The web blooms again

“In place of the monolithic super-platforms that were the hallmark of using the internet over the last decade, we’ll see smaller, independent publications and websites that address the needs of their communities more closely.”

In 2021, a battery of antitrust cases will be filed against dominant platform providers like Facebook and Google. At the same time, fallout from the pandemic will force social networks to increase the number of ads per post in order to maintain revenues and justify their valuations. The experience of using these platforms will decrease in quality, and as the pandemic continues into its second year, more people will grow tired of their algorithmically served outrage. Companies that amplify division to drive ad impressions will find it harder to hire and retain core staff. Their engagement numbers will continue to drop.

New kinds of platforms will step up to the opportunity. In place of the monolithic super-platforms that were the hallmark of using the internet over the last decade, we’ll see smaller, independent publications and websites that address the needs of their communities more closely. Small newsrooms around the country will have the pick of an increasing number of lightweight content management systems and community platforms that are cheap and easy to use but allow them to retain their ownership and choose their own business models.

The rising popularity of newsletter platforms like Substack, combined with the absolute chaos of most of our inboxes, will lead to new kinds of reader software. Across our devices, we will have a single place to read all our newsletters and subscriptions, powered by feeds and email. Advertising revenues will continue to drop, but the technologies underpinning these apps will come with built-in subscriber and patronage business models for independent publishers. Building on work done by open source communities and projects like RadioPublic, an independent ecosystem of writers and readers will be rebuilt.

As this decoupling begins to accelerate, we must ensure that ownership of web products, and the processes used to build them, is shared. While the web’s rise was a genuine revolution in publishing and communication, it was one mostly enjoyed by wealthy, white men. Decades later, this demographic continues to dominate software design and development. As publications customize their platforms to fit the needs of the communities they serve, it is vitally important that these communities are well-represented in the software design process, and that they are able to profit from them. This is as applicable to media organizations as it is to tech companies.

We must also be highly aware of the last four years, when policies made by a handful of platforms were allowed to threaten global democracy. This can never be allowed to happen again. The only way to defeat platform-empowered disinformation is to ensure no platform (or platform owner) is able to reach a size where it can possibly represent this kind of a threat. Our focus must be on embracing technical ecosystems, not monocultures.

The result will be a diverse, decentralized social web that empowers journalists and their communities alike. By creating and embracing platforms that meet communities where they’re at and support inclusive conversations, publications will be able to create more valuable work and build stronger relationships that drive more revenue. By moving away from social media silos which demand that publications pander to their business models, journalists will be able to fully own those relationships. And through the support of a new generation of independent, autonomous community publications that speak truth to power on their own terms, we all win.

Ben Werdmuller is a product developer and open web advocate.

In 2021, a battery of antitrust cases will be filed against dominant platform providers like Facebook and Google. At the same time, fallout from the pandemic will force social networks to increase the number of ads per post in order to maintain revenues and justify their valuations. The experience of using these platforms will decrease in quality, and as the pandemic continues into its second year, more people will grow tired of their algorithmically served outrage. Companies that amplify division to drive ad impressions will find it harder to hire and retain core staff. Their engagement numbers will continue to drop.

New kinds of platforms will step up to the opportunity. In place of the monolithic super-platforms that were the hallmark of using the internet over the last decade, we’ll see smaller, independent publications and websites that address the needs of their communities more closely. Small newsrooms around the country will have the pick of an increasing number of lightweight content management systems and community platforms that are cheap and easy to use but allow them to retain their ownership and choose their own business models.

The rising popularity of newsletter platforms like Substack, combined with the absolute chaos of most of our inboxes, will lead to new kinds of reader software. Across our devices, we will have a single place to read all our newsletters and subscriptions, powered by feeds and email. Advertising revenues will continue to drop, but the technologies underpinning these apps will come with built-in subscriber and patronage business models for independent publishers. Building on work done by open source communities and projects like RadioPublic, an independent ecosystem of writers and readers will be rebuilt.

As this decoupling begins to accelerate, we must ensure that ownership of web products, and the processes used to build them, is shared. While the web’s rise was a genuine revolution in publishing and communication, it was one mostly enjoyed by wealthy, white men. Decades later, this demographic continues to dominate software design and development. As publications customize their platforms to fit the needs of the communities they serve, it is vitally important that these communities are well-represented in the software design process, and that they are able to profit from them. This is as applicable to media organizations as it is to tech companies.

We must also be highly aware of the last four years, when policies made by a handful of platforms were allowed to threaten global democracy. This can never be allowed to happen again. The only way to defeat platform-empowered disinformation is to ensure no platform (or platform owner) is able to reach a size where it can possibly represent this kind of a threat. Our focus must be on embracing technical ecosystems, not monocultures.

The result will be a diverse, decentralized social web that empowers journalists and their communities alike. By creating and embracing platforms that meet communities where they’re at and support inclusive conversations, publications will be able to create more valuable work and build stronger relationships that drive more revenue. By moving away from social media silos which demand that publications pander to their business models, journalists will be able to fully own those relationships. And through the support of a new generation of independent, autonomous community publications that speak truth to power on their own terms, we all win.

Ben Werdmuller is a product developer and open web advocate.

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