Eugene Fedorenko is Designing, Writing, Reading, and Traveling

Can “Indie” Social Media Save Us?

Proponents of the IndieWeb offer a fairly straightforward analysis of our current social-media crisis. They frame it in terms of a single question: Who owns the servers? The bulk of our online activity takes places on servers owned by a small number of massive companies. Servers cost money to run. If you’re using a company’s servers without paying for the privilege, then that company must be finding other ways to “extract value” from you—and it’s that quest for large-scale value extraction, they argue, that leads directly to the crises of compromised privacy and engineered addictiveness with which we’re currently grappling.

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When the problem is framed this way, the solution promoted by the IndieWeb movement becomes obvious: own your own servers. On a smaller scale, this is an old idea. For the past twelve years, I’ve hosted my personal blog using a server that I lease in a Michigan data center; I’ve enjoyed knowing that I own what I post there and that no one is trying to monetize my data or exploit my attention. And yet, running a personal blog that you write yourself is quite different from running a social network. To create social platforms that work on servers owned by users rather than big corporations, the IndieWeb developers have had to solve a tricky technical problem: decentralization.

This is exactly why most of my online activity shifted from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to this website. It’s more work to share this way and I miss a good chunk of my audience, but I enjoy owning my data and controlling the way it’s presented. I am keeping an eye on IndieWeb as at this point it’s clear that most of us are not happy with social networks, so something must replace them eventually.