Rambling Thoughts from a Wandering Mind


Category: Facebook

Re-decentralizing the web

A few days ago, I came across an article in the Guardian, talking about decentralization as the next big step for the world wide web. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, and have written about before.

Re-decentralizing the web is a good idea, but I think some of what’s proposed in the article misses the point. Centralization is mostly a social problem, not a technical one, and it requires social solutions. The technologies needed to re-decentralize the web mostly exist already: we just go back to doing what we did before it all got centralized. We need, for example, to revitalize the culture of blogging rather than posting.

Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that, as many people are only able to share their thoughts and ideas as a result of centralized services; they aren’t technically proficient enough to make their own website. We don’t want to leave these people behind as we move to re-decentralize things. This further illustrates that the problem is a social one much more than it is a technical one. Maybe the answer is something akin to Geocities (or WordPress.com, Blogger.com, etc.), rather than everyone having a Facebook profile. Technically, this would still be a centralized service, but the design and mentality behind it would much more closely resemble the decentralized web — everyone has their own website — than the social networks of today, in which everyone is part of the same website and all of their data is aggregated and analyzed in increasingly creepy ways.

Still, there are some good links in that Guardian story. Graphite Docs seems cool, although the fact that it’s based on the Bitcoin ledger makes me question its environmental sustainability. Beaker Browser is also interesting but, without widespread adoption, it’s not going to be revolutionary; and I just don’t see widespread adoption of an obscure browser happening anytime soon.

If the Dat protocol was a standard that could be used through any web browser, it might be different. It would still likely be a niche protocol, but it would at least have a chance at finding wider adoption among decentralization geeks.

Ultimately, if we want to retake control of our personal data and push back against the latest capitalist enclosure movement — the enclosure of not only our data, but of our relationships and identities — we need to re-decentralize the web. We don’t need a blockchain to do it. We need to rethink our relationship to the Internet and the big, centralized service providers. The revolution we need isn’t a technological one, it’s a social one.

Facebook is bad for my mental health

Image of the Facebook logo behind broken glass.
Does Facebook make you want to smash your screen?

Dramatically limiting my Facebook use has really helped my mental health. Inspired by the #DeleteFacebook movement, I have dramatically limited my Facebook use.

I haven’t deleted my account, because I do sometimes need to access Facebook for work and it’s very difficult to do so without an account. And there are a few groups that I don’t want to lose access to.

What I have done is to seriously lock down my account for privacy reasons (I’ll probably write a separate post about this in the near future), so I can feel a little more secure about maintaining my account.

In addition to locking things down, I’ve deleted the third-party Facebook app I had been using from my phone. At work, I’ve installed the News Feed Eradicator Chrome extension, so I don’t see my news feed at all. I can still look at pages and groups that I might need to view for work reasons, but don’t get sucked into my news feed. I’ll be adding it to Firefox on my home computer the next time I sit down to do something on that machine.

This means that I basically don’t see anything on Facebook, except for the occasional notification from groups I’m in.

It’s been roughly a week since I’ve had things set up this way. I’ve already noticed a huge impact on my mental health.

I’m happier. I’m less anxious. I’m less angry. I’m less stressed out.

It’s frankly amazing how much better I feel now that I’m effectively not using Facebook except to occasionally check work-related things or to pop into the dads’ group of which I’m a member.

I haven’t given up social media. I still check Instagram, though much less often than I used to. I still very occasionally look at Twitter, although I’ve also removed Twitter from my phone. Mostly, I’ve been using federated social media like Mastodon and diaspora. I’ve also played around with Friendica, which is probably a little closer to Facebook in look and feel than the other two.

So far, I find these networks have much less of a negative impact on my well-being. Partly, this is because they’re designed differently and don’t have intentionally addictive traits built into them the way that the big, corporate, for-profit networks do. And, partly, it’s because the networks are smaller and seem to attract people and conversations that are more positive and less combative in nature than those of Facebook and Twitter.

These benefits could disappear as these networks become more popular, but for the time being they’re friendlier places built on non-exploitative technology.

Rediscovering the open web

#OpenWeb is trending right now. At least, I suspect it is. It’s kind of hard to accurately determine what’s trending on the open, decentralized web. And that’s a good thing.

Regardless of whether or not it’s actually trending, there is a lot of talk about the open web right now. Much of this talk is inspired by the #DeleteFacebook movement that has come about in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. People are thinking about changing their online behaviour and much of the sheen has worn off of the corporate, centralized web. After a decade of consolidation — so much of the web have been centralized into the hands of just a few companies — people are no longer sure about the benefits of using the services provided by Facebook, Google, Twitter and a few other large web companies.

This rethinking of who we give our data to has been good for decentralized social media platforms. Mastodon and diaspora* are probably the two services that have benefited most from this.

I’ve largely moved away from centralized social media in favour of these decentralized services. I still maintain a Twitter account, but am not very active; and I still have a Facebook account, but I’m very seriously considering closing it (more due to the fact that it’s a life-suck and rather terrible for my mental health than as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, although I’ll admit the #DeleteFacebook movement has caused me to think more seriously about this).

But perhaps the bigger, more interesting thing about an attempt to return to the open, decentralized web is the possibility of a resurgence, however small, of personal blogs and websites.

I recently went through my RSS reader and unsubscribed from most (but not all) of the corporate blogs I was subscribed to. I wasn’t reading a lot of them anyway. In their place, I’ve slowly started adding personal blogs to my feed reader.

I’m finding that I enjoy reading personal blogs — or smaller “professional” blogs — for a number of reasons:

  • because they’re personal, I feel like I can better relate to and connect with the authors
  • they tend to publish less frequently than the corporate sites (they’re certainly not publishing a dozen or most posts every day); this helps prevent information overload and means I actually have enough time to read everything in my RSS feed, instead of just reading headlines and skipping the vast majority of articles
  • they’re unpredictable and provide unique perspectives that I wouldn’t otherwise get to read, because the corporate blogs are often very polished and without much personality

In addition, I find reading personal blogs and engaging in the more intimate conversations that decentralized social media allows for has inspired me to blog more myself. For me, that’s enough of a reason to rediscover and re-embrace the open web.