More on my own passive paradigm for user-generated content

I want to revisit some grounds I covered on January 14, 2018 about user generated content.

Again, I want to restate that a very profound addition to communication techniques got quietly introduced to western civilization in the mid to late 1990s (after the public Internet was opened up in 1992). That is, it became possible for anyone to post content without the need for gatekeeper review or for financial justification (because of very lo cost), and, with the help of rapidly evolving search engines, anyone on the planet could see it very soon, if near a computer or other device (eventually a cell phone but not at first) with connection.

The main reasons for posting speech could be artistic expression, or political and social (to make the case for change, based in part on personal narrative as well as research) or for commercial reasons, to provide services to consumers or to reach them with sales efforts.

In the earliest years, a lot of this happened with “flat websites” with simple html, or with discussion forums. Some services, like Hometown AOL, simplified the process for amateurs. Forums tended to be semi-private, although usually anyone could join them (and it time they grew into sites like Reddit). For more restricted access, people set up email listservers or closed pseudo-intranets that could be logged on to from home (as for work).

More or less around the time of Y2K blogging was slowing taking off.  Social networking seemed supplementary with MySpace, but really took off with Facebook by 2008.

But, as noted in the earlier piece, the permissive “wild west” attitude became sobered with an awareness of the multiple personal risks, particularly for minors, and especially after the first dot-com bubble burst. By around 2006, people had become acutely aware of “online reputation” merely because of search engine activity, although concerns that employers needed “blogging policies” were starting to be articulated just before 9/11.

With social networking sites and a switch to real time apps and away from web surfing, people started using the Internet with more limitations, through privacy settings, of which groups of people, in various “circles” (intersecting or sometimes concentric) could access their content. At the same time, sensational items could go “viral”, fads caught on, and social media and especially YouTube made some people instant celebrities. New legal problems developed with “quasi piracy” over whether old fashioned media models could continue working.  But over time, people tended to hang out with their own crowds (“alone together”), and a certain tribal polarization developed which is much more noticeable today than it was in the late 1990s when “I made my own name for myself” for a while.

I want people to understand that in the late 1990s it was very simple for me to reach my audience with almost no marketing effort as we know it today.  I had my book, I had free copies online, and there were search engines.  I didn’t have a lot of competition.  And I had an issue, gays in the military, backed up by an unusual personal narrative, which was not polarizing in the usual sense but still twisted an ironic, and which tended to migrate attention to other issues (“family values”, religion, etc).  I was able to have some impact on the people (including established media pundits and politicians of the day) who debated the issue without impressive numbers (and without reaching a lot of consumers in the usual sense).

it’s ironic, but it’s possible that my passive setup may have helped encourage the founding of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg was a freshman at Harvard the year gays in the military was a hot topic on campus (with aban on recruiters). It is likely he would have found me online and understood what I was trying to do at the time.

Although I switched mainly to blogs in 2006 and started using hosted WordPress a lot more 2014-2016, my overall approach remained pretty much the same.  At the same time, the world whizzed by.

So, indeed, the “permissive” Internet environment (compared to what it might have been, given the critical legal evolution of downstream liability [DMA Safe Harbor and Section 230, especially, and net neutrality, less so] invited me to brand myself as an “objective” conservative-to-libertarian “pundit journalist”, who stood above the need to join movements or resistances like “ordinary people”.

As I noted in the Jan. 14 posting, without this permissiveness, there would be much more pressure on me to “join up”, and compromise on my “positions” and support other people’s causes in return for mine – conventional politics.  There would be more pressure on me to function well in the volunteer world of service, and take orders from others.  That sounds like it would for me to do my own fair share, interpersonally, in reducing inequality.  That sounds like “a good thing” (a term from “Call Me by My Name”). But there is a downside to coercing people to take sides – even more polarization. Eventually, one side loses, and we know from history what can happen.

So I’ve liked my role of probing holes in the positions that both sides on any issue take to please their bases, even though that implies I have no skin of my own in the game, no one to have to go to bat for. There’s a logical question, why be involved in the debate, unless I “care” enough about someone who really needs the special assistance.  But in a free society, “taking care of others” has to be voluntary, expanding out from families and communities, and not the primary responsibility of government.  Especially in the context of the previous post (social credit systems, Jan 28), if we want every human life to matter, we have to be have personally as if we really believed it.  And obviously we don’t.  And look who is president, railing about “losers”.  The invitation of fascism through the front door may be very much the sum of personal behaviors.

That brings us to what most modern day “blogging” is about.  I mentioned “Blogtyrant” before here, and his aggressive program for self-promotion seems, to me at least, to work best when a blog supports a business offering a consumer product or service that otherwise is sound enough (and satisfies “real” consumer need or desire enough) to be successful.   That’s a dangerous idea, because we would want to throw out porn, for example. But let’s say an artist or musician (especially a composer as well as performer) has a blog to support his career.  Composers usually need to get commissions for new works to make a living, so it’s logical that the blog needs to appeal to people who might hire him/her with a commission offer.  A musician, or perhaps a chess grandmaster, might be making extra money by offering lessons on a blog; in that case, a good part of the content would become available only to subscribers and paying customers (which goes along with the idea that a lot of content should be behind privacy or restricted access settings).  Another good example would be an author’s blog.  I do think my own history is very unusual.  Most authors need to have their books sell to stay available indefinitely, so they can’t give away all their content.  My own model of “gratuitous publication” (note below) probably isn’t sustainable for many others; so if it weren’t allowed, I would in a personal pickle, as I noted above.  (I won’t take up book self-publishing here, but that expands on the idea of wanting to be recognized as a content creator, rather than a follower of a tribe, or a servant.

In this regard, Blogtyrant’s latest missive, on people “giving up”, may outline what it takes for a blog to make money by itself, but most of the time the underlying business needs to be sound anyway.   But there are business models surrounding the blog itself, like “mommy blogging” (which has gotten harder according to most accounts, since Heather Armstrong’s “dooce” (“An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation”) set up in 2002 after she was fired from a job for criticizing her employer in a public blog – hence “dooced”)    Food blogs would probably be associated with chefs or restaurants but might stand on their own.  And the marketing work – and sometimes financial investment — required to make a blog generate real numbers can be quite considerable.

It’s not so surprising, then, that the integrity of the entire “numbers” or “currency” part of the user content world could unravel, not just with bots and fake news and foreign influence on the illiterate. The New York Times has published a long but stinging expose (“The Follower Factory”) of the process of buying followers, who are often made up of fictitious entities or sometimes made from fake online copies of real people, which could ruin their own reputations.

I’m seeing a trend that tries to connect the need for visibility and popularity with charity. I’ve noticed more advocacy by both charities and political groups to get people to run fundraising campaigns or drives under their own social media brands, as part of a citizenship thing, along the lines of building “social capital” or “social credit” as in my previous post. That’s something I’ve resisted; I’ve always had my hands full with my own content and ideas.

And my content indeed often deals with reporting on and connecting the dots among “externalities”.  Some authoritarian governments believe that ordinary people should not be allowed to do this without professional license.  It’s obvious that such a requirement would be self-serving for a government wanting to protect a power base (and its credibility for staying in power), but in principle there is still a good question as to whether the “Fifth Estate” (me) should be viewed as part of the press, when they could do “other things” much more locally.

(Posted: Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 at 10 PM EST)

Update: Friday, February 16, 2018, 10 AM EST

It’s well to remember that when the World Wide Web was released to the public (as early as 1992) and search engine companies appeared (by the mid 1990s) the default was that any site could be indexed publicly. Although there was a lot of literature at the time about metatags, you really didn’t need them. In those days (say by 1998), controversial posts had a good chance of being found quickly by many people by default, in a few cases resulting in emails to me the next day.  The monetization (advertising engines and email lists) would develop later as people needed to make a living (as did the companies themselves).  Listservers on email, however, functioned somewhat the way friends do on social media today, and discussion forums were common (as on AOL;  I also remember a libertarian-oriented “Independent Gay Forum”).

I use a term “gratuitous speech” for speech that is posted publicly within the sight of search engine discovery without the need for other monetization to stay up.  Typically it is speech that makes an argument but does not respond to a specific need in the sense of normal consumer markets.  This idea could become more important as responsibility for mass tragedy events (perpetrated by unstable people easily set off) gets debated. It is related to “implicit content”, interpretation of the speech in the view of the presumed motives and situation of the speaker. This idea came up when I worked as a substitute teacher, as I have documented before.  Private tech companies act as if they are more aware of this today than they were before, but how you handle this is essentially a policy choice, which may start in the private sector.

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