The other reason I don’t like social media is that it makes me feel old and left behind.
I kid, mostly. But starting a few years back, weblogs are now cooling from the hype they’ve been in almost since their establishment. I could choose to be on Twitter or Facebook in a second’s notice, if that was what was important, but I don’t. Let me be clear: not being there is also not what’s important. I’m indifferent to the major supposed utility and a range of emotions from put off through disgusted with every additional detail.
Last time, I ended it by essentially saying that I host my own website. I certainly don’t mean to make this a humble brag about my own digital handiness. I hate that not everyone can host their own website without wading through the swamps of crooks and insufficiency. But the point is that some people still can, and while that needs to get easier, more than anything Twitter and Facebook needs to get some competition from something that’s as approachable as Twitter and Facebook and has a clear road ahead to being an open standard.
There are many people clamoring for open standards. I don’t want them because I love open standards, I want them because they are brilliant means to an end.
Long before software, someone came up with the pen. Then the printing press. Then recording and playback machine for audio and video. Maybe it’s not obvious, but mediums are mechanisms. It’s not the graphite or ink in the pen that’s noteworthy. It’s the list of theses nailed to the church door or newspaper article that describes crimes against humanity that we remember and that have effect. The writing implement is interesting insofar that they are requirements for any of that to happen.
With the software, we also have to build the paper and the intent itself. We can make text editors and we can make chat clients and we can make economy programs, but we can’t make something that’s all those things, at least not efficiently. Yes, in a manner of speaking, you could solve almost anything by editing and constantly transporting a text file. I assure you that this is the most ridiculous of solutions, proposed and beloved only by the most ridiculous of people.
What this boils down to is that the makers of notebooks didn’t and still don’t have to change their products to facilitate what they will be used for. Softwarewise, we’re not so lucky. This is why we need open standards. To decide that it’s pretty useful to send something like a piece of postal mail from one person to another and how that should be solved. That it’s rather a boon to a project like the Large Hadron Collider if there were a web of interlinked documents. And why not that being able to talk to people in real time across a network of servers is a neat idea.
I’m not going to go as far as to say that the startup culture that fosters a little too much of the software being written today is outright poison. Tragical in parts, shortsighted and focused on coffer-lining, sure. But some of them do succeed, and startup or not, failure is a part of business. Not every venture is a slam dunk and you don’t know until you’ve tried (although for many of them, you could just ask ten reasonable people and know to pick a different idea instead).
What is true is that it’s poison for developing open standards. Look at the development of almost every popular protocol in use today, and know that almost none of them were developed so that someone could get a Porsche, or so that someone’s options would vest. If email was designed so that “monetization” was a design point, maybe we wouldn’t get much spam, but no one would use it, either.
I’ve been thinking about long-term, crassly commercial solutions that are still with us and that have mostly not fucked around with its users, and I do see some of the instant messaging networks: both AIM and ICQ are still around and ICQ is coming up on its 18th birthday (I registered my account over dial-up, as what would now be called a “tween”, and I still remember my digits). That sort of longevity takes work, but look at the number of competitors who have fallen by the roadside and know that continued success or even relevance is not a foregone conclusion.
On the other hand, RSS has been around for almost as long and been singled out as dead for years now. (It’s how I get most of my news every day, so I think those rumors are greatly exaggerated.) Maybe unbeknownst to these people, it has also been a foundational technology for distribution of information in many forms, and for podcasts, which these people would in the same breath name as a vibrant media landscape. Reporting on waning innovation in the RSS space is like expecting the postman to do backflips for you. His job is making sure you get your messages, not making them more interesting; “paper still white, boring” is an odd headline.
This is not an ode to the standards and protocols of the world. It’s a wish that we didn’t stop doing them the way we should for progress to be made tomorrow, too.