1. The Downloadable Internet
  2. How corporations killed the web
  3. The Downloadable internet and open standards
  4. The app-based internet and proprietary software

How corporations killed the web

I have read with fascination what we would have called before a blog post, except it was featured on The Guardian: Iran's blogfather: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are killing the web The "blogfather" is Hossein Derakshan or h0d3r, an author from Teheran that was jailed for almost a decade for his blogging. The article is very interesting both because it shows how fast things changed in the last few years, technology-wise, but more importantly, how content-free the web have become, where Facebook's last acquisition, Instagram, is not even censored by Iran. Those platforms have stopped being censored, not because of democratic progress but because they have become totally inoffensive (in the case of Iran) or become a tool of surveillance for the government and targeted advertisement for companies (in the case of, well, most of the world).

This struck a chord, personally, at the political level: we are losing control of the internet (if we ever had it). The defeat isn't directly political: we have some institutions like ICANN and the IETF that we can still have an effect on, even if only at the technological level. The defeat is economic, and, of course, through economy comes enormous power. That defeat meant that we have first lost free and open access to the internet (yes, dialup used to be free) and then free hosting of our content (no, Google and Facebook are not free, you are the product). This marked a major change in the way content is treated online.

H0d3r explains this as the shift from a link-based internet to a stream-based internet, a "deparure from a books-internet towards a television-internet". I have been warning about this "television-internet" in my talks and conversation for a while and with Netflix taking the crown off Youtube (and making you pay for it, of course), we can assuredly say that H0d3r is right and the television, far from disappearing, is finally being resurrected and taking over the internet.

The Downloadable internet and open standards

But I would like to add to that: it is not merely that we had "links" before. We had, and still have, open standards. This made the internet "downloadable" (and by extension, uploadable) and decentralized.

(In fact, I still remember my earlier days on the web when I would actually download images (as in "right-click" and "Save as..." images, not just have the browser download and display it on the fly). I would download images because they were big! It could take a minute or sometimes more to download images on older modems. Later, I would do the same with music: I would download WAV files before the rise of the MP3 format, of which I ended up building a significant collection (just fair use copies from friends and owned CDs, of course) and eventually video files.)

The downloadable internet is what still allows me to type this article in a text editor, without internet access, while reading H0d3r's blog post on my e-reader, because I downloaded his article off an RSS feed. It is what makes it possible for anyone to download a full copy of this blog post and connected web pages as a git repository and this way get the full history of modifications on all the pages, but also be able to edit it offline and push modifications back in.

Wikipedia is downloadable (there are even offline apps for your phone). Open standards like RSS feeds and HTML are downloadable. Heck, even the Internet Archive is downloadable (and I mean, all of it, not just the parts you want), surprisingly enough.

The app-based internet and proprietary software

App-based websites like Google Plus and Facebook are not really downloadable. They are meant to be browsed through an app, so what you actually see through your web browser is really more an application, downloaded software than a downloaded piece of content. If you turn off Javascript, you will see that visiting Facebook actually shows no content: everything is downloaded on the fly by an application itself downloaded, on the fly, by your browser. In a way, your browser has become an operating system that runs proprietary, untrusted and unverified applications from the web.

(The software is generally completely proprietary, except some frameworks that are published as free software in what looks like the lenient act of a godly king, but is actually more an economic decision of a clever corporation which outsources, for free, R&D and testing to the larger free software community. The real "secret sauce" is basically always proprietary, if only so that we don't freak out on stuff like PRISM that reports everything we do to the government.)

Technology is political. This new "app design" is not a simple optimization or an cosmetic accident of a fancy engineer: by moving content through an application, Facebook, Twitter and the like can see exactly what you do on a web page, what you actually read (as opposed to what you click on) and how long. By adding a proprietary interface between you and the content online, the advertisement-surveillance complex can track every move you make online.

This is a very fine-tuned surveillance system, and because of the App, you cannot escape it. You cannot share the content outside of Facebook, as you can't download it. Or at least, it's not obvious how you can. Projects like youtube-dl are doing an amazing job reverse-engineering what is becoming the proprietary Youtube streaming protocol, which is constantly changing and is not really documented. But it's a hack: it's a Sisyphus struggle which is bound to fail, and it does, all the time, until we figure out how to either turn those corporations into good netizens respecting and contributing to open standards (unlikely) or destroy those corporations (most likely).

You are trapped in their walled garden. No wonder internet.org is Facebook only: for most people nowadays, the internet is the web, and the web is Facebook, Twitter and Google, or an iPad with a bunch of apps, each their own cute little walled garden, crafted just for you. If you think you like the Internet, you should really reconsider what you are watching, what you are consuming, or rather, how it is consuming you. There are alternatives. Facebook is a though nut to crack for free software activists because we lack the critical mass. But Facebook it is also an addiction for a lot of people, and spending less time on that spying machine could be a great improvement for you I am sure. For everything else, we have good free software alternatives and open standards, use them.

"Big brother ain't watching you, you're watching him." - CRASS, Nineteen Eighty Bore (audio)

May the Swartz be with you

En voyant le titre de ton billet, j'étais sûr que tu allais nous parler de sa (Aaron) mésaventure à télécharger des documents du domaine public.

Comme tu le dis, les standards sont toujours là. Il reste quelques providers OpenID (mais Google ne supporte plus ça, contrairement à ce que laisse croire le login ici); les fils RSS sont quasiment disparus de la map; les microformats sont en voie de disparition; des pages "web" qui ne se curl pas parce que ce ne sont que des squelettes; etc.

Mais tout n'est pas perdu. Y'a encore moyen aujourd'hui d'offrir des solutions solides et pérennes. Y'a moyen d'utiliser le JavaScript client pour (comme les images) pour améliorer une expérience mais quand on parle de documents à lire, le JavaScript n'a rien à faire là. Il est reste à nous pour préserver notre fair web.

P.S.: j'ai essayé d'afficher cette image https://res.cloudinary.com/teepublic/image/private/s--THL10JAl--/t_Preview/b_rgb:0f7b47,c_limit,f_jpg,h_630,q_90,w_630/v1446155542/production/designs/35553_1 (et une autre) sans succès, parce que ce sont des images externes?

Comment by millette
réponse...

effectivement, il y aurait beaucoup à dire et à écrire sur Aaron. Je ne le connaissais pas personnellement, et je ne connais que son histoire publique, mais ça m'a beaucoup touché qu'on en soit arrivés là. Pour la suite, on m'a recommendé la lecture de "the boy who could change the world"...

Pour ce qui est de Google et OpenID, c'est vraiment trash, mais c'Est comme ça: fini le XMPP, fini le OpenID, ils s'en foutent carrément des standards ouverts, ça nuit à leur modèle d'affaire. mais ouais, faut que j'upgrade ikiwiki pour que le bouton disparaisse... voir aussi todo/remove Google from OpenID selector unless grandfathered

Pour ce qui est de l'image, tu as essayé quoi? Un bon vieux tag IMG aurait marché ici:

c'est old school ici.. ;)

finalement, pour mozilla personna, j'y ai jamais trop cru... il faut pourtant une solution au probleme de l'authentification, parce que c'est la cle de voute de tout le reste... à moins qu'on permette le input anonyme, et là c'est le spam qui rentre... ikiwiki a une nouvelle forme d'authentification un peu comme personna qui consiste à envoyer un login token par email à chaque login. tout simple et ça semble bien marcher!

mais bon, l'upgrade de ikiwiki ici, ça sera une autre fois. je roule stable ici, et j'ai pas trop envie de courir après stretch encore sur le serveur... ;)

Comment by anarcat [id.koumbit.net]
Comfortable slavery

Unfortunately for some reason IT crowd is comfortable with this slavery. NNTP (Usenet) practically died. Threaded serious discussions have been removed by linear shallow chaos of forums and Facebook. World has become colorful and easy. Especially when your favorite social network keeps you in a bubble of similar people.

Google destroyed good old Google Groups and replaced it with a CPU hog JS bullshit. Fortunately mailing lists and IRC still exist but they are rather technical. Google used to support chats via XMPP - destroyed as well.

I can understand Gmail lures non-technical people, but even the IT crowd uses it allowing the company to scan everything, because in reality no one uses OpenGPG on a regular basis. Although a small hosting company provides me with web and mail services most of my recipients use Google. Gmail is such a primitive mail client. The only superior feature might be searching. I can't understand why someone (from IT) would stop using a local client with IMAP and start using webmails.

What is more, the public sector (in Poland) uses Facebook to communicate with people more than their official sites. Politicians communicate with voters via Twitter - this is madness. How can anybody follow any serious discussion on Facebook or Twitter?!

In all my bitterness I thought that all I can currently do is to show the colorful G they can't have me, although resistance might seem futile. I've passed their whole recruitment process and declined the lucrative offer of working for a pile of money in peaceful Zurich. It's symbolic and seems to be meaningful only to me.

Comment by wodny
information (the spice) must flow

it's a weird world we live in. The cost of all those proprietary bullshit web sites was very much not only economic. One other big aspect of a change that occurred because of this switch in how ppl communicate has actually radically transformed media as well.

Serious publications on the internet that try to propagate information and thought and to initiate conversation and constructive argumentation have become a rarity. And as much as media was far from golden before, I beilieve that the little quantity of meaningful publications is shrinking down. The mainstream news outlets are not even trying to make sense anymore. When news posts become blog posts, become one-paragraph outbursts of words that seem to be written either by a 12 year-old or by an officer of law reporting their daily actions to their superiors, information is not free. Media still holds the same tremendous amount of power over poeple's thoughts, and because critical debate and constructive argumentation is drowned out by all the bullshit publication out there, the general level of intelligence tends to spiral downwards.

But there are still some great journalists/publishers/documentarists spread out on the planet. I feel we need to start putting more emphasis on their work precisely and to build a list of arguments about why some publications have it good and not others. Maybe this way we can get a portion of ppl around us to focus their thoughts on something else than disruptive white noise.

p.s.: loved your post, gave me a moment to think about the state of the Internet and try to piece ideas together :)

Comment by gabriel [id.koumbit.net]
problems talking with each other

one of the problems we seem to have is that we can't communicate meaningfully and calmly online. XMPP, NNTP and other protocols have failed in part because of our inability to adopt and extend standards instead of creating new ones at every generation. just looking at the plethora of programming languages just shows that we can't make up our mind and start solidifying what we have: we're hackers, geeks, we love building stuff and the other guys' gizmo is never good enough for us, we need something better. IRC wasn't good enough, so we made XMPP, which obviously wasn't good enough for the geeks at Facebook and Google after a while. There are politics involved of course, but we have our responsability there as well. You only need to look at Diaspora, Status.net and Pump.IO, or there zillion of "secure messaging clients" out there to understand we haven't solved a lot of technical and human problems.

We feel secure in our little ivory towers of security, but we are not providing usable solutions for people either. Otherwise they would not use commercial shit that breaks all the time. People use webmail because they can read their mail on any computer, if they can just remember that damn password. And they use stupid passwords because they can't remember the clever ones. That is not a user failure, that is a system's failure. That's our job, and our failure. And IT people are users too, at the end of the day, no one wants to spend their life trying to fix this shit all the time. (I guess I do, but that feels more and more wrong as I grow older.)

@wodny, it's great your refused Google's offer. I did refuse once as well, although I couldn't help but think I was doing something wrong if they thought i was google fodder: i guess I'm not breaking the system well enough that they think they can corrupt me. ;)

@lelutin, news are indeed crap, but it's a very specific problem space. journalism is dying, as many things, out of a sudden lack of funding because the robber barons realized their war is not only fought with strikebreakers and private security, but also through the media, which they had a strong control of, but left editorial choices to be relatively liberal. They were especially missing the connection between their commercial interest and general news coverage. This seems to have changed in the radical way that providing news coverage at all seems to be at odd with the capitalist status quo.

Hence Twitter and Facebook basically replacing journalism. We now have tabloids all over the place, and information is now only propaganda. Fun times.

Thanks for your valuable comments folks.

Comment by anarcat [id.koumbit.net]