An opportunity to fix the Web?

The main difference between the Web of old and the modern Web is the difference in the level of professionalization. In this case, professionalization spells standardization.

It's not very controversial, I think, to claim that social media and the Web, in general, now favor a standardized user experience over the previously personal, highly customizable experience.

In the old Web, platforms would let the user customize everything from backgrounds, fonts, and other visual elements for a user page - on the new Web, everything is de-personalized and look the same.

However, it's important to remember that standardization is not in it itself a bad thing; the central thought of interface standardization is that recognition and patterns enable the user - equally true for text and graphical interfaces. But this is something else than providing the often unimaginative, factory-like interfaces of the modern Web. Neither emphasizing the content by simplicity nor allowing user-tailored experiences of the form in which the content's shown.

Why did it change? Most likely, because of the want of increased profits, better technical means being subordinate. It's harder to predict the outcomes if users can personalize the view of their user pages. What if someone made a page according to extreme UX principles (black on dark gray), or what if someone chose a background image with a controversial theme?

You risk losing - according to, on my half, a presumed business logic - cash if users leave, or worse, get offended, press charges, or gives you negative media attention.

With a de-personalized UX, you won't stand the risk of getting your platform clumped together with the choices of a specific user, however unfair the connection may be. Allowing users personalization and freedom is a risk-taking you can't afford, according to this logic. And I believe this business logic is prevalent today.

Areas previously niched to magazines has today moved to platforms that were built mainly for social purposes, not for discussions on art, politics, and science. If you take ideas seriously, it should not matter whether you're a conservative, leftist, or liberal - you shouldn't embrace a Hollywood fairy-tale society in which people communicate about politics on Twitter. And as an indirect consequence, I think, in this current moment, platforms have moved from removing personalization to removing ideas. Before, companies felt threatened by personalization, now by ideas.

In this context, I will not dwell if the threat is real or not. I won't debate the pros and cons of the censorship we witness, but as many people have noted, controversial voices will not be silent - they will find new platforms.

We may feel differently about this. But just the same, this may - however unlikely - constitute an opportunity to get parts of the old Web back.

When everyone uses the very same platforms, you end up not only with company monopolies but also with the standardized experiences of such companies. If a few new platforms would arise, the ones currently having a monopoly will diminish, and the decentralized Web may get stronger again after years of centralization. That's something we should embrace, regardless of political leanings.

I know of no political ideology, besides Stalinist communism and the sort, which believe that monopoly is a good thing. In fact, John Stuart Mill, one of the central figures of "capitalist" liberal ideology, was a bitter enemy of such tendencies as the economy was construed as a mere helper to political freedom.

I think that both form and content would benefit from a decentralized Web. Censorship in the technical sense relates to laws but viewed from a more metaphorical point, censorship is more than laws. Today, we witness censorship in the broader sense used on arbitrary grounds. But shouldn't laws govern content, not companies?

If some content is illegal, it should be removed (or laws changed). Most people would agree with this. But today, companies take liberties, and the administration needed for this is not well aligned with the spirit of a free and decentralized Web.

Or rather, the problem with policies arises if there is only a singular platform. If a platform wants an army of administrators managing content, they're welcome to have it - but it's a problem when there is only a platform, not a multitude of platforms. There's Twitter for sentences, Instagram for images, Youtube for videos, and Facebook for stories. That's a monopoly in a nutshell.

At the same time: no matter what we feel about the strictness of form and content at the major platforms, it's not unlikely it will lead to a diminished user base, and all those users won't stop using the Web. It is not unlikely that as people leave because of policies or because of commercial UX, others would also unsubscribe when the platform diminishes.

You may believe that the censorship we witness is good, fine - in this context it doesn't matter. The same, we should view this as an opportunity to decentralize and make the Web regain the playfulness that was lost somewhere on the way.

Take Youtube, tech-wise it's an excellent service. I hope it stays. But what I'm speaking about is alternatives, and preferably alternatives inspired by the playfulness and freedom of the old Web.