Greetings, people of the future!
This piece has gotten a lot of attention over the years. I have heard a lot of people saying that they had been "inspired" by it. I fear that what they meant was that they were inspired by the one pull-quote that people tend to quote from it, and ignored the rest. So if someone has linked you to this page, or if you've googled that pull-quote and ended up here, let me give you some context. I wrote this in 2005, which was was more than a year before Facebook was open to the general public.
The world was different then.
When I hear people say that they were "inspired" by this, I fear that the result of such inspiration was most likely to cause them to participate in the construction of the Public-Private Surveillance Partnership. These people told themselves that they were building tools to "bring people together" when in fact what they were doing was constructing and enabling the information-broker business models used by companies like Facebook and Equifax, where people are not the customers but rather are the raw materials whose personal details are the product.
I was talking about decentralization and empowerment of the individual. They went and build the exact opposite.
It's not a great feeling to think that someone may have read your words and then gone on to construct the dystopian hellscape that we're now living in, where Twitter is the prime enabler of actual Nazis and Facebook's greatest accomplishment has been to put a racist rapist in the White House.
If all the people who claimed to have been "inspired" by this piece hadn't been, and had just kept writing middleware for banks or whatever, the world might have been a slightly better place.
I wish I had never published this.- jwz, 24-Nov-2017