Hussein Derakhshan was imprisoned by the Iranian government for… wait for it… blogging. He was sentenced to 20 years but in 2014, he was released after 6 years. In The Guardian, Mr. Derakhshan details the changes in blogging and the Web while he was in prison.
Go ahead and read the article. Then come back. I’ll wait.
Mr. Derakshan ends with this:
“Sometimes I think maybe I’m becoming too strict as I age. Maybe this is all a natural evolution of a technology. But I can’t close my eyes to what’s happening: a loss of intellectual power and diversity. In the past, the web was powerful and serious enough to land me in jail. Today it feels like little more than entertainment. So much that even Iran doesn’t take some – Instagram, for instance – serious enough to block.
I miss when people took time to be exposed to opinions other than their own, and bothered to read more than a paragraph or 140 characters. I miss the days when I could write something on my own blog, publish on my own domain, without taking an equal time to promote it on numerous social networks; when nobody cared about likes and reshares, and best time to post.
That’s the web I remember before jail. That’s the web we have to save.”
I respect this man and marvel at his endurance and sanity. I also want to point out that technically, he is correct. Apps use the INTERNET, not the WEB. The Internet is the roads, the Web is the cars. What apps do is essentially use public roads to chauffeur you to gated neighborhoods. Once you are inside the gates, that neighborhood really discourages you (sometimes even prevents you) from leaving it. In the case of Facebook, the gated neighborhood tries to provide you with your every need within Facebook, so you won’t have to leave.
Many apps do not have corresponding Web availability. In other words, the only way you can get into the gated community is to use one of their cars, instead of one of Firefox’s, Safari’s or Chrome’s. They are sidestepping the web browser – and the Web – entirely.
Is that “killing the Web?” I don’t know. I started blogging in 2004. Links and “backlinks” were immediately gamed. Black hat SEO became almost necessary to win views and just merely exist online. (Btw, I never did any of that. I had a blogroll, back in the day, but that was not black hat SEO and it wasn’t anything more than common courtesy and convenience).
We don’t know what’s going to happen. Web/web browsers are still quite useful. Not everything should be an app. But Hussein Derakhshan, a modern-day Rip Van Winkle, has given me a lot to think about. Mainly: How do we preserve the best things about the Internet AND the Web without sacrificing them to “game the system” capitalists? What is the education needed? What is the culture we want to embody? Personally I’m not sad to see any smarmy backlink peddler go the way of the dinosaurs, but we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, I guess.