A reply to John Carlos Baez on “Bye-bye, Google+ — but what next?”

Bye-bye, Google+ — but what next? by John Carlos Baez (Google+)
Google+ is sliding downhill. A couple years ago my posts would garner comments from lots of smart people, leading to long and deep discussions. These days only a few stalwarts remain — a skeleton crew. I've copied most of my posts here to my website and blog. I mainly post here out of inertia: for certain purposes, I haven't found anything better yet. As for the reasons, I agree with +Gideon Rosenblatt's analysis. Also read the many comments on his post! But the more important question is: what to do now? Instead of whining about our masters, we should be our own masters — and unleash our creative energies! A bottom-up approach, run by all of us, could be better than top-down corporate control. A diverse, flexible federation could be better than a single unified platform.

Mastodon

I’ve been watching or on Mastodon since about October of last year. While it does have some interesting/useful features that differentiate it from the rest of the corporate silos, in some senses it’s got worse problems.

Average users are still putting blind trust in the (mostly/completely anonymous) administrators of the individual federated versions–and these are even more likely than well financed corporations, which have some reputation to maintain, to do questionable things with your data. These individuals are also taking on the financial burden of hosting and storing all their users’ data in addition to continually building and maintaining the platform itself. As a result, you’re setting yourself up for potential disappointment yet again, unless you’re going to set up and run your own Mastodon instance. (Especially since there’s no contract for them to maintain their instance on your behalf–they could literally turn it off tomorrow if they liked. Here’s link to a great article comparing and contrasting how well or poorly some communities are run to give you an idea of how drastically different they can be.)

Micro.blog

Since January I’ve also been following a project called Micro.blog which is expected to be released in Beta next Monday, April 24th to its Kickstarter backers. It’s an inexpensive paid service that will provide a domain and hosting to those who don’t want to manage those things themselves. Most importantly, it is built on open protocols with a decentralized architecture which will give you greater control of both your identity online, but also ownership of your data. Because of its structure, it’ll also be inter-operable with other platforms like WordPress. In some senses, it takes the Mastodon federation structure and flattens it down an addition level to the point that it’s much easier for the average user to have their own personal version of the service so they’re more self-reliant in many respects and far less reliant on corporate entities. Since it’s a paid service, the level of service will likely be better than the free services offered by silos like G+ where the user (and their data) ultimately become the product.

Indieweb

This said, I still believe a more future-proof long-term alternative is to have your own domain and post your content on it first. This will still allow you to syndicate it out to one or more social media silos to reach individual audiences who still choose to use them. Because it’s your own site, you’re far less constrained by what an outside corporation might dictate, and you have a lot more freedom and control.

John, since I’d mentioned the indieweb movement to you last, it’s come a long way, particularly on CMS platforms like WordPress and Known which both support the W3C spec for webmentions (you can now use your own website to @mention people all across the web who also support the spec), and can use Brid.gy to backfeed all the interactions (comments, likes) you have on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Flickr back to your original post so it appears the entire conversation around your content is on your own site. Last week I actually wrote a small piece about setting up functionality for having @mentions from Twitter come back to my own website, which is just a small piece of this type of functionality.

When you (or others) have time to chat about potentially implementing something like this, I’m happy to walk you though a few demos and help you set things up to better support all this new open technology.

If anyone wants to test-drive WithKnown, I’ve set up an open instance at http://known.boffosocko.com where you can register and try out some of the basic functionality. I haven’t completely finished setting up all the configuration options for the major social media sites including a new one for Mastodon, but the settings should allow one to OAuth with Twitter to cross-post content there and then one can register (in the settings) with Brid.gy to backfeed replies and likes. I’ll also recommend installing the browser bookmarklet to make interacting with it easier for bookmarking and replying to things.

Author: Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

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