Big Internet


We talk about Big Oil and Big Pharma and Big Ag. Maybe it’s time we started talking about Big Internet.

That thought crossed my mind after reading a couple of recent posts. One was Scott Rosenberg’s piece about a renaissance in the ancient art of blogging. I hadn’t even realized that blogs were a thing again, but Rosenberg delivers the evidence. Jason Kottke, too, says that blogging is once again the geist in our zeit. Welcome back, world.

The other piece was Alan Jacobs’s goodbye to Twitter. Jacobs writes of a growing sense of disillusionment and disappointment with the ubiquitous microblogging platform:

As long as I’ve been on Twitter (I started in March 2007) people have been complaining about Twitter. But recently things have changed. The complaints have increased in frequency and intensity, and now are coming more often from especially thoughtful and constructive users of the platform. There is an air of defeat about these complaints now, an almost palpable giving-up. For many of the really smart people on Twitter, it’s over. Not in the sense that they’ll quit using it altogether; but some of what was best about Twitter — primarily the experience of discovery — is now pretty clearly a thing of the past.

“Big Twitter was great — for a while,” says Jacobs. “But now it’s over, and it’s time to move on.”

These trends, if they are actually trends, seem related. I sense that they both stem from a sense of exhaustion with what I’m calling Big Internet. By Big Internet, I mean the platform- and plantation-based internet, the one centered around giants like Google and Facebook and Twitter and Amazon and Apple. Maybe these companies were insurgents at one point, but now they’re fat and bland and obsessed with expanding or defending their empires. They’ve become the Henry VIIIs of the web. And it’s starting to feel a little gross to be in their presence.

So, yeah, I’m down with this retro movement. Bring back personal blogs. Bring back RSS. Bring back the fun. Screw Big Internet.

But, please, don’t bring back the term “blogosphere.”

Image: still from Lost.

4 thoughts on “Big Internet

  1. Joseph Ratliff

    I personally like the recent focus on blogging. Linking to pages, writing about what you want to write about, creating what you want to create.

    Big Internet, and the “walled gardens” it represents, can go leap off a tall building.

  2. Ben Oliver

    I agree with Joseph, and would also add ‘owning what you create’ to the list.

    Somebody told me I was living in a dream world when I said that I was going to put stuff I made on my own site. Why not use Facebook when it’s so easy on there? Nobody will look at your stuff! It’s impossible.

    This has not been the case.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like to syndicate. Film reviews go on Letterboxd, video goes on YouTube etc… but it’s all linked back to the source. If I write something or take a picture, put it online, and it doesn’t go on my site, then it doesn’t count as mine.

    People who want to read my stuff, read it. People who aren’t interested go somewhere else.

    From my perspective as a ‘consumer’, RSS has always been king for me. I hope it makes a come back.

  3. Brutus

    I have always been a slow adopter of new tech, and it was easy to see through and resist the hype of all the various platforms that offer short, nearly instantaneous ways of broadcasting one’s ideas, and worst, the social media sites. Others may have found them useful or engaging for a time. I never bothered with them. Further, cool hunters seek, embrace, and abandon one venue after the next in their continuous, restless roving. Circling back was practically inevitable.

    It would be a mistake to think that WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, and other blogging platforms aren’t owned by or themselves commercial entities like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. but they have not yet succumbed to quite the same level of gaming and corruption, which Alan Jacobs has shone some light on especially in the case of TW and FB. And as you point out, once a corporate entity becomes established, it become defensive of its turf.

    I dislike the term “Big Internet,” which has yet to aggregate like Big Oil/Pharma/Ag. The Internet is more like Big Data, which is diverse and distributed but growing troublesome as certain platforms get nastier with they machinations. I find it difficult to guess whether the motivation is monetary or some weird gambit for social control. If there is indeed a quiet rebellion occurring, it’s not that “information yearns to be free” as some idiot put it but rather that people want to broadcast and share their opinions and enthusiasms without unnecessary mediation. Early self-organization of the Internet embodied a reckless, unregulated approach to networked content. No doubt hand-rolling, mustache-twirling, Silicon Valley demagogues believe there’s a piece of the action waiting to be grabbed.

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