Function’s Anil Dash joins Matt to discuss how Big Tech broke the web and how we can get it back.
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On Function, our focus is about how technology has influenced culture and communications, and nothing encompasses the intersection of these concepts more than social media. It’s allowed us to express our innermost feelings, meet people that share our interests, and find community with others from all over the world.
This week, we’re doing something a little different. Anil sits down with some of the pioneers of the social web — Bruce Ableson (founder of Open Diary), Lisa Phillips (former senior system administrator at LiveJournal), and Andrew Smales (founder of Diaryland) — for an oral history about social media 20 years ago. What was the Web like in 1999? How did these websites begin, and what did the media think about them? How have the features of these networks influenced the Web that we know today, and can we get that old feeling back of the early social web?
Anil Dash is a technologist, social media influencer, and vocal activist for moral imagination in the digital sphere. He believes that we can all contribute to the humane potential of technology in this moment.
Since 1999, writer and technologist Anil Dash has published more than a million words on his blog. His latest project is Makerbase, a user-editable database of projects and the people behind them, like an IMDb for people who make stuff online, created with co-founder and XOXO alumni Gina Trapani.
Recorded in September 2015 at XOXO, an experimental festival celebrating independently produced art and technology in Portland, Oregon. For more, visit http://xoxofest.com.
Introductory music: "Samurai" by Kyle Devine, courtesy of Marmoset. Intro animation by Craig Winslow. Video production by brytCAST. Video thumbnail by Ian Linkletter. Captions by White Coat Captioning.
Anil Dash and Jeffrey Zeldman discuss how government, media, and tech shape the world, and how we can influence them in turn. Our first meeting at SXSW in 2002. How selling CMS systems teaches you the dysfunction at media companies and organizations. Working for the music industry at the dawn of Napster. RFP-EZ. The early days of blogging. Designing websites for the government—the procurement problem. If we’re pouring all this time into social media, what do we want to get out of it? How big institutions work and how to have an impact on them. Living in “Joe’s Apartment.” Why, until recently, federal agencies that wanted a blog couldn’t use WordPress or Tumblr and how the State Dept got on Tumblr. Achieving empathy for institutions. Being more thoughtful about what I share and who I amplify on social media. The launch of Thinkup, and a special offer exclusively for Big Web Show listeners.
Blogger Anil Dash says we tend to trumpet the tech revolution, with its vast social networks and slick smartphones, as a triumph of usability and empowerment. But Dash says a spirit of collaboration and emphasis on the user experience has been lost along the way.
He wrote about this shift on his blog in a post called The Web We Lost.
“There is an ignorance or a lack of history to the way that a lot of people that build the social networks, especially the young engineers, think about this because they weren’t around to see it any other way,” Dash told Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC’s New Tech City.
Dash cites as example Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. “The first thing that happened as soon as Facebook bought Instragram was they shut off the ability for you to import your friends and find your friends through Twitter because Facebook and Twitter are enemies now.”
Dash says that may be good for Facebook’s shareholders, but it’s not good for users who want to Tweet photos to their friends. He adds that the walling off of content wouldn’t have happened in the earlier days of the Internet.
“There used to be a time when you put the goals and desires of the user ahead of the corporate infighting and battles,” he said.
Dash believes technology’s new vanguard should take a look at the philosophies that drove their forbearers.
“There are cycles to this stuff,” he said. “The pendulum swings back and forth.”
In the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of powerful social networks of unprecedented scale, connecting millions or even billions of people who can now communicate almost instantaneously. But many of the promises that were made by the creators of the earliest social networking technologies have gone unfulfilled. We’ll take a look at some of the unexamined costs, both cultural and social, of the way the web has evolved.
Anil Dash is an entrepreneur, technologist and writer acknolwedged as a "blogging pioneer" by the New Yorker for having started his site Dashes.com in 1999 as one of the earliest and most influential blogs on the Internet. Today his work focuses on applying the techniques and technologies of the startup world to the transformation the major institutions of society and culture.
Dash is cofounder of Activate, the strategy consulting firm which helps the world’s major media and technology companies reinvent their businesses, and cofounder and CEO of ThinkUp, a new app which helps people get more meaning out of the time they spend on social networking. In addition, Dash is an active advisor to several of the most prominent and innovative technology startups and non-profit organizations and has been a columnist for Wired magazine.