Now and then, step outside social media's walls

RSS reader instead of Facebook

I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions for a variety of reasons. For more on the subject, see Resolution Evolution by Jason McClain. However, this year I have a somewhat different tack. I’m committing myself not to a set of specific pass/fail tasks (make it to the gym every day) but to a more general goal: reduce my use of social media sites as my conduit to blogs.

There is a problem with the Web that has yet to be solved to my satisfaction. So far we have had to choose between ownership and control of our own content (as one does with one’s own blog) and connectivity with others (as with social media sites.) I remember how well-connected everything seemed when Monochromatic Outlook was on LiveJournal. My posts would show up in other people’s streams, theirs would show up in mine, we could comment back and forth without having to manage a bunch of different logins. It worked very well.

Of course, LiveJournal is a walled garden. It’s great for interacting with others within that garden, but terrible for communicating with anyone outside. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, pretty much all social media sites are these kinds of walled gardens that only make money if you post your content there. Of course, it’s about more than money. The issues at stake are control, ownership, and privacy.

At one point, StatusNet and the OpenMicroBlogging Protocol were poised to be the solution to the problem. One could own one’s own site and own content, and connect to other people on other sites—of course, these had to be sites running the OMB or OStatus protocols, but there was real potential there. There still is, but it doesn’t seem to be taking the form that was initially intended. wants to be the successor. I’m keeping my eyes on that one.

The problem is that it takes a bit more effort to connect to someone on a site that you aren’t already a member of. Part of this may be technological; the protocols mentioned in the previous paragraph don’t have widespread adoption. In order to use them someone has to be very tech-savvy. But that in itself is part of another problem: the companies that are currently providing social connectivity within their walled gardens only make money if they bring you in to their walled garden. Companies like Facebook may talk about bringing people closer together, and the people may even believe it in good faith, but ultimately they are only willing to bring people closer together inside their own system. That’s not the kind of open connectivity the idealists promised us when describing the utopian vision of the global network.

So what does this have to do with a New Year’s Resolution? I can’t criticize others for not taking the extra effort to connect with others’ blogs directly unless I am willing to take the task on myself. I can’t expect others to try to use and improve the technology that’s out there that will bring us closer together unless I am willing to take that step myself.

I resolve to pay attention to and commit some extra effort to interacting directly with the blogs and sites my friends have rather than just lazily following them on Facebook.

How will that look? I don’t know. It’s vague and open-ended and it ought to be. I’m not going to promise never to comment on someone’s Facebook post. My commitment is to pay attention and when I’m faced with the choice try to err on the side of taking the extra step that will strengthen the global community rather than just the local one. It means I will try to rely more on my RSS reader (I use Leaf) to see what my blogging friends are blogging about, and less on Facebook and Twitter. It might mean defriending or unfollowing people on those sites in favor of having their blogs in Leaf, though that might be overkill.

There are other actions that come to mind: I can make sure that my OpenID login is working correctly so that I can easily log in to those sites that use OpenID. I can keep paying attention to the protocols and platforms that encourage and enable direct communication, and I can try installing and trying new means, both on my own computer and on my websites. And I can keep having the conversation with those people that are already involved with building connected community on the Web.

There aren’t any guaranteed outcomes to be measured here, and maybe that is what counterintuitively makes this seem like a great choice for a resolution. There isn’t any way for me to fail at it; just ways for me to keep doing it.