As new platforms try to imitate existing ones, it becomes more challenging for users to find unique and diverse voices (and content).
So it’s important for users, developers, and investors to encourage innovation and diversity in online spaces, instead of solely focusing on creating platforms that trap users and prioritise profit.
You know, the internet still has the potential to be a place for connection, surprise, and delight. But it requires a collective effort to resist the monopolistic tendencies of a few dominant players.
This kind of duplication isn’t just a clear a failure of imagination; it is the kind of innovation that capitalism rewards. Don’t make something new, make the same thing that someone else made very successful, but slightly better. To have a proven concept, after all, is to plagiarize. It’s annoying to see millions of dollars thrown at making more-or-less literal dupes of internet companies that everyone is already using begrudgingly and with diminishing emotional returns. It’s maybe more frustrating to realize that the goals of these companies is the same as their predecessors, which is to make the internet smaller.
The death of Google Reader is much bemoaned by bloggers like myself, many of whom believe that its end was why blogs died. That’s a beautiful revisionist history that I won’t be taking part in here. Google Reader, which was essentially a very well-designed RSS feed with a mild interactive component, died because Google decided they didn’t want to play the game in the way that its founders had said they’d play it. Those ethical foundations proved extremely easy to discard once some shiny new companies, most notably Facebook and Twitter, began raking in billions of dollars.
The reason the death of Google Reader matters, here, is that it marks a pivotal moment in the deliberate and engineered shrinking of the internet. When Google Reader died, article discovery shifted. People were no longer reading RSS feeds, finding new sites, following them, and being updated when those sites posted. Instead, they were scrolling on the endless feed of Twitter, and (at the time) Facebook, and they got whatever they got.
It is worth remembering that the internet wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to be six boring men with too much money creating spaces that no one likes but everyone is forced to use because those men have driven every other form of online existence into the ground. The internet was supposed to have pockets, to have enchanting forests you could stumble into and dark ravines you knew better than to enter. The internet was supposed to be a place of opportunity, not just for profit but for surprise and connection and delight. Instead, like most everything American enterprise has promised held some new dream, it has turned out to be the same old thing—a dream for a few, and something much more confining for everyone else.