Starting to break out from the walled garden

The AOL walled garden in the late 90’s. Image from https://invisibleup.neocities.org/articles/4/

When I was at college, I had a night job in a call centre, providing tech support to AOL’s UK customers. It was the late nineties, and although AOL was never as popular in Europe as it was in North America, the company’s vision of a proprietary walled garden giving an ‘internet-like’ experience was still a compelling option for many.

Of course AOL’s influence waned over the years, causing many of us to think that “the internet wants to be free” and that any attempts by a large corporation to supplant the internet was doomed to failure, confirmed by the quick rise and fall of services like Bebo and MySpace.

Now I’m not so sure.

The 2010s have seen the aggressive expansion of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. When you sign up to these services, you feel like you’re a new customer but of course you’re not, you’re a product. Sophisticated algorithms suck you in to spend more time on these sites, ‘engaging’ more so that you will provide more information to be targeted by ever-more tailored (and profitable) ads.

And the effects have become even more chilling as the algorithms that social networks use spill over into society and politics, encouraging us all to become more polarised, more aggressive and more needy.

There is an alternative, and thankfully there are some very smart people working on it. A return to the open web, where we share for the simple joy of sharing, without profit-maximising algorithms getting in the way.

Host your own content

The basic idea of hosting your own content is not that you pretend that social networks don’t exist, but rather that you take control of your own content, under a domain name that you control, and choose what you share with other services.

I’ve hosted my own content on this site for the past twelve years but for shorter ‘status updates’ I have occasionally used social networks for this purpose.

I’ve created my own ‘microblog’ at https://t.bibby.ie that I will use for short pieces of content, originating from my own site. I will use a new service called micro.blog to share my posts to twitter and (maybe) facebook, but the content will always originate from my own site. If you don’t want to create your own site, micro.blog can do it for you – yes it costs money ($5/month) but if we are to take back control of the web, we need to start thinking like customers, not products. The micro.blog service is still invite-only at the moment, but I have a few invite codes if anyone would like to check it out.

I’m grateful that there are people working on products that can help us liberate ourselves from the walled garden, and I’m hopeful there will always be a place for independence on the web, away from the toxic profit-maximising behaviour of commercial social networks.

Moving on

For nearly five years I’ve been running my startup Reg Point of Sale. Last week I sent an email round to all my customers to tell them that I’m shutting the business down.

Fortunately, due to the architecture of the system we developed, our customers will still be able to use their systems for the foreseeable future.

It was a tough decision to make. We didn’t take any outside investment, and we don’t owe money to anyone, but it’s still tough to shut down what really was a labour of love.

At some stage I’d like to write up a more detailed retrospective about what went right, and what went wrong. But for now, if you’re interested in more background, I did talk a bit more in detail about this on the latest episode of the Worst Case Scenario podcast that I host with David Sims and Baz Taylor. The relevant section starts about 33’40” in.

Five reasons why you should buy my old post office van

1. The most patriotic vehicle you could buy

IMG_2518It’s 2016. One hundred years ago a bunch of lads took over a post office and announced to the world our nation’s great destiny. It is your patriotic duty to commemorate these great men and women and what better way to do it than drive around in a green post office van. As Pearse wrote “there are many things more horrible than bloodshed, and not owning a van is one of them”. Commemorate the historic anniversary of the minor disruption to our postal services with the Renault Kangoo Tiocfaidh Ár Lá Centenary Edition today, together with its unique 2016 numberplate. Never forget the sacrifice of our forefathers.

2. Profit from the great gay conspiracy to destroy Irish family values

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Remember last year when the gays got together and mounted a well-funded campaign to undermine traditional Irish Family Values? This is your chance to benefit from some of the trillions of euro that were pumped into this country to destroy marriage, which would have remained secret but for the courageous work of Breda O’Brien. Obviously I can’t detail the secret investments that were made into this van as part of The Great Liberal Conspiracy To Force Sodomy On The Good Irish People but trust me, the gays don’t do things by halves.

3. A bold fashion statement

IMG_2519Pre-distressed clothes are so in right now. Why should your van be any different? To ensure you retain that edgy look as you drive, and to echo the edgy tones of Greg Lauren’s Spring 2016 ready-to-wear collection as breathlessly described by Vogue Magazine, I have performed some scratch detailing on left hand side of the van so you can convey a contemporary aura to the world. Sneer at the rest of the drones with their boringly unblemished means of transport as you cruise around in this fabulous example of hand-crafted pret à porter.

4. You’re not buying a van, you’re buying freedom

In the great tradition of car marketing, here’s a photo of the van in the wilds of Kerry.
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Don’t you feel wild and dangerous after looking at that photo? Don’t you agree that owning this van will make you more attractive to whichever gender(s) you fancy? You’re special, you’re unique, you need this van.

5. Apparently I need an odd number of paragraphs if this is to go viral

155,000km, full Renault service history, taxed till December, tested till January. Selling because we need a 3-seater van now Sheila’s dad lives with us. I’m spectacularly bad at negotiating so you can probably buy it for a lot less than it’s worth.  Live the dream, buy my van.

It’s a new dawn, a new day…

Given I’ve been doing so much mucking around with WordPress for other peoples’ sites, I thought it was probably timely that I migrate my own little site-ette to WordPress.  I’ve also migrated the page on SailRail between Dublin and London, and the faintly narcissistic About me page. I’m not sure if I have what it takes to become a blogging addict though.