Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Facebook is NOT The Internet - The Internet IS The (Social) Network

In the beginning there were BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems). In a foreshadowing of things to come, almost immediately following the invention of the Personal Computer (PC) they became communications devices as BBS systems were set up for hobbyists to use to share information and home-written programs. At this time PC users were primarily computer hobbyists and the BBSs were mainly confined to dealing with techie things, although in another foreshadowing you could soon download Sunshine Girl like pin-up photos.

As personal computers became more prevalent and the Internet was established in academia more broadly based online service providers such as CompuServe, Prodigy and America Online (AOL) were established to allow people to access and share information on various interests and hobbies. These services while proprietary and limited to their own online resources also provided an interface to Internet email so people could communicate between service providers using email.

The first access the public had to the Internet was via Freenets, such as the Cleveland Freenet and National Capital Freenet (Ottawa). These used a text interface to allow people to access documents stored online, which were mainly of serious academic interest at that time. These documents were accessible via something called Gopher using search engineswith names like Archie and Veronica. This was before the invention of Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) and the World Wide Web (WWW). The Freenets also provided members with access to the Internet email network.

The Freenets allowed community organizations to communicate with members and the public by becoming Information Providers. Freenet Information providers included hobbyists in many different fields as well as community activists. This quickly became a way for the Internet to become a community organizing tool and extended it's usefulness beyond academia to the general public.

You could also connect into other Freenets from your local Freenet.

With the creation of the World Wide Web the Freenets established interfaces to access the content on the web as well as allowing information providers to provide information in HTML format.

All of these early online information providers were accessed via dial-up telephone at slow modem speeds but were soon to be followed by full fledged Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that provided the public with full access to the Internet and the emerging World Wide Web.

Although today most users access the Internet via the web, discussion forums, known as Usenet newsgroups can still be accessed via dedicated software and messaging and live chat can be accessed via Internet Relay Chat software, and many people still use dedicated email software. So the Internet is not just the World Wide Web.

But things were changing, high speed Internet via Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and cable was becoming available and the controversial idea of allowing commercial and business use of the net was being proposed, again foreshadowing the current controversy over net neutrality and what is becoming commercial dominance of the Internet. While we cannot go back, and I would not want to give up access to Internet commerce and banking and the ability to research products online, we must maintain and protect the most important role of the Internet as a public utility and public information and communications network.

Which brings us to the seemingly most popular Internet phenomenon, Facebook. It seems that for many people the Internet, and they themselves, could not exist without this commercial proprietary site that makes millions be leveraging not only people's personal and private information but that of their friends, in what can best be described as a social marketing business plan.

Perhaps I have no right to criticize Facebook as I do not use it. But I do not use it because of what I have learned about it and my intuitive sense, as an early personal computer and Internet user, that Facebook is evil. While I may also have some concerns about the empire Google is building, and avoid Google Plus because of that, my intuition is that Google is still managing to remain true to it's "don't be evil" principles.

What surprises and concerns me most about Facebook is that it has been able to extend that same sense of necessity, that "we have to be on Facebook to reach the public", to progressive community organizations, that I believe should know better. Everyone that is on Facebook, the so-called social network, is on the Internet. The Internet is The Network and there are many organizing tools on the network for progressive organizations to use.

So what tools do progressive community organizations have available on the Internet.

The main tool for providing an online presence has always been a website. Although it does not have the sexy new cachet of a blog or Twitter, or even Facebook, a website provides the basis for connecting all of an organizations online tools. That is why the web was designed the way it was, why HTML was written the way it was, and why Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) allow all online tools to connect to each other.

A website allows an organization to provide basic and comprehensive information to it's members and the public as well as links to documents stored online using resources such as Google Docs. Organization websites can also to link to other resources such as blogs or Twitter accounts. The first website I was responsible for is now archived here.

Web forums connected to websites, which have replaced Usenet newsgroups, provide an excellent means for organizations to communicate with and hold discussions amongst their members and the general public. Forums can be organized by subjects with separate threads for each discussion and can be open to the public or private, in terms of ability to read them or post to them. They can allow interested persons to choose what to read and respond to and avoid receiving massive amounts of email, that can be restricted to more important urgent messages. An example of an effective web forum can be seen here.

Blogs are also very useful for organizations and their members to provide information and express opinions and can be linked from the organizations website, allowing individuals to use whichever blogging platform they choose. Two of the most popular platforms are Blogger and WordPress. This blog is written on Blogger and an example of a WordPress blog is here.

Blogging aggregators, such as Progressive Bloggers are great resources too. They allow you to reach like-minded people with your blogs as well as read blogs of interest. Aggregators are available according to political philosophy, region and subject interest

Another very interesting and little known, little used, Internet resources is Internet Relay Chat (IRC) which provides for real time group discussions, as well as one on one one chats and document transfers. It can be used to hold online meetings. All you have to do is log onto an IRC server using appropriate software and create a room, which can be public or invite only.

Twitter is one Internet resource in particular that I want to talk about. Twitter is the newest Internet tool and one of the most interesting - sort of like a mass e-mailer with a character limit, but not exactly. And of course like most Internet tools Twitter can be abused.

Twitter can be used to tell everyone you know what you had for breakfast or what you're wearing to the prom, but, please don't. I find one of its best uses is by journalists to tweet out breaking news before they have written their complete stories and to live tweet public events, sort of a current affairs play-by-play service. It can also be used effectively by organizations to send out news or event information to their followers.

I follow a few key guidelines in using Twitter. I only try to send out a few tweets a day, either links to my latest blog posts or blog or news entries I think are important and sometimes insightful or witty thoughts. My Twitter feed can be found here.

I limit myself to following people that post interesting and useful information and limit their amount of posting, I do not have all day to read tweets. I recently added, and then quickly deleted, WikiLeaks from my followers due to their over-tweeting. Tweeting a countdown from 10 to 1 in separate tweets before tweeting an announcement is not clever. It is just annoying. But not quite as annoying as random messages inviting people to porn sites.

I also do not understand people who collect followers by following random people hoping they will follow them. Do people who follow thousands of people actually read their tweets. If they have that little of a real life they are probably not worth following.

As the Internet evolves there will, of course, be various other new online resources organizations can use, all of which can be connected together via the main website.

It is very important that we, the public, do not let the telecommunications industry, or other commercial or proprietary interests take control of the Internet and progressive community organizations should avoid being co-opted by such attempts. The Internet IS The Network.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Facebook is just another BBS. You deciding not to use it is a mistake because all it is is an instant way of making a website. Your website. Or your groups. You fearing it makes no sense at all to me because as groups and associations have gravitated to it, you decided to ignore that BBS to your own peril as that decision means you cannot get immediate alerts or news in the medium. It like if you elected not to listen to radio or ignore the fiction book section at Indigo. Makes no sense to me. To each his own, but Facebook has made it so easy to make a group or personal web site - you have chosen to read into that fact and consider evil. It's not. It's a software program which allows for conversation and interaction. You of all people who LIKE and appreciate ease of conversation has decided its evil. Why? Because it is simple to join, free and your data can go everywhere??? I was on veronica and BBS's before there ever was HTML. Facebook is a fantastic