They stole the web. And we were instrumental to it. They did it thanks to us.

They stole our attention and the energy we were putting in our own sites. In our blogs, forums, message boards and user groups.

I am not old, or so I think: I am in my mid-forties as I write this. I began using computers regularly in 1989, when a ZX Spectrum +2A appeared under the christmas tree. The Spectrum was an 8-bit computer very popular in my country of birth, and it brought countless hours of joy, and surely the whole home computing thing caught my imagination thanks to it.

While that computer was the beginning of so much, that computer didn’t really changed my view of the world.

It was about 1996, or maybe ‘97, when we bought our first family computer. It was a PC with 32 MB of RAM, a 2 GB hard drive, and all that under the control of an Intel Pentium MMX running at a clock speed of 166 MHz. While it came with Windows 95 and didn’t survive Windows 98, was with that computer that I discovered GNU/Linux. Sometime in 1998, about a year before having my first e-mail address, my brother an I stood up until 3 AM squeezing a Red Hat Linux 5.1 in just 400 MB, so that it could fit alongside Windows.

That was also about a year before connecting to the Internet for the first time: first at college, and then at home at a glorious speed of 33.6 kbps.

In retrospective, I think that connecting to the internet was what that one thing that changed my way of seeing the world.

  • With an inexpensive and fast way to have conversations with anyone: the e-mail. The first e-mail I ever sent after the few usual “let’s try this!” emails with some friends was to a writer, commenting on a column he wrote weekly on a magazine that came attached to a newspaper, on Sundays. He wrote back in less than a day.
  • Also, with an inexpensive and fast way of discussing solutions to problems and other stuff: the forums and message boards. I was so into them. One of the forums I was posting on, @RROBA, belonged to a magazine with the same name, and I was so prolific and somehow respected, that they’ve asked me to write articles for the magazine. Paid articles. To get my articles done, I was exploring the subjects I was studying at college, and writing in a way that was palatable to a much wider audience. I was monetising my labs’ assignments. It felt audacious, and I think it really was an audacity. And of 4 articles I wrote, 3 of them made the magazine cover story back in 2003 or 2004.
  • And, most importantly, with an inexpensive way of publishing our thoughts: the possibility of hosting our own website.

First, I started a site in Geocities (still available in the wayback machine!), mainly about my own stuff, and for a very brief period of time, for posting photos. Writing HTML 4 and CSS 2 by hand was A CHORE, so soon I had a couple of sites in Blogger, for the same kind of content, and later on moved on to Wordpress.com.

Blogs were the main content source in the early 2000s, and I had a few.

I wrote my own movie reviews, and how great it was to go to a Muse gig in Madrid. I wrote an app for BlackBerry, and I wrote about it. I wrote articles about GNU/Linux and what, in my opinion, were the issues preventing The Year of Linux on The Desktop from coming upon us. I discover the joy of pissing off a lot of super-intense GNU/Linux users. Some of them were blaming obscure conspiracies, others were happy that Linux was not for the regular Janes and Joes. Yes, that was the level –and probably those users are still hidden in their small corner of the internet. On a more kind note, I built a community of fellow bloggers that were often hanging around my comments, and so I was on theirs. I met some of them. Being part of webrings and blogrolls was the most social part of the web 2.0.

And then, social media came.

At the beginning it seemed like a good idea: another fast, even faster way, to get into commentary of almost anything. Interactions were more lively, the timeline was some soft of a lottery and we were all pursuing the viral post because the rush of it was amazing. It was more compelling than blogging. Twitter grew on me quickly, and in its beginnings (2007) it was great. Local groups of people were hanging out after work in “Tweets and Beers” to meet each other. To socialise outside of the socialisation site, after socialising in the socialisation site. Not without the occasional flirting before flirting sites, twitter was another regular in the local pubs. Sharing a beer and some tweeting tricks, like the hashtags. Hashtags were not a thing yet, but somehow there was already an ettiquette to it. There was a world, a lore and a folklore to it.

It was very powerful. It was undeniably great.

And within a couple of years and with a few very subtle techniques, social media took away the time and energy that we were putting in our blogs before.

Social media sites and mechanics were designed to be more compelling than blogging, because their investors just wanted a way for companies to monetise attention. If we spent time on our friends’ blogs, the ad revenue would fall. If we spent time writing outside of their sites, we wouldn’t bring more friends into the churn to squeeze out their attention. All it was about was to hook us to a endless scroll, long enough for the next ad to show.

Social media sites are attention brokers.

So we stopped blogging. We stopped checking the new posts in our favourite forums. Forums like the @RROBA one dissapeared from the net out of sheer abandonment. Our blogs and our forums were casualties. Victims to social media sites.

Now, thanks to the fact that the people behind it all have been so terribly awful that they can’t hold the mask on any longer, many of us are waking up to how much all this sucks, and moving on. Many are in some form of social media based on the Fediverse, and it feels good. Feels like that time of the Tweets and Beers. Many of us think that the Fediverse is fixing social media.

But we need to fix the rest of it all, and bring back what we lost.

Blog more, blog again. There’s no need to put any skin on the game, just a bit of our true self. Do the same thing we did, say, 20 years ago. Talk stuff that matters to us. Give the flip to the page ranks and to the search engine positioning. Write, share, connect and comment.

If you can, don’t use cookies and trackers.

And, now that you’re up to it, sign up in some forums while they can still be found.

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