Now and then, step outside social media’s walls

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. pump.io 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.

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