I’d like to think of myself as an early adopter of the ‘social’ web, whatever that means. If being involved in a community and having the ability to link back and forth between things created by different people meant ‘social’, then Geocities would qualify as one of the earliest community and social platform. It’s pretty much what blogs, before the term was even coined, was like in the early ages. I was a part of that. Among a few others, I fondly and proudly remembered that I had a site with Digimon cheat codes. I would browse through the directory (search wasn’t great in those days), especially the stuff on UFOs and conspiracy theories and check for updated sites (RSS didn’t exist either), and then talk about and link to them on my own. I displayed a badge with my ICQ UIN, along with my status, whether I was on or offline, publicly on my sites, and just about on every forum I visited.
A few years later, the web gained mainstream acceptance and really took off, making everything I talked about in the last paragraph look primitive. With fly-by-night companies, automated content aggregation and sharing, I was beseiged by fears of losing control and paralyzed by uncertainty.
To be sure, this is a valid concern, and even more so in these days where once’s web presence is more of a representation of one’s self than the physical entity is. Lose a Gmail account, and a part of your life gets wiped out. Sure, we still have memories, but with nothing to confirm the existence of events in said memory, how can you prove that events actually happened? I picked up a love of watching anime lately, and in ‘Serial Experiments Lain’, the concept of existentialism was explored, with the protagonist coming to a conclusion that “if you aren’t remembered, you never existed”. Much like software objects in managed programming languages, once the last reference to an object has been lost or destroyed, the object ceases to exist. But I digress.
My web self took a direction that my panicky real life self would have done. I set sailed for safe harbor and bunkered down. I rented space on a web host and ran my own blog and image gallery, shying away from the publicly available options. The state of my web presence was that of a lonely and depressed old man, left behind and slowly corroding in the wake of the new social web. What I was really doing was effectively living in a gated community where I am the only resident. I’ve all the facilities to myself, but it’s a lonely place.
As shallow as it sounds, having visitors or being referred to is a necessary to validate one’s existence. Privacy and control issues aside, using a web app grants you the power of community, and gives your content better visibility by enhancing discoverability. It is still a gated community and not the true ‘open’ web that is the wet dream of many open source evangelist, but at least it’s a gated community with other residents.
On the topic of more practical concerns, the web environment is a lot more resilient today than it was before. As much as I like to have control, the chances of me losing my own data simply due to poor management is a lot more likely than having the distributed servers of a major web app spontaneously and simultaneously going up in flames. Most major web services supports some form of data portability, decreasing the chances that when the company goes, everything goes with them.
However, there is still some responsibility to maintain local backups or achieves of content posted on the web should the improbable happen. But let me tell you, it’s a lot less work than running and maintaining a web server.