The Web We Never Lost, Never Created

Anil Dash had a poignant piece last December about the web we lost. Jeremy Keith, yesterday, waxed nostalgically about the web we once were versus the one we created and live in today.

Both views don’t sit entirely right with me. I find myself nodding in agreement with each fine gentleman’s piece, up until a certain point, where the head bob stops and my eyes roll instead.

The web “grew up” in the sense that as an industry it matured and proved itself a massively lucrative market. 

I’ll give you three guesses as to which type of person is attracted most to a field that is young yet full of wealth and the potential for even greater riches. Hint: it’s not the idealist type who wishes to make the world better for everyone.

It’s money people. Not inventors, innovators and idealists: people who see an opportunity to get rich or richer.

When the money arrived, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that it would corrupt things. Anil talks about “turf battles” versus open, enthusiastic interoperability. That’s the money, making the calls. 

We lost it, created it, and failed to prevent it, all at the same time.

The blindfold we pulled over our eyes was thinking that because we did have an increasing amount of highly talented innovators and idealists among us, the foundations of our field were still in the hands of such people. But that hasn’t been true for a long, long time. 

The culture of the web is a net result of the ingredients we toss into it. A dash of innovation, a liberal amount of creativity and enthusiasm, and a healthy dose of idealist thinking. But the meat and potatoes of this dish are money, profits, pivots and exits; a startup culture that, as Jeremy points out, cares less about users than the data it sucks out of them, all for the sake of a nice big exit, and then off to do another startup. 

Lather, rinse, repeat.

We didn’t create this. We didn’t lose anything; we just let this other side of the web grow and overtake its dominant culture, like a festering tumor except not quite so malignant.

There is a lot to be thankful for with the influx of capital in our industry, the innovation it has facilitated and supported. I don’t want that to go away; I want people to have the chance to go and take a bold risk with no guarantee for a return, simply because it’s something they believe fiercely in.

We don’t get the “old web” back by taking the money out of the current web. We get it back by improving our culture, and craft it into one that has a deeper appreciation for people, for its users. A culture that is rife with empathy, driven by a genuine passion to do some good in the world, and supported with a sense of business to also turn a profit out of that. 

There are no rules we can change to make things better; no laws to enact to “fix” our field. We bring about this change by changing the culture we ourselves create: by becoming conscious of what we do to contribute to it; by being more involved in shaping it in a better way; by convincing people to care a little more about others, and a little less about the money. 

Jeremy asks, “So where do we start?”

I answer: some of us have been working to bring about this kind of change for years already. So please: chime in. We’d love to have you join us.

When people address issues like sexism or racism, we’re not doing it solely to fight those issues because they’re bad; we’re doing it to fix our culture as a whole. 

You may wonder what discrimination and social justice have to do with the technical and economic nature of the web; the short answer is, everything.

First of all, all of these things are deeply interconnected—something that a person working on what we all call the web really should know. Secondly: the more money there is in an industry, the more discriminatory it is. Sexism, racism… all of these are symptoms of a system wanting to protect something valuable.

We created something valuable with the web; our failure was letting this system weave itself into it. We can correct it, but we do so by identifying what elements of our culture need addressing, improving, or downright fixing.

The system is there, and it won’t go away through innovative technology. We need to solve the cultural issues plaguing our industry, as they are the very things keeping this toxic system alive.

Join us.

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