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.
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.