In today’s reblog, the insanely prolific author, blogger, tweeter, speaker, etc. Cory Doctorow gets a little misty-eyed for the days of yore, when the internet was all about finding the little corners where people liked the same things you liked and you all could collectively geek-out over it.
Doctorow is of the opinion that the rise of social media, cross-site user tracking and online advertising empires drew people away from many of those hidden corners of the internet and encouraged websites to cast the widest-possible nets, seeking sheer number of views over engaged communities.
Whether or not you believe that narrative, it does seem like we’ve lost some of that early internet magic. Doctorow is here to remind us that we don’t have to try to please everyone. We don’t have to chase those big, but barely-engaged viewer numbers. It’s better to build that little corner of the internet that’s all about the thing you love. It’s better to get together with a few people who also love that thing.
It’s hard to overstate how liberating the early years of internet publishing were. After a century of publishing driven by the needs of an audience, we could finally switch to a model driven by the interests of writers.
That meant that instead of trying to figure out what some “demographic” wanted to read about, we wrote what we wanted to read, and then waited for people who share our interests to show up and read and comment and write their own blogs and newsletters and whatnot.
In the golden years of internet publishing, the point was to find the weirdos who liked the same stuff as you. Freed from commercial imperatives, the focus of the blogosphere was primarily on using your work as a beacon to locate Your People, who were so diffuse and disorganized that there was no other way to find them.
That’s the dynamic behind the explosion of fandoms and fanfic, behind esoteric maker communities and weird collector rabbit-holes, behind conspiratorialism and fringe politics and the whole loompanic wonderment of it all.