I had to audibly sigh when I saw that Vice headline considering Facebook (and other social network platforms) are what replaced personal websites in the first place.
Back before status updates were a thing, we all had our own blogs and sites where we shared our thoughts and opinions on the matters and topics of interest to us that day. While we were very much subject to the whims of Google’s search algorithm (as well as that of Technorati), it wasn’t deemed as oppressive as Facebook’s is now.
Not only that, but the backbone of personal blogging was open source, at least in mindset. The software might be proprietary, but the publishing platform itself didn’t have some vested interest in burying some material while promoting others, nor was that opaque process one that could be overridden by a company who wanted to buy their way into people’s attention.
On top of all that, RSS feeds were a primary way material was distributed to the audience and that platform as well doesn’t engage in trickery or filtering. If you subscribe to a feed, you get the feed until the publisher stops offering it. It’s not going to only show you two percent of what someone publishes because it wants the publisher to pay to achieve more significant reach.
While specific stats aren’t available (or at least can’t be found by me), it’s not hard to see a correlation between social networks gaining prominence in both personal and corporate usage and the falling from favor of RSS. Publishing platforms continue to be offered, but those that don’t have some sort of algorithmic network feature as their main distribution method are less common, as is the usage of RSS.
We should absolutely replace Facebook with personal websites. For all the talk about how people should delete Facebook in the wake of its many and varied privacy violations, as well as the way it keeps changing the ground rules for individuals, publishers and brands, that movement has never gained much traction in the general public. It’s just too hard to completely move away from all those network connections that have been established, to say nothing of those for whom it’s an essential lifeline to a supportive community of some kind.
If there were more adoption of personal websites (I recommend WordPress as it’s the perfect mix of powerful, simple and flexible), though, it would chip away at the power Facebook has accumulated. It could still be used by those who get value from it in some manner, but it becomes less monopolistic. It wouldn’t be in a position where it can dictate quite so many aspects of the conversation and discourse and wouldn’t be quite as attractive to those looking to manipulate those conversations.
Again, there’s still the other part of the online advertising duopoly – Google – to consider and account for, but even there adoption of personal site creation would be somewhat of a check on its power. At the very least, there would be more people watching how Google rankings and rules were impacting their success and standing, which leads to additional oversight and questioning.
Let’s get back to personal sites and personal blogging. Facebook may claim it allows anyone to have a voice, but by deciding which of those voices is actually surfaced it does a disservice to the public welfare, all in the name of corporate gain. Distributed, non-centralized publishing is much more inclusive and powerful for that and comes with the added benefit of being always available, able to be retrieved with only a little additional effort.