The internet is being consumed by monolithic giants as we are sitting back to watch it happen. Of course this means an erosion of our privacy, but it also means that we are no longer empowered to foster community on our own terms. The rely a handful of proprietary algorithms for our social livelihoods.
We lose our agency— we lose the ability to contribute, we lose the ability to scrutinize a closed system, we lose our opportunity for needed change. We get lowest common denominator outcomes which cater to the needs of the few. When aggregating power takes precedence over innovation, we all lose.
Open source is alive and well... In a way. Sure, we share a lot of libraries, we avoid reinventing the wheel, and our code is more secure because we have more eyes on the primitives. But open source software was supposed to be for the benefit of people. The rate at which open source solves the needs of developers exclusively with so little attention to solving the needs of the rest of the world demonstrates a flaw in our approach.
Writing powerful low-level software in the open is a good thing, but we don't create connections with databases and view libraries. We use Facebook and Instagram. We use Google and Gmail. We use TikTok and Snapchat. We use Uber and Lyft. We use black box software owned and operated by the few. We use products created by corporations that are hell-bent on creating and defending their monopolies.
Open source is opportunity. It was once the opportunity to ensure the operating system was a proprietary tool for the few. We developers know vital open source is at the lowest levels, but it’s still leaving behind the people, the communities. People need to own real-estate on the Internet— instead of renting property from the slumlords of cyberspace.
What happened to fostering community on the Internet? Why did we regress away from distributing value towards allowing it to be consumed? Why are content moderation decisions conducted autocratically instead of by the actual community leaders in our society? What happened to respecting privacy? When did we lose our own agency to fight against disinformation, abuse, radicalism, and social isolation?
Optimism about the future cannot be restricted to blind optimism. We can’t believe the story of benevolent big tech in the absence of actual transparency. We can build towards meaningful optimism together by normalizing transparency and developing our own agency.
This is a short essay about ideas, but it's brought to you from folks building stuff with these ideas in mind.
We're the folks building Forem — An open source community and social media platform. We first built dev.to and made it open source two years ago. We then set to extract it so that everyone can use it.
We are currently rolling out our hosted version with early partners who have submitted this form. We will provide a broader release of our hosted service in early 2021 alongside a better roadmap for self-hosting.
We're a company. We have investors and a business model— One not driven by surveillance, but by a commitment to excellence of service in partnership with our Forem creators. We are driven by serving the user experience of the many we know will recognize the future when they see it.