'Oral histories that are completely fabricated have value.'

April 16th, 2014

Talking to The Verge in the wake of the publication of her book It's Complicated, danah boyd talks a lot of sense about how people interact online:

People seem very afraid of their kids creating different identities on different social networks. Why are teens doing this, and should their parents be concerned?

No, in fact, this is one of the weird oddities about Facebook. Let's go back to Usenet. People had multiple nicks, they had a field day with this. They would use these multiple "identities" to put forward different facets of who they were. It wasn't to say that they were trying to be separate individuals. Who you are sitting with me today in this professional role with a shared understanding of social media is different than how you talk to your mom. She may not understand the same things you and I are talking about. At the same time, if you were talking about your past, I'd have none of it and your mother would have a lot of it. This is this moment where you think about how you present yourself differently in these different contexts, not because you're hiding, but because you're putting forward what's relevant there.

The idea of real names being the thing that leads you – that's not actually what leads us in the physical space. We lead with our bodies. We adjust how we present our bodies by situation. We dress differently, we sit differently, we emote differently. […]

Call me nostalgic, but I'm always pleased to see references to Usenet. We might not have called it 'social media',1 but there's a lot to be learned from the experience of all those people back before the web was even a thing, having thousands of shared social spaces to navigate. Of course Usenet also blessed us with Canter and Siegel, but that was part of the learning curve too.

  1. And in fairness it wasn't quite the same beast as MySpace or Twitter or Facebook – but mostly in respects that were for the better. A choice of flexible, powerful third party client software running on a variety of platforms. No single centralised authority policing the discussions – especially outside the Big 8 hierarchy. The best online discussions I ever had or saw happened on Usenet. Also some of the biggest flamewars, but that's what killfiles and scorefiles were for.

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Usenet no more

August 28th, 2012

Usenet at 32:

Usenet is 32 years old. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it's a near-dead, cobweb-covered discussion forum platform, but actually it's more popular today than ever before, and it's thriving as an alternative to Bittorrent. […]

It's interesting to read about some of the clever ways people are using Usenet to distribute other people's content nowadays, but it's a damned shame that Usenet as a discussion forum stagnated.

Web-based discussions are all very well, but as far as I can see even now there's nothing out there that comes close to the flexibility of a good Usenet client that allowed you to follow a series of discussion groups and use scoring and filtering to show you the threads you'd most likely be interested in and block content from known trolls and idiots.

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But Laurence Canter could…?

May 3rd, 2010

Kibo could not be located.

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February 27th, 2009

Farhad Manjoo remembers the unrecognizable Internet of 1996:

It's 1996, and you're bored. What do you do? If you're one of the lucky people with an AOL account, you probably do the same thing you'd do in 2009: Go online. Crank up your modem, wait 20 seconds as you log in, and there you are – "Welcome." You check your mail, then spend a few minutes chatting with your AOL buddies about which of you has the funniest screen name (you win, pimpodayear94).

Then you load up Internet Explorer, AOL's default Web browser. Now what? There's no YouTube, Digg, Huffington Post, or Gawker. There's no Google, Twitter, Facebook, or Wikipedia. A few newspapers and magazines have begun to put their articles online – you can visit the New York Times or Time – and there are a handful of new Web-only publications, including Feed, HotWired, Salon, Suck, Urban Desires, Word, and, launched in June, Slate. But these sites aren't very big, and they don't hold your interest for long. People still refer to the new medium by its full name – the World Wide Web – and although you sometimes find interesting stuff here, you're constantly struck by how little there is to do. You rarely linger on the Web; your computer takes about 30 seconds to load each page, and, hey, you're paying for the Internet by the hour. Plus, you're tying up the phone line. Ten minutes after you log in, you shut down your modem. You've got other things to do – after all, a new episode of Seinfeld is on. […]

Repeat after me: the Web is not the Internet, dammit!

I know Usenet1 is a backwater nowadays, but there was no shortage of extremely lively and entertaining user-generated content and community activity to be found in newsgroups in the early- and mid-1990s. Even better (in those days of priced-by-the-minute internet access), it was pretty straightforward to jump online, batch download updates to your favourite newsgroups, then go offline to read new posts and compose replies before going back online for a couple of minutes to upload your newsgroup posts and responses.

Apart from ignoring Usenet, I think Manjoo mistakes a lack of medium-to-large-scale media sites for a lack of interesting online activity. Quite apart from the volume of text-based activity going on over email and Usenet and even gopherspace, there were likes of the (Cardiff) Internet Movie Database2 and web hosts like Geocities3, all providing online spaces for users to publish and organise content.

There's no question that there's a lot more content online nowadays, much of it (courtesy of widespread takeup of broadband) in multimedia formats that would have overwhelmed our puny 28Kbps modems back in 1996, but there was no shortage of worthwhile content online in the mid-1990s. By 1996 the days when one person could keep up with Usenet were already long gone.

[Via currybetdotnet]

  1. Or should I say, 'netnews', for the benefit of those who want to be picky about the terminology.
  2. Which was itself an offshoot of a list that started life in a newsgroup.
  3. Which Manjoo mentions, but primarily as a forerunner of Facebook!