Taking Down The Windmills From The Inside

September 2020 ยท 3 minute read

I’m working on building an alternative to existing social media, based on the premise that it is not only possible, but practical and inexpensive, for anyone to run for themselves the suite of services provided by corporate social networks at such a high social cost.

I do not, if I am honest, expect this to make very much of a difference. “Like, a social network, but a better one” is the Ur-joke software engineers tell about the ideas you hear from suits. From the non-STEM side, the temperature feels about the same–computers are so obviously at the center of the nuclear chain reaction occurring in global capitalism that they seem guilty by association. The idea of an out-of-work software “engineer” deciding that now, of all times, a project like this is a useful thing to do–well, it fits a certain nebulous-but-unkind stereotype.

So here are the reasons I’m doing it anyway:

  1. Seems fun. I was feeling pretty burned out when I left my last job, but now I’m finding myself really enjoying being back to putting a system together. Which brings me to the next reason:
  2. I really, honest-to-goodness, want a non-sucky way to share stuff I make and stories I can tell. None of the existing social networks provide anything close to the quality of experience we ought to expect from a medium with the potential of the internet.
  3. Apart from not providing a good service, the incentives that exist for privately-owned, for-profit social networks make them fundamentally untrustworthy as the major custodians of public life in a democracy.
  4. I don’t think that software writers as a profession have done an adequate job of explaining how modern software systems work. Many crafts have visible enthusiast cults–we affirm the aesthetic value of products like cars, articles of clothing, home goods–all of the things we interact with daily. This aesthetic consciousness doesn’t yet seem to extend to software systems, which makes it very difficult to distinguish between the physical rules that apply in reality and the deliberately-designed rules that apply in software. Many people have a kind of harried awareness of being surveilled on all sides (this is perfectly justified), but few appreciate how fragile that panopticon is, and how dependent it is on willing cooperation. I’m not the first to hurl an oversized balloon clawhammer at those walls with malice aforethought, but I intend at least to keep the tradition alive. [muffled squeaking recedes]

Along the way, I’m going to try to provide as much entertainment and useful information as I can. If you have questions or there’s something you’d like to collaborate on or learn more about, feel free to get in touch.