I have this feeling at the moment that every good platform for communication is getting ruined by commercial pressures and a lack of user control.
A run-down of the problem
When web 2.0 services were just taking off, the big change was that users were actively contributing to the liveliness of a given site. However, as time has gone on, it’s become clear that big companies have taken all that value created by users with little regard for what users want.
I’ve seen a huge number of complaints on my Twitter timeline about the decision by the company to move from a chronological timeline to a model where tweets are sorted according to a relevance algorithm (like Facebook). I’ve also noticed that both Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook seems to full of more ads than ever. The ratio of content you care about to ads seems to be getting worse by the day.
Another problem with all these platforms is that they’re closed systems. Twitter, Facebook etc. might provide a limited API which enable people to make some services incorporating parts of their platforms, but it seems these spin-offs will always be limited in some way. The closed aspect of these social media platforms also means they’re not indexable or archivable – everything is on the platform owners’ terms. The platform might enable you to embed a tweet or a post on another website, but what assurances do you have that it’s still going to work in a few years’ time?
This all boils down to: these platforms seem cool and useful, but eventually we realise they’re not that great after all, and they slowly get corrupted by the need to make money. What would a better platform look like? Continue reading “Why users need to control the means of communication”
My mother frequently nags me to stop playing on the computer and read a book. I got thinking, something about the internet makes it so much more attractive to me, as a form of entertainment, than reading a book. On the computer I can catch up with friends, read news, listen to music, play games etc, and in comparison a book just doesn’t have that much appeal most of the time. Then I got thinking about the long-term ramifications of the choices I am making now, as well as the consequences of the choices that young people like me are making.
Most of the things I do on the internet are very inconsequential. When I look at my Tumblr dashboard, for instance, what I see is often a whole series of nice looking photos and ‘deep’ quotes offering some interesting perspective on life/love. Every day I religiously catch up on Twitter with all the tweets I missed. As I was lying in bed I started to think about what all the time I devote to this stuff really amounts to. Sure, it’s fun, but I don’t really achieve anything trawling through all this stuff. I might look at an image for five seconds then move on without it having any lasting impression.
I guess it comes down to a matter of priorities. If I just want to have fun then maybe the internet is the place to do it. But if my goal is to have fun and further my horrendously incomplete knowledge of the world, then perhaps I should be reading more. I think books have a much greater potential to leave a lasting imprint on you, for the memory of that novel or non-fiction text to stick with you. Perhaps sitting down and reading a good book will also help to extend my horrifically short attention span as well. When I’m browsing the web I’m constantly flicking between this tab and that tab and sometimes I just can’t be bothered reading long articles. I think that this form of entertainment is just training myself to process information in artificial little snippets and making it difficult for me to sit down and read a textbook when I need to for university.
Even though I’ve come to this conclusion that reading is ultimately a more productive activity, I’ve been finding it hard to shift away from spending so much time trawling the web. I think I’m almost addicted to the internet, I have this strange desire to keep up with everything, even though I always seem increasing the amount of information that I follow. I can’t help but think I’m not alone in my struggle to curtail my computer use as well, it’s probably a widespread phenomena. Are we breeding a whole generation of young people with short attention spans who pick the internet instead of reading? Ultimately though, I think it’s in my best interests to train myself to enjoy reading again and stop spending so much time on this infernal computer and the instant gratification it provides.
The night before last I was sitting down at my computer browsing the Internet and tweetdeck and my stream was filled up with posts from @patlaw about #awaresg. If you haven’t heard about it, a Christian fundamentalist group hijacked a women’s rights group in Singapore called ‘AWARE‘ by flooding the AGM with new members and purged the organisation of it’s old members. The night I was reading @patlaw’s tweets she was at a meeting where a couple of thousand people had turned up to pass a vote of no confidence and get rid of the new executive who weren’t acting in AWARE’s best interests. It was fascinating reading her tweets and witnessing in New Zealand what was happening in Singapore instantaneously. It almost felt like I was in the room with all those people. Then I discovered Twitterfall, a service like live search except that you don’t have to refresh the page. You just simply enter in a search term and the tweets come rolling in. I was able to read what everyone on twitter was saying about AWARE by entering in a search term for #awaresg. People were hungry, worried about their cars being ticketed, angry that the new exec had spent $90,000 in the few days they had been in power, and most of all people were fed up with waiting for the votes of no confidence to be counted.
#awaresg at that time was a trending topic, so there were a lot people twittering about it, and it struck me that Twitter is an amazing and revolutionary tool for communicating in real time about events unfolding. The very fact that I was able to read all these tweets as they were written, and almost felt like I was in the room myself was an amazing thing. Those people in room taking the time to Twitter were sharing the event with people around the world instantly. This was citizen journalism, ordinary people sharing their experiences of an event in a way so much more relevant and powerful than if it had arrived at my computer through the traditional channels of media. I’m not saying Twitter is a replacement for traditional media, a well researched piece of journalism is invaluable, but rather a complementary tool which can offer more up to date information and from the perspective of people that are in the midst of it all. Eventually the vote of no confidence passed and hundreds of tweets erupted in an exclamation of victory. I went to bed, amazed and excited that I could feel so connected with an event so far away.