The Indie Web is Dead, Long Live the Indie Web

Maybe as a result of breaking up with social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), I’ve become more nostalgic for earlier times. I have fond memories of the early pioneer spirit of the independent web. On archive.org, I found a snapshot of my personal web site from 1996.

MAS and Elvis

I made this amazing art using Microsoft Paint in 1996.

What has happened to the web in recent years just makes me sad. Would be bloggers decided to digital sharecrop for the big tech companies instead of building something they owned. It was easier and it was free. That is where the conversation moved. I can’t say I blame them.

The social media networks have the smartest minds working on making their product as addicting as possible and to get you to create and consume as much unpaid content as possible. For many, this was understood and a fair trade-off. However, the posts you think you are sharing with the network you built are only displayed to a fraction of your network.

In a recent Kevin Rose Show podcast, the topic of “Podding” Instagram is discussed. (Episode 33 at 42:28) The short version is most of your Instagram photos are hidden to your followers unless they receive engagement in the form of likes and comments and some sophisticated users have figured how to game the system so their posts are displayed more than yours.

Facebook just flat out asks for extortion (I mean promotion) money to deliver your posts to your network. I discussed this back in 2013.  And we know Twitter favors displaying tweets from the blue checkmark royalty and not us peasants.

The wonderful thing about having your own website is that your posts aren’t being filtered by anyone. Your readers can see all your content either via directing linking to a page (no account required), an RSS feed or if set up an email newsletter.

It should be noted that I pay for my own hosting with my own domain name. Sites that use blogspot.com or wordpress.com are at the mercy of those companies and are increasingly being deplatformed for having the wrong opinion at the wrong time. Having my own website means that I’m not going to wake up one morning to discover some snowflake in Silicon Valley put me in time-out.

For a moment it looked like Medium.com might have been an option to save bloggers from the social media silos, but now the site is littered with click-bait crap that requires a paid subscription to read. What happened? They offered to pay writers. This created an incentive for the site to fill up with BuzzFeed style titles. So instead of seeing content from those I follow, I see mostly junk writing where every third post says there is something I should do.

** Tip: Avoid any article where the words “you should” is in the title. It’s almost always poorly researched or written. 

What is the Future of the Indie Web?

I recently found the IndieWeb project. It gives me some hope that there are others out there that feel the same way I do. The fact is I have no plans to return to the toxic mind-numbing “infinity pools” of social media. I’ll keep my little shack here on the side of the Internet highway. I’ve been at this since 1996. I’m not going anywhere.

* * Infinity pools is a term from the book Make Time. It means “apps and other sources of endlessly replenishing content”. 

8 Comments

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  1. I feel the same way.

    I’m not old (early thirties), but I’ve been using the internet for a long time (maybe 20 years or so).

    I remember IRC and ICQ as early forms of chat.

    I taught myself basic HTML.

    I jumped on board the social media train as I thought it would help my business. It just burnt me out.

    Now, I’m working out how to extract my content from FB and IG and package it in PDF or similar so I can offer it for download on my website.

    I think we have reached peak social media, and many of the early adopters are no longer active, and a growing number are deleting their accounts.

    Blogs and maybe email lists will probably survive.

  2. @Nick – I don’t think so. I see social media getting more powerful. What happens when it merges with AR/VR? Sites like this will look like silent movies.

    In an upcoming post, I will lay out a plan on how the indie web could get a huge boost, but it is unlikely to happen.

  3. Very nice to see you just stumpled upon indieweb.org, too! I just discovered the site a couple of weeks ago myself when I was looking for the de facto standards in inter-website communication, because I want to take our local urban sketching group off of Facebook and offer a compelling alternative to share events, discuss pictures, and represent our local community.

    It made me sad I never heard of them before, but maybe it’s just that the tide is turning and more people re-discover and share that stuff. Or it’s the echo chamber I’m in, though you’re not part of the tech scene, so I doubt that 🙂

    — Christian

  4. @Christian – This was the blog post that I stumbled upon recently that told me about the indieweb.org project.

    https://adactio.com/articles/13879 (great article!)

  5. I found (forgive me if you’ve already read this) a pretty good critique on Medium and it’s many failings:

    https://practicaltypography.com/billionaires-typewriter.html

    Seems it was fairly doomed from the start.

    I hope that enough quality writers, bloggers, publishers, etc. are out there to build something out of indieweb.org. I too miss the “good, old days” of blogs and independent content, as do most bloggers (still active or former) I talk to who were active then.

  6. @Padraic – I had not read that, so thanks for sharing.

    I’m not a fan of Medium, but I would like to defend the thing they do best. And that is a chimp-simple publishing tool that looks good.

    I’ve been using WordPress since 2007, it is a big bloated beast that becomes less friendly every year to regular users. Yesterday, I received an email from my host that some plugins I was using were not PHP 7+ compatible. I’ve coded PHP and understand that statement. It took me hours to replace and test the new plugins and I know what I’m doing. I can only imagine what a regular blogger is thinking. “F**k this, I could use Medium and just write.”

    We need a new CMS that is as simple, secure and as fast as Medium for independent bloggers that is open-source and can be hosted anywhere. Until then Medium, FB, IG, and Twitter will continue pulling in the writers that want to write and not spend hours finding replacements for unsupported plugins that are used to perform tasks that the CMS should be handling.

  7. @MAS what are your thoughts on hosted DIY platforms like Squarespace, Wix and Weebly?

    Are they a bad option for people who just want to write? If so, why?

  8. @Nick – I don’t know those 3 from first-hand experience, but I believe they are superior publishing tools over WordPress for most users. From what I understand, they take care of things a CMS should take care of.

    If I were advising a business that wanted a website, I’d definitely look into those options.

    The problem is I don’t know what happens if you decide to leave. Or what happens if they decide they don’t like you and shut down your website? Do you need to start over?

    I’ve been at this since 1996. Most web hosting relationships do go bad at some point. With WordPress – as much as I’ve grown to loathe it – it makes it possible and somewhat easy to export and import to a new host. I’ve done it a few times.

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