The Internet, social media, and me.

I have had three distinct relationships with the Internet. I started using it back in the early 90s. The World Wide Web had not come into existence yet, everything was text based. I mostly trawled music and photography listservers for information. When I got my own computer in the late 90s, there were actual webpages! Most of my internet use was centered around music (I loved Napster!) and reading about photography. It was still mostly a passive thing though. I’d order stuff and read newsgroups but that was about it.

Things changed dramatically in 2004. My friend Jenny inspired me to get a LiveJournal account and I started blogging. That quickly led to me getting my own website so that I could post pictures, papers, and other things along with my blog. I distinctly remember the thrill of creating content for the web. Suddenly I was part of the Internet, not just someone that read it. I put my thoughts, my pictures, my life on the web under my name with my own address. I was a creator, I had carved out my own space and made it mine. I was pretty good about keeping that up through about 2009 or so. While I still posted blog posts and pictures after that, my frequency slowed considerably. Why? Facebook.

I joined Facebook in 2003 I think. At the time I did it just to keep track of my cousin while she was at school. I didn’t really start using it till the middle of 2007 when my fellow students in Yemen encouraged me to. It was an easy way to keep track of people I knew from all over the world and it helped me reconnect with friends from high school. By 2009 I was very busy on Facebook. Keeping up with friends is addictive, especially when you had so much catching up to do.

When 2012 rolled around, I had started to get a little weary of Facebook’s shenanigans when it came to privacy, the ads, and general ickiness. That’s when app.net was launched. The goals of the service resonated with me. No ads, users were the customers, not advertisers, and developers were given free rein to use the service in any way they saw fit. The main use was microblogging (similar to Twitter) but there were a lot of other services being built around it like blogging and podcasting. This coincided with my first stint on disability so I had a lot of time to invest in the service, and invest I did. App.net became my primary social outlet despite the fact that I didn’t know anyone on it when I signed up. It was such a compelling experience that I spent a ton of time on it. I was really excited about the possibilities that the platform offered beyond microblogging and couldn’t wait to see what else developers were going to make of the service.

Unfortunately, app.net has devolved into what I had so strenuously denied it being for so long, a paid Twitter clone. Microblogging is really the only thing it is used for now. Sadly, the people that are invested in the service continuing are only interested in microblogging. I still use it but only because I’ve met some really cool people there and I like talking to them.

My use of Facebook really slacked off while I was using app.net heavily. Now that I’m trimming back on app.net, I don’t have a big desire to invest as much time in Facebook. When I look back at all of the energy and information I put into my social media presence, I’m struck by how little I have to show for it. Yes, I have a bunch of stuff in my timelines on both app.net and Facebook but what good is it? Can I find the interesting link I shared or mini exposition on whatever it was I thought was interesting at the time? Not a chance. Can someone else come across what I’ve written and start up a conversation? Will anyone ever Google an explanation I’ve given and be helped by it? How could they?

When I look at my posts on my blog from 11 years ago I feel as though I’ve lost something vital to my writing because of social media services. My posts on my site resonate with me much more than my posts on Facebook do. And that’s assuming that I can even find my posts on Facebook. What I realize is that I no longer feel like a creator, I’m back to feeling like a passive user. It’s not that I don’t make things and put them on the Internet, but I don’t feel as though I own them. They don’t feel as though they are mine. I am making content that either is transitory by design in the case of microblogging, or enriching a company’s product. The feeling of ownership is a subtle and tricky idea, especially when it comes to things on the Internet, but I miss it.

So what to do? I miss the old feeling of accomplishment of making something on the web. I want to feel like a creator again so I’m coming back home. I hope to make this site my primary outlet on the web. It is a place that anyone could come across. I am able to search it for previous writing and I have total control over how it looks and how I present it. I’ll still use social media to be social. Both app.net and Facebook are great for conversations but anything I make will be here.

Here’s to my fourth relationship with the Internet, hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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WordPress

So, that whole website overhaul thing, how did that work out Isaac? Sigh…

 

In case you don’t remember, I had a nerd rage moment and decided that i no longer wanted to deal with using a web authoring program, didn’t want to deal with web hosting, didn’t want to change the way I post blog entries, and essentially wanted all the blog goodness without all the blog hassle. My plan was pretty simple, close down my website, continue to use Blogger to host my blogs, and simply (hah!) add a better looking template to the blogger sites. I cancelled my hosting plan, bought a theme that I loved for the blog, and then paid someone to adapt it so that it would work for Blogger.

That last bit was the actual issue. He did eventually come through and give me a working theme however I still had to do a lot of fiddling to get it to work. Got it good enough and then promptly let it languish while I dealt with some health stuff. When I finally got back to it, something had changed. Things weren’t displaying properly again and I couldn’t remember what I had to change in order to get the theme to work/look the way I wanted on my other blogs. I really like the theme but it wasn’t written for Blogger, it was adapted. ARGGGH!

So I ended up doing what I should have done all along. I went ahead and bought web hosting, bought the WordPress version of the theme I like, and started a wordpress blog. I was able to import all of the blog posts from Blogger, the site behaves the way it should, I can use the posting tools I like (MarsEdit on the Mac and there is a good iPad app to use), and as a bonus I own all of my content on my own service.

I went back to Dreamhost for my hosting duties. I’m pretty sure I’ll be paying the same, or maybe a little less than I did before, right around 7 or 8 bucks a month. Yes, I did pay for 2 years up front to get that price, but I went with them for two reasons. First, I really liked their hosting. After a rather shaky start back in 2006, they have been rock solid since then. I also like their customer service. I had to get some help on a couple of things this time around. Used the online chat and they were able to solve both problems in under a couple of minutes. Good stuff. The other reason I went with them is because I knew they had 1 click installation of WordPress and automatic updates. If you know your stuff, installing WordPress shouldn’t be too big a deal. I don’t know that stuff however so the auto installation was a godsend. 

Got it up and running with little problem. Imported the stuff from Blogger with no problem. As a bonus, I realized I could also import my content from LiveJournal! That’s where I started before moving over to Blogger. I started blogging back in 2004! While there were a few formatting issues, having all of my posts in a single blog is just wonderful. Also glad to get my stuff out of those services before LiveJournal closes down and/or Google decides to shut down Blogger.

I’m still gutting my head around what is possible with Word Press. I’ve never used such a full featured blogging platform before. The theme I’m using has a lot of posting options. Hope I can make use of them. I still have a few things I’d like to sort out but overall I’m happy with the way it has come together and how it looks. Should have done this from the start.

How much would you pay for Facebook? (app.net)

We all know that Facebook is free. I mean, it is free, right? On the other hand, we all also have that kind of unsettling feeling that they are doing something with our online identities. Facebook is what made the question, “Why are they showing me this ad?” a common one. We never thought about it on TV or radio but we all have a sense that they are looking at us and targeting specific ads towards us. They’re sometimes way off of course but that is their game plan. There is also the worry about what other companies they are allowing to look at us.

It’s a tradeoff. Facebook has to be paid for somehow. All of the programmers, the servers, the IT guys, the bandwidth, none of it comes for free. Just like radio and TV before it, Facebook decided to go with ads to support the site. TV and radio ads are annoying, but they don’t have the creepy factor that social media sites do. The TV can’t know who your friends are and what all of you like.

So if you don’t like the way Facebook uses our information, would you be willing to pay them directly instead?

I routinely pay for content so that I don’t get ads. It helps that I really only follow one tv show, Dr. Who. I don’t watch it on TV anymore, BBC America is just brutal with the ads. The show is chopped up enough to make it annoying. Instead, I watch it a day later when I can download it from iTunes. No ads, no interruptions. 

I also subscribe to several music services. Slacker Radio, LastFM, Spotify, and Amazon Play all cost me money, but it also means that I get to listen to the music I want, when I want it, the way I want it, without ads. Nowadays, I can’t sit through FM radio and network TV. I do the same for apps, I buy them whenever I can to avoid the ads. 

App.net is an attempt to bring a paid experience to social networking. You pay them directly and you get the service with no ads and no usage of your information. Almost everything I’ve read says that it is trying to be Twitter so it is bound to fail because it doesn’t have the numbers that Twitter has to make it a viable service. It’s true that the current Alpha release (a release that is not meant for general use, it is for demonstration only. Traditionally software goes through an additional Beta phase before being deemed fit for end users) looks like Twitter but as GigaOm has pointed out, the goal is to be a platform and not just a Twitter competitor. As a platform, app.net could then be used by other application writers to access it and do some amazing things with it including expanding the social aspect of it. 

The minimum buy in fee was $50. That would allow you to secure your desired user name plus give you a year’s worth of time on it. Some of my friends have balked at the price and I had to think about it. I realized that I pay that (and more) to other services without even thinking about it. If this takes off, would you be willing to pay 4.25 a month for a social experience that isn’t interested in selling you? That made my decision for me. My handle is IsaacC.

There are plenty of other types of paid vs. free experiences on the web and on our devices. Apps, web development sites, photo galleries, even blogs! Not sure why something like social networking couldn’t be the same. Has anyone else ever tried this? I know of services that are private social sites, but app.net is trying to scale to allow anyone to interact with anyone else if they wanted. I wish them luck and I’m excited to see what developers can do with this platform.