There are plenty of reasons for being frustrated with Facebook and Twitter these days, and for reassessing our use of them, including massive privacy breaches and subpar responses to abuse. But while it may not be as critical or headline-worthy as those issues, there’s yet another aspect of social networks that should be concerning: the ways in which they encourage us, either purposefully or accidentally, to be careless with our content.
Social networks have spent untold resources on making it as easy and enticing as possible to post content on them. After all, the more people who are actively engaged with their services, the more money they make. And I think we can agree that much of that engagement results in content that is pithy, lighthearted, and trivial. We open the Facebook app, post something off-the-cuff — say, a cool video or funny GIF — and then we’re done. (Actually, then we come back again and again to see how many likes and comments we’ve received because we crave validation, but that’s a subject for another post.)
There’s a time and place for that sort of content — I love a good meme or reaction GIF as much as the next person — and yet, I rarely give much thought to its longevity. Instead, I feel like I’m just throwing it into the ether, and only God — and some algorithms — knows where it’ll land. I have no real control anymore over what happens to it, who sees it, how it’s presented to them, and so on. And with that lack of control comes a lack of any sense of ownership or accountability.
Fortunately, there exists an alternative to this: the IndieWeb. Calling itself a “people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web,’ ” the IndieWeb is sort of a mix between a movement, a manifesto, a set of best practices, and a technical spec. But basically, it advocates for people having more ownership and control over the content they post online:
Our online content and identities are becoming more important and sometimes even critical to our lives. Neither are secure in the hands of random ephemeral startups or big silos. We should be the holders of our online presence.
You could probably argue that, by running my own blog, I’ve been part of the IndieWeb for years now. However, I didn’t really know anything about it until I discovered Micro.blog, a blogging platform and social network developed by Manton Reece.
Micro.blog has some similarities to existing social networks, but it also has some major differences. For starters, it relies on a growing network of independent, self-managed sites that are brought together using open technologies advocated by the IndieWeb (e.g., webmentions, microformats).
As I worked on recent incarnations of Opus, I incorporated those technologies as best I could. But more to this article’s point, the process of IndieWeb-ifying Opus caused me to reconsider how I want to write online and how I want to own that writing (as per the IndieWeb manifesto).
When I post something on Facebook or Twitter, I have difficulty feeling like it’s mine. I type in a few words or sentences, maybe attach an image, and then push a button, and it’s out of my hands. I no longer own it and am no longer responsible for it. And I don’t think that’s healthy. First of all, that’s all an illusion (if I say something terrible, I’m sure to get called out) and second of all, I should want to take ownership of the things I say, even in a space as ephemeral as the web.
Basically, the IndieWeb’s ideals have challenged me to view my online posting activity through the lens of questions like:
- Do I want this content to still be accessible decades from now?
- Do I want this content to (hopefully) still be interesting decades from now?
- Am I willing to have my name, face, and reputation attached to this content for that long?
- Do I want to make it easy to see if and how my thoughts have developed, changed, and matured over the years concerning this particular topic?
- Do I want to make it easier for others to link to and share this content, while still retaining control over how it’s ultimately presented?
I haven’t stopped using social networks altogether nor am I posting content on Opus exclusively. But in recent months, I have found myself desiring the latter more.
Posting on Opus affords me more space and time for reflection and encourages me to think twice about what I’m posting, and whether it’s beneficial for both me and my readers. It encourages me to be more thoughtful, because if I want my content to be around 10, 20, 30 years from now, then I need to be comfortable with that legacy. I need to be willing to both stand by what I write and be humble enough to admit when I was wrong or misguided.
I want to create content that I can be proud of, or at least comfortable with, years from now. Social media pushes us to live, think, and post in the moment. The IndieWeb encourages us to be more responsible and take the long view.