The internet doesn’t have to be this way. It seems that the structure we live with and struggle with and sometimes work against is predetermined and obvious, but much of it is a result of the origins of the consumer web.
Especially slow modems.
When WELL and AOL and other services began to define how billions of people would eventually be connected, the physics was clear:
We had incredibly slow connections
We had dumb, underpowered computers
This meant that a central server was essential and the person who owned that server probably wanted to make a profit.
Which results in:
- Subsidized cost of signing up
- Ongoing cost of living (advertising or fees)
- Emphasis on network effects to spread the word
- Paying for subsidized sign-ups emphasizes locking-in for maximum benefit
And so we end up with the following expectations:
- Anonymous or multiple accounts
- No data portability (it’s the host’s, not yours)
- Monitoring/trading secrets for convenience
- More aggressive advertising
- Aversion to adversarial interoperability
In 2022, almost everyone online has connection speeds at least 1,000 times faster than basic consumer dial-up modems and a computer that’s as powerful as those basic hosts (even if it’s a phone).
If we care enough, we can imagine a federated internet. One where control and power resides not only with a corporate titan with whims, lock-ins and spam, but with the individuals we do in real life, owning our words and our data and our participation.
[PS I’m not currently allowed to tweet that this blog is automatically retweeted at Mastodon. And hosted here for the foreseeable future–Wordpress is celebrating 20 years of consistent performance this year. Federation and open source and owning your own words in a low-noise environment feels far more resilient than the alternative.]