a project. Two are fairly simple: innovation and trusted hosting.

Let’s assume that we have a protocol that allows us to have the same interactions as Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: a multi-media flow of posts, comments, etc. Let’s assume that we have distinct hosts that let you befriend and follow people with a different service, just like we have with email. We can even imagine that those services have internal tweaks (like the integration of Google Calendar in GMail) that provide some network effect, but overall there is a push to make such improvements universal (like providing a compatible .ics file, etc.) and part of the protocol.

I expect that the overall protocol adoption will be slower, so I expect that things like Gif comments that display (rather than a link; admittedly not the most loved feature among HN’s crowd) or editable comment (with a version control system; probably more within HN’s preference) will be slower. I don’t think that most of those project imagine how to address that issue. It’s distinct from open source (which admittedly innovates faster than closed code in the areas that I’m familiar with) and more akin to how no new feature has been adopted by email since probably the 80s.

I also wonder who people would trust with their personal data: intimate conversations, dirty secrets… We’ve learned the hard way that security is hard, and even serious projects like Telegram have had their issue. At the moment, that information is indeed clustered on few servers with a reasonably good security team protecting them. I suspect that more hosts with a lesser team would not really make it safer. You could try extreme dilution, but I suspect that people would not want to host anything themselves and would frown upon letting their nerdy cousin hold the keys of that server, over a cold company who presumably monetise their data but at least is not really expected to pry and gossip. That leaves large-ish commercial entities.

I see that area concentrating fast, like email did, and the upside of using internal features winning people over to two or three platforms, like today. It would be great to have that platform be open and allow you to host your own server compatible with Facebook, but that kind of openness is what got us the latest scandal.


This is a good idea – but impossible.

Google and Facebook have tenthousands of developers. And not just any devs, some of the best in the industry. Google and Facebook have tons of userdata for training ML models.

How do you compete with that?

The only way your projects would ever be able to outcompete Google and Facebook on technology is if you’d somehow get a ton of engineers willing to work for a good cause.

But that doesn’t happen. There’s not enough engineers that would volunteer their time for this. In fact, most engineers either don’t care at all about this stuff, or they drank the kool aid and believe Google and Facebook are doing good.

As long as there’s so many developers that want to work at Facebook, as long as Google has more resources than you, you won’t be able to outcompete them on technology.


> Google and Facebook have tenthousands of developers. And not just any devs, some of the best in the industry. Google and Facebook have tons of userdata for training ML models.

and many of them are bent towards developing internal garbage, or services that you just don't need if you're not hoping to create huge monoliths. or, as others have pointed out, making the same service over and over.

> How do you compete with that?

having different goals reduces the extent to which you're competing, and different goals leads to different (possibly easier to satisfy) constraints.


This same argument has been made countless times. "Linux has no chance in the corporate world. HP has thousands of paid devs working on HP-UX."

It turned out there were a greater number of devs NOT at HP... and today, there are more devs NOT at Facebook.


But Linux only worked because there's many companies contributing to it.

So which company would have the resources and reasons for contributing to an entirely open social network, with no way to monetize it?


> But Linux only worked because there's many companies contributing to it.

Who says this won't happen as well to an open collaboration platform? Who says companies wouldn't benefit from it, or that they need to monetize it directly? Companies contributed to Linux because they got benefits by participating in the operating system. Open source works like that; adding to a common resource is beneficial for oneself and the community at the same time.

Similarly, an open platform like matrix.org can provide huge benefits for internal communication in a company; and making public the tweaks that you create internally is a great way to influence the direction of the software, as well as making it easier to integrate the improvements made by others. This is how Linux grew to what it is today, after all.


Of course it could happen.

But we've had open source alternatives for many of these things for many years, and no company has gone to support any of them.

There's no company backing mastodon, and very little support for similar tools.

Of course it could happen. But it's not happening.


Right, but my point is that the reason for not happening is not a lack of monetization strategies, but one of critical mass.

If a free software collaboration platform gains traction in the enterprise, it could be pushed as a safe alternative in the next data scandal, and maybe enough people could switch to it to become a viable public resource like Linux and Apache have been since the turn of the century. It's a plausible scenario, even if it's not guaranteed to happen soon.


Linux became popular because it was free as in beer, because it was essentially a clone of pre-existing systems that lots of programmers happened to like (the commercial UNIXes) and because those competing systems were fairly stagnant.

So far open source communities haven't really tried to clone Facebook to the level of detail required to make people feel at home, and you're already competing against 'free'. So that avenue isn't available either.

I suspect it isn't possible to compete with Facebook because for most people it isn't broken.


A free OS for PCs is a good idea -- but impossible. Microsoft and Apple have tenthousands of developers. And not just any devs, some of the best in the industry. Microsoft and Apple have research labs where they can subject their OS to hundreds of thousands of user-hours of testing for usability, scalability, and robustness.

How do you compete with that?


With tenthousands of corporate developers from RedHat, Google, IBM?

Do you seriously think Torvalds, Stallmann and a few dozen enthusiasts could maintain all of the Linux ecosystem?


Red Hat and Google got into their advantageous positions by building their businesses on top of Linux in the first place, back when people were saying it would never compete with Microsoft or big-iron Unix.


Linux?


I believe the parent was intentionally mirroring the grandparent comment to make the argument that Linux is a good counterexample.


Not only that, but I was almost directly quoting the arguments that were routinely used against Linux back in the 90s.


I believe he was being sarcastic


What blows my mind is how much money Facebook gets from ads. I've never clicked a Facebook ad except by accident. And yet they get paid more for my presence than I'd ever be willing to pay for a social network.

That's the real rub for me. I mean, we imagine the ideal "decentrialized but user-friendly web". Like, there's an online open architecture of servers where you have a cryptographically-controlled "account" for your family and you can easily buy plug-ins to add features to this account. Like an app store but for webapps all linked to your private migrateable data store. And you can sync that data down to some kind of ubiquitous home box appliance as a local back-up/cache, or move it over to another host because it's an open architecture.

Presumably, if you wanted to enroll your family into a social network that's not based on selling you, you'd have to pay for it. So how much is a social network worth? I sure wouldn't pay $50/year for that program for my family.


That's potentially the loophole that could work: The end user gets paid the ad money, and has direct access to the datastore that the advertisers are using in order to edit out bad or undesirable data.


Most people don't worry about ML models or anything like that. They just want something that works, and works well. And, at least in the case of FB, something that their friends/relatives are also available on. You don't need open source devs working on the technical side; you need open source work done on the interface side. You need things that non-technically inclined people can pick up and use.


Devs are not the problem, especially not the amount of them. Google has so many devs, sure, maybe that's why we now have 7 messaging app from them...

The tools for the open web are present, just check https//indieweb.org

Comformist, lazy people, our own friends, are the problem. I'd love to see how to make them care.


I'd start by not calling your own friends "conformist" and "lazy". And instead, try to understand where they come from.

We won't solve problems by shouting at each other.


I lost contact with many people because none of them respected me constantly asking to keep in touch outside of facebook - email, for example.

I don't have lighter words, even if I consider them friends.

Moving on from grammar and culture (in my read, I wasn't offensive, merely stated a fact), what actual solutions, proposals, ideas, can you contribute?


This idea that "merely stating a fact" means you can't be offensive is part of the problem. Your original statement was pretty insulting and offensive, no matter how true you believe it was. If you want to change things, culture is a huge part of achieving that, and being able to express these concerns without being insulting to other people like that is a huge part of it.


I've tried to run platforms for people, Movim, Diaspora, Buddycloud, a lot of things, nobody was interested, because it's simpler to stay on facebook, because it's convenient, and because running a website is a lot of work - these are actual responses I got.

They are lazy, that's the sad truth.


How did you sell those platforms to them? How did you explain that they're better than Facebook? And, given that all the people they want to talk to are already on Facebook, why should they go off to this thing they've never heard of, that they're going to have to administer, which doesn't have any of the people they want to talk to.

It's not that any of them are lazy. They simply have other priorities for what to do with their time, and other priorities for how a social network should work. To them, those alternatives don't provide the value that Facebook provides to them.

If you want to convince others to not use Facebook, I highly suggest you not fall into the trap of deciding that people who don't share your priorities are "lazy".


Culture is the issue. The long standing Internet tradition of "I didn't intend to be offensive, so it's fine that I was, and I should continue to be" is at the root of the entire problem.

Most people don't care for that kind of environment. And so we splinter, and wall off. We're using technological restrictions as a substitute for cultural norms. And so, my original statement still stands - if you want to change the situations, change what your norms are, and influence global norms that way.


So... how and what do you propose to reach people who keep using walled gardens, despite what's known about them, and that they even have people trying to get them to used something else?


I don't think he was shouting.

What words do you use to categorize/describe your lazy conformist friends?


What if the Internet itself is the problem?

We might be witnessing the Eternal September of the entire network.

    Humans + networked Turing machines = shit-show
Are we doomed? Can we have a fundamentally different relationship with these machines?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_September


> networked Turing machines

Brainfuck over UDP...?




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