The internet used to be amazing. I remember back in the day, we had these things called weblogs, also known as “blogs.” Blogs were great. Even better, in some ways, were the forums. For you youngsters who don’t remember, forums were basically the digital version of a rowdy expat bar, but without the beer. However, on the best forums the quality of conversation was often somewhat higher than you could get at the average watering hole in a second-tier Asian city. There would be rules, the strictness of which depended on the whims of the proprietor, and the various forms of unpleasantness that one encounters on the internet were usually kept at bay by the dutiful moderators.
Everyone could join the conversation, and often did. People of all backgrounds, all stations in life, and all degrees of social dysfunction. A number of people whom, if you saw them in real life, you’d cross the street to avoid. All united by a common interest in the subject at hand, and a desire to bicker with strangers under a pretentious pseudonym like Karl Fred of Brunswick. It was awesome. Seriously, it was. Whether as a lurker or an active participant, you’d always learn something, because the best forums would attract smart people who had something interesting to say.
Forums in this category also tended to generate a sense of community and trust, because there would be regulars that stuck around for long periods of time. Some of them were just lunatics who would keep coming back to rehash their pet obsessions as a dog returneth to his vomit, but most were decent people who enjoyed the banter and intellectual exchange. Subject matter experts who were willing to share their thoughts and defend their positions for free would be respected like village elders.
With all that in mind, I’m not surprised by the findings of this recent survey:
Four out of five Americans distrust mainstream social media sites like Facebook
When engaging with other users, over half (53 percent) of respondents said they prefer to interact on independent forums rather than centralized sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Decentralized, independent, and (ideally) small forums and blogs… the internet’s past is likely to be the internet’s future, as users continue to lose faith in the big social media platforms.