The old internet

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Katie Notopoulos gives a reasonable rundown of the web that used to exist before the 2010s (a wild and disintermediated place where independent creators had a chance to thrive) and the one that exists a decade later (centralized into a handful of aggregators and platforms that everyone is reliant on.)

The internet of the 2010s will be defined by social media’s role in the 2016 election, the rise of extremism, and the fallout from privacy scandals like Cambridge Analytica. But there’s another, more minor theme to the decade: the gradual dismantling and dissolution of an older internet culture.

This purge comes in two forms: sites or services shutting down or transforming their business models. Despite the constant flurries of social startups (Vine! Snapchat! TikTok! Ello! Meerkat! Peach! Path! Yo!), when the dust was blown off the chisel, the 2010s revealed that the content you made — your photos, your writing, your texts, emails, and DMs — is almost exclusively in the hands of the biggest tech companies: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or Apple.

Katie Notopoulos, The Old Internet Died And We Watched And Did Nothing

It’s a similar argument to that laid out in 2012 by Anil Dash in “The Web We Lost” and in 2015 by Hossein Derakhshan in “The Web We Have To Save”. There are, of course, many competing factors and questions that make this not a simple situation—wild, creative and independent for whom? Would accountability be any better with a billion tiny sites?—but it’s pretty easy to see the ills resulting from platform dominance.

At Medium, one of our earlier stated principles was that it would take a platform to beat a platform: but platforms didn’t have to be monsters, they could be a thousand times better and help independents flourish. The machinery was more Twitter than Blogger, but our hope was that it could be more Blogger than Twitter. I was naive to believe that the specific case could be true—Medium’s slow shift towards control looks like a planned jettisoning of those principles from here—but I do think there’s something in there in the general sense. Imagine all the roads the web didn’t take.

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