2019-01-26 Why am I telling you this

Why am I telling you this?

The Open Web, walled gardens, and 327 personal obsessions

Why do I blog about what I blog about? Why does this blog exist?

Primarily because I have a large number of interests and I love to use them to delight the enlightened (and enlighten the benighted). I like to share and discuss ideas with people, and if the ideas are worthwhile, I like to see them spread.

I track my interests in a perpetually growing file called obsessions.txt. Every one of its (currently) 327 lines contains an interest of mine, such as SETI, Sherlock Holmes, Sid Sackson, the Singularity, or solipsism. I wrote a program called ii that randomly combines such interests two at a time and searches for them on the Web. I want to find new mutations of my memes (mine in the sense that they inhabit my brain, not necessarily that I originated them), and I want to delight in the mutations myself.

So that's why I blog. But why do I blog here on this tiny shred of the World Wide Web rather than in the massive walled garden of Facebook, or some other one? The answer lies in a concept called the Open Web, which I support and have seen most succinctly defined by Bryan Behrenshausen of Red Hat:

The “open Web” is the idea that the World Wide Web should remain accessible to as many people as possible. It has both technical and cultural dimensions.

The Open Web has these dimensions; walled gardens do not. The technical dimensions are open standards such as HTTP and HTML. The cultural dimensions, are, I think, expressed elegantly in turn by this Declaration of Internet Freedom from 2011:

We stand for a free and open Internet.

We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles:

Expression: Don't censor the Internet.

Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.

Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate.

Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies and don’t punish innovators for their users' actions.

Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used.

I find these Open Web principles admirable. For example, I hardly think I need to elaborate on social media's poor reputation for privacy. Facebook alone is notorious for, if not synonymous with, violating its users' privacy, sometimes with catastrophic results (arguably including the 2016 U.S. presidential election). This little blog, on the other hand, wouldn't steal your privacy, or mine, if it could.

Innovation and all the rest are great virtues, but I think the virtue of openness is what leads me to make most of my posts on the Open Web rather than social media walled gardens.

Even though I probably have a bigger audience now on both Facebook and Twitter than on this little blog, that might not be true in the long run. Writing on the Open Web is so much more discoverable than on Twitter, and especially on Facebook. Search engines can't find you on the latter (can't get over the walls of the garden), and have a hard time of it with Twitter too. Facebook will even throttle your posts within the walled garden so that only a fraction of your audience will see them.

You may have noticed that the Declaration of Internet Freedom link I gave was to the Internet Archive copy of the Declaration of Internet Freedom, which seems to have disappeared from the Web. "HAW! HAW! HAW!" I hear you say (as if you are a hopeless sinner in an old Jack Chick bible comic). "Where's your manifesto now?"

That's the point. Because its writers used open web standards, the Declaration is safe in the planetary memory of the Internet Archive, whereas your yesterday's Facebook post is quick down the memory hole like a meth-addicted rabbit.

I recently wanted to catch up on a friend's Facebook timeline, but I couldn't scroll back any further than a few months before the delay retrieving his posts became too onerous. Either the masters of Facebook are more incompetent than even I suppose, or else the increasing delay is deliberate, like the throttling mentioned earlier. After all, I can use Google Groups to retrieve open-standards-based Usenet articles from at least thousands of people posting all the way back to 1982 in a matter of seconds; surely finding messages from a single person a few months ago shouldn't tax the infrastructure of a walled garden that encloses a third of the population of the world.

In any case, old Facebook messages are almost impossible to retrieve -- but I want to be retrievable for a long time, even if my messages are of no more than historical interest.

If you find the ideas in this post interesting, you can use the Comments link at the bottom of the page to share your ideas with me and whomever else happens across it, perhaps by running their own random searches. For the love of Dog, don't go back to the walled garden where you found the link to this message and comment there instead.