Thinking

Fixing a Hole in the Social Web

Last sum­mer, my friend Karl Mar­ti­no shared this post from Scott Rosen­berg on Face­book some time ago and I got a lit­tle excit­ed. Could blog­ging real­ly be back? I’ve writ­ten about the death of music blogs and Jere­mi­ah declared the gold­en age of tech blog­ging dead back in 2011. What Rosen­berg hit on in his fol­low up — the migra­to­ry pat­terns of the “hive mind” — made me think less about plat­forms and more about the sin­gu­lar tool that enabled blogs to real­ly become pop­u­lar: RSS.

Google Read­er rode off into the sun­set back in 2013. Noth­ing real­ly replaced it, despite a race to rebuild it. Before any­one declares blogging’s back, let’s be hon­est with our­selves: RSS made the blog­gy core of the web pos­si­ble. Right now, I have a bunch of tabs open and I’m click­ing through to addi­tion­al posts and form­ing thoughts and respons­es. This was only pos­si­ble using “read it lat­er” tools.  In the blog­gy hey­day, I would sub­scribe to count­less blogs and refresh Google Read­er end­less­ly to keep up as they col­lect­ed through­out the day. You’d think I was describ­ing Twit­ter or Tum­blr or Face­book, but these leaky net­works are sieves com­pared to the net RSS pro­vid­ed.

Two reflec­tions:

  1. the social web cre­at­ed the sense of FOMO that keeps us refresh­ing feeds cease­less­ly so we make sure we don’t miss a thing. It’s impos­si­ble to be a part of the dia­logue if you miss it com­plete­ly.
  2. The notion that “if news is impor­tant, it’ll find me” is true only if you hope to cement your solip­sism.

In many respects. the social web has evolved into the online equiv­a­lent of Jacques Lacan and Judith But­ler cor­re­spond­ing in pub­lic via aca­d­e­m­ic jour­nals. We can all read the arti­cles, but they’re not real­ly talk­ing to “us.” Sure, the social web enables us to par­tic­i­pate, but that par­tic­i­pa­tion too often feels like tweet­ing at celebri­ties, in the hopes of the odd fave or retweet.

I’m not sure any­thing can be done about that last bit. Part of the prob­lem of say­ing “blog­ging is back” in any mean­ing­ful way ignores how the scope and veloc­i­ty of infor­ma­tion online with­out new ways to cap­ture a dai­ly digest of what hap­pened. Remem­ber when you’d check Google Read­er and it would be loaded with updates from every blog you fol­lowed that reflect­ed the lat­est press release hit­ting the wire? Now the social web is the same echo cham­ber that rever­ber­ates to reach every time zone online. What’s miss­ing from the social web today — and what made blog­ging in the ear­ly days so great — was that peri­od where it felt like you “knew” “every­one” online. To bor­row from Bene­dict Ander­son, we can’t recap­ture those “imag­ined com­mu­ni­ties” that cre­at­ed a sense of inti­ma­cy and shared under­stand­ing on the web.

The clos­est I’ve seen any­one come to acknowl­edg­ing this gap is ThinkUp, which takes stock of your activ­i­ty in the social web. But quan­ti­fy­ing activ­i­ty isn’t the same as chang­ing behav­ior. Bene­dict Evans tweet­stormed about “dis­cov­ery” and I think it sums things up nice­ly as it relates to how con­ver­sa­tion has evolved online. I’ll end here.

 

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