Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Blogs vs. Social; or, Old Internet vs. New

I often cross-post Facebook updates to this blog, which has gotten me thinking about the relative merits of social network websites and apps on the one hand, and blogs and the Old Internet on the other.

Even though they are considered unfashionable, blogs provide a much better medium for providing multiple links as references, for presenting sustained argument and analysis, and for facilitating complex discussions between multiple commentators and across blogs.

Discussion boards are also great for long-form dialogue and multi-way discussions.

Social networks should be viewed as an enhancement or addition to blogs and discussion boards, rather than as a total replacement for them. Social network websites and apps seem harder to search and harder to thoroughly scan or scroll, and content is often blocked from the wider Internet through privacy settings. When I do Google searches related to software debugging or gaming, for example, I often turn up discussion board posts and blog posts, but rarely social posts.

In addition, posting content on social websites or apps effectively releases control of the content to the companies which own the websites and apps. Now, there is no reason why a DIY or open source social network couldn't arise and replace the privately owned, for-profit ones, but this has not yet happened, so de facto going social means going corporate, at least for now. This has given rise to the Indie Web movement, with its advocacy of syndicating content to social networks from independently owned and operated blogs and websites. 

In any event, obsession with the new for the sake of the new, together with ever-shortening attention spans, have evidently caused people to look down on blogs and boards, despite their excellent functionality and comparative advantage with respect to some kinds of communication. It's as if every time we get a new tool, people feel compelled to throw out the old ones, instead of just adding the new one (social) to the box beside the others (blogs and boards).

This reminds me of how people have become strangely insensitive to issues of quality and archivability of data (whether audio, visual, or video) with the advent of streaming. I'm not saying that iTunes, Netflix, Amazon or other forms of streaming are bad because of their poorer quality; it's just that people treat streaming as a one-size fits all solution for their data needs, without realizing that there are trade-offs. CDs, DVDs, and BluRay have superior quality and archivability to streaming, and also give the owner greater control over the data, at least in certain respects. For example, with a Netflix subscription, there's no guarantee you'll be able to access the same content tomorrow that you can access today (it's for this reason that I often used to ruefully refer to this service as "Netflux").

At least, with the Indie Web movement, people are aware of some of the problems with social, and starting to do something about it. My dream is to see strong open source social networks, and to see them integrated with blogs, boards, and the other still useful tools of the Internet of Yore.
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