@madpilot rants

What the hell has happened to the Internet

I love the Internet – I live and breathe it everyday. It is arguably the biggest triumph of this century – never before has so much information been so readily available, no to mention the ability to contact and converse with people from all over the world with in just a few mouse clicks.

So why is this current “social networking” trend pissing me off so much?

I realise that when you spend so much time on the ‘net, your life is basically out there for all to see – google my name and there is a shit load of stuff out there. THIS DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN USE IT FOR OWN DEVIOUS PURPOSES. Today, someone added my to their “trust” network on a site called Spock. From what I can gather (and I’m not sure – the details of the site are pretty thin) it scrapes the Internet for information about you and tries to build a profile of who you are associated with, what you do and how many porn sites you visit. What the fuck? If I wanted to all of my information on one site I would create some sort of webpage- Oh hang on, I ALREADY HAVE ONE. And guess what? The information on my website (let’s call it a blog) is the information that I WANT TO RELEASE. I mean seriously. So some muppet on a website makes a comment about you at some point and all of a sudden it is on an aggregation site for all of your other (probably legitimate) friends to see.

Of course, Spock isn’t the first website to try to cash in on utilising your information for their obvious financial gain (C’mon, you think they are doing this for fun? Web 2.0 isn’t about bringing people together anymore) – Facebook managed to see the dollar signs embedded in your personal information with Beacon. Why does Facebook or Spock think that have the right to analyse my shopping habits from other sites? Look, my hatred for Facebook is pretty well known – it does a brilliant job of allowing you to contact long lost school buddies, but that isn’t what it is being used for anymore, which brings my to the guts of this rant.

Take your mind back 18 months – blogs started to take off, flickr was starting become mainstream, Facebook was still limited to people at Harvard, people on the web, knew about the web – they were happier times. People were hungry for knowledge, there was exciting stuff happening, because a lot of the stuff that the average web developer uses everyday was bleeding edge. AJAX was impressive, we would marvel at the tech behind Meebo and would boggle our minds at Google ability to find us stuff and Techcrunch was actually relevent.

Now, it is all about how much angel funding you get on your second round of VC. Oh, what’s that? You’ve burnt the GDP of a small country on a free social network site that takes websites and translates them in to an ancient Hindu language? Oh, now your investors are asking for a return – advertising not working for you? Well go and sell some user data. Your users won’t mind, especially if they don’t know about it. For fuck’s sake. I’m not an economist, but last time I checked, you need a freaking revenue stream to make money. And if I have to hear about another startup that is counting on click-throughs to cover their $10,000 a month hosting bill, I’m going to hit someone – probably the person that is asking for it to be developed.

However! These leeches aren’t the solely responsible promoting the stereotype that skinning some tables based forums package, adding a rounded corner and gradient will make you a bazillion dollars – if people didn’t get sucked in to these sites, then these people would be pumping their business-plan creating time into something else – probably spam. Which brings me to the awful realisation that we, much like the way Viagra emails are an everyday part of ourlives, will just have to put up with this crap until the Internet self-implodes under the bloat of another loser posting a video diary to Seesmic under the misconception that anyone cares.

I for one, will be quite happy to un-subscribe from all this bullshit and get back to making sites that help people to makes their lives easier. Let’s bring the web back to the people, not to the wallets of fly-by-nighters that are just out to make a quick buck.


  1. Hmm.. yes we need to get back the sites that have a core that we can use and allow us to communicate, the rest. Well they really can rot in their dead SNS gardens. Back to making it simple. There is just too much. I've said this before do we have too many SNS, - yes, just let some die..
  2. hear hear!

    nitpick: facebook started allowing non-harvard people late 2004, but it became open to anyone without a university email in mid 2005, which is when i think the shit started happening
  3. hahaha, awesome. i will follow you to my death good sir.
  4. Sadly, it seems like the lessons of the late 90s and early 00s have already escaped us; It's going to be very painful to watch history repeat itself once again and have to suffer another 'internet dark age,' where the only job an IT professional can find is driving a tow-truck.

    Fortunately, Spock has not found me, because I refuse to participate in social networking sites, I'm very conscious about the information I put out there on the internet, since a google search on my name returns postings I made on discussion boards back in 1994...
  5. Brother, I'm with you. It's just not cricket anymore.

    The privacy laws of the world are a one legged man. Give the bloke his other leg and require permission to collect.
  6. kate: thanks for the correction - I still stand by my comments though :)
  7. myles - yup they are all very valid!

    the solution to the issues you raise would be some sort social network service with sophisticated privacy controls, such as different profiles for different life contexts. there would be no ads and the data would all be stored on some offshore data centre, like sealand and would be encrypted. you could easily delete anything at any time
  8. kate: Maybe, but I think Cameron Adams' explanation solves the social networking issue quite nicely: http://www.themaninblue.com/writing/perspective/2007/09/03/

    ...well, the bit he says about the person being the network at least. I have a social network - it is me. It isn't anyone else's to use. You can help me, but at the end of the day, it is my choice what I do with my information - not yours.

  9. Pingback: seesmic blog » Blog Archive » Some random Seesmic links…
  10. @Kate - I'm not keen on the offshore encrypted data centre idea. I would prefer a standard file type, kept on my machine/server, under my control, that contains the information I am prepared to share with the world.

    Oh hang on... I've got that already! :-)
  11. Your post is so interesting to me. Some questions it made me think:

    -Is there a limited amount of space to the internet?

    -Who decides what's of value and why?

    -Give the internet back to the people? What people? most people with net access live privileged lives i.e have lots of food, clean water, shelter, great education, etc. There are billions who don't.

    -Using the internet to help people improve their lives is cool

    -I also don't get seesmic, but so what? who cares if I don't care about people posting lame videos of themselves talking. People interact/learn/relate to the world in different but equally valid ways. I do this through reading & writing. Someone else may do this with images, so an art or photo site like flickr would be their thing. People who use seesmic are obviously verbal & interact best with body language, hence why the visual is so important to them. Is seesmic bad 'cause I don't 'get it' nah. I simply won't use it and leave the site alone.

    -If your real beef is about IT jobs, the IT industry has got to learn to adapt quicker and make/create economic opportunities. You've got to learn to get your hustle on like everybody else. This includes learning/improving skills to tap into other markets.
  12. Trina: Totally right - if it doesn't affect you, who cares - however if more companies like Spock or to a degree Facebook decide to start throwing your user data around with gay abandon, then it does affect you whether you like it or not.

    The basis of the funding rant is that these sites with little or no revenue stream end up resorting to these sorts of tricks to support the running of a site, that in the scheme of things doesn't help anyone.

    I'm a web developer by trade, so I think I'm pretty up with the times when it comes to adjusting to making new economic opportunites from the web - I just don't think these guys have a decent one...

  13. I also like the points you made about corps using your personal info. I am curious though...you and others pissy about this seem so outraged, maybe even astonished or surprise. The outrage is understandable, but the suprise? in the US they've been doing this for decades before the net became mainstream via the postal system. You buy a car or TV or have a baby in a hospital, next thing you know you're getting ads about related products in the mail. Why? because the electronics store/car lot/hospital sold your information. This type of marketing is nothing new. Is it right? No.
  14. Just because it has been happening for years, doesn't make it right.

    No, not suprised - and I'm used to people taking my information, hell I put it all up here on my website, but let me ask you this - would you like a big billboard with your entire credit, medical and purchasing history on it placed in the middle of the city square for all to see? Because what Spock is doing is the digital equivalent. This is where I draw the line.

  15. Spock surely isn't the first to do this. WHOIS databases are like a 'Yellow Pages' for personal information, you've already been profiled as soon as you by a domain for your personal use. Hell, I'm sure it's got your penis size on there somewhere, which probably explains why I'm getting a shitload of emails regarding some miracle medicine called 'WonderDick'.
  16. Pingback: Man with no blog » Spock is Spooky
  17. I'm not a lawyer, but I seem to recall from a security unit I did at Uni a year or so ago that it is a companies legal obligation to protect your personal information. I don't think it matters how they get that information from you, or from some public/private site. If you want to see what a company has stored about you you can ask and they have to show you. You can ask them to remove it and they have to comply, it's a privacy thing. Would be interesting to see this be tested with a site such as Spock or WhoIs.
  18. There has been a huge amount of debate about Whois - that is a double-edged sword.

    The information on that database is to create an audit trail for a domain. If something is dodgy about a website, you know who to complain to. However, as you say, the other side of it is the fact that everyone in the known universe has your email address.

    From legal standpoint (and INAL) you are probably right, but there is no doubt some crazy jurisdiction issues, especially for those of un not in the US.
  19. Hell Yeah
  20. What the fuck are you all people bitching about? Get off your lazy fat asses and do something about the problem instead of sitting on this silly blog whining about it! Sheez!

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