Why the Internet Is Worth Fighting For

It's popular to say the internet is terrible. But we can't give up.

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It’s hard to create good content. We need to create models to help the good content survive. This requires utopian thinking, the kind of thinking that got the internet invented. The original intent of the web was to enable government, scientific, and military communication. The creators and early users were an oddball mix of freewheeling hippie programmers, digital philosophers, and government folk who wanted to be sure their research money was being spent well.

That money ended up funding civilization’s most powerful communications network, a network that had, and still has, the potential to include everyone. If only we would behave ourselves.

Many of us spend hours online. If you are spending those hours on social media, you experience an internet that has nearly been brought down by bullies, trolls, and trash talkers. Every day, the bad content threatens to smother the good. Here’s Peretti again, from a talk he gave at South By Southwest:

It is much harder to moderate bad content than it is to create good content. No matter how much money the platforms spend, or how many content moderators they hire, this problem won’t be solved by removing bad content, we need an ecosystem where creating good content is sustainable. If tech and media work together, everyone will benefit.

Working together is what the web is good at. It leverages the power of two-way communication. Back before comment spam, people commented on blogs with their genuine opinions. Before Twitter turned toxic, you could have a dialogue, even a group discussion, about anything with people from all over the world. Facebook was never all that nice — after all, it started as a platform to rate how women looked — but even Facebook had an age of innocence long ago.

The thing is, the internet is still bidirectional. You can email me to tell me what you think of this post. Good people are always inventing new platforms. Vero is an alternative to Instagram without the data mining. Mastodon is an alternative to Twitter without the trolls. Postlight Labs just launched Yap, a free platform for private chat that doesn’t record anything, don’t sell your information, and is just there for the good of it. You can try it out for free by visiting https://yap.chat.

And then there’s podcasting. Podcasting is a major force for keeping the internet good. People everywhere are putting out their untold personal stories, delivering deeply-reported news, bringing the crazy, cooking up risky comedy, providing musical wonder, and bringing visions of the future like we do here at FutureX. It’s a carnival. I hope that it stays that way for a long time, even as the big ad dollars are beginning to flow into the ecosystem.

Much of the freedom of the internet is built on things we take for granted. Like RSS. Really Simple Syndication is the unsung tech that keeps podcasting free. You host your show on a platform like Simplecast (that’s what we use). RSS is what sends it out to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Radio Public, and all the rest. RSS, amazingly, is free to use. It’s always been free. I hope it is around forever.

Here’s something else we often take for granted. The internet can be a cold place. It’s up to us to keep it warm. We are the beneficiaries of the most powerful technology any known civilization has ever seen. We have a chance to make good work. Let’s use it to make our best stories, tell our truth, and invent the future in every episode.

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