What Happened to Cyberspace?
Aug 24, 2019
It used to annoy me when people talked about going online as something separate from the “real world.” I always thought of the Internet as part of the real world, and as a college student in the early 90s and a graduate student in the late 90s, the Internet was a tool I used on a daily basis.
I hadn’t thought too much about the Internet of my youth until I saw the documentary Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts a few nights ago. It reminded me of a time when I used to frequent Ellis’s Die Puny Humans website, and slashdot. Die Puny Humans is gone, though snapshots are still available on the wayback machine. Slashdot is still around, but it seems to be a shadow of its former self. These days, there are several replacements for these cultural aggregation sites. Places like BoingBoing, Fark, Digg, and reddit. These sites seem to offer similar services, aggregations, often by users, of cultural material for wider dissemination and discussion, but the results seem somewhat muted compared to the posts of 20 or even 10 years ago. The wonder of discovery replaced by a more cynical attempt to be the first to point to the latest dumpster fire. Part of it may be that the destinations are always the same. Links go to Facebook, Twitter, major news sites, Medium and few other major websites. The personal blogs and small companies so often brought down by slashdotting are now very rare.
So now, the Internet is very much like the “real world” I always thought it was a part of. Dominated by a few large corporate and news sites who control the commons. Even relatively independent media sites link to these large players. Google once helped maintain a diverse ecosystem of websites between its now vestigial webmaster tools, which seems to focus completely on SEO, and its once popular, but discontinued feed reader which helped users keep tabs on content from the blogs they follow.
The IndieWeb is working to recapture these older times. Encouraging people to eschew social media sites and instead publish their own blogs again. It’s a lofty goal, but much of the tooling seems to be based on the idea that your blog becomes a backup for posts syndicated into the corporate social media landscape. Without such syndication how would anyone find a blog these days?
I miss the old days. I miss the transient communities we had. I miss the time when the Internet was cyberspace.