The case for creating "public parks" on the Internet

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How much would it cost for some benevolent billionaire to build an ad-free, tracker-free Facebook? Enough that they’d notice?

Perhaps that could be something for Bill and Warren’s billionaire bequeathal. Definitely not something for public funds.

If someone did happen to do that, would real Facebook survive?

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Private interests building such a thing will still reflect private interests. Some people also argued that spaces like parks (and schools) should not be funded with public monies, but I think we all sort of take those for granted now, because they bring a great deal of value paid for by our tax dollars. Going to a privately own park (a Six Flags or Disney) isn’t the same as going to your local park where your neighbors are walking and hanging out.


Take a trip to Chicago’s Millennium Park. There’s a HUGE chiseled wall that reminds you that even though you’re in a beautiful space, it wasn’t all possible with public funds and some big names and foundations kicked in too. It’s a gray area.


Private donations to a public project like a park is not the same as a fully private park, I’d argue. If tax dollars are involved, then you as a tax payer still have access to it, and that can’t be restricted in the way access to a private park/space can be.

Public spaces, that we own together, matter. I don’t see why that shouldn’t be true online as well.


Why do people keep looking for centralized (aka “cloud-based”) solutions to this? There isn’t one. You need self-sovereign identity (truly own your identity via private cryptographic keys), self-sovereign data (your data only exists on a server that you fully control), and self-sovereign computation (the computer processing your data is one you fully control). Peer to peer networked computers coming together to create shared spaces all running on open source software. Look at what is doing and building.


But this isn’t knew.

30 years ago greenest and “community networks” were a thing. Not just free internet access, but to create a shared space. And there were lots of papers written about the need for non-commercial space. At the time, some of it seemed premature since the internet was not commercial and some of that stuck even as commerce became a thing. But 24 years after I read some of those papers, we see the outcome.

Usenet was one of the most significant shared spaces, and while controlled “by the cabal”, participants in each newsgroup created those spaces. They provided content, but they also at times worked to improve that space. So someone built up a faq, others later relevant material, some stomped on anti-social behaviour.

An immediate difference is that when people created new protocol, be it Usenet or email or whatever, they have it away. But the rise of commercialized space meant creating competitive spaces, to make money.

So.all those papers created a plan, and I know I’ve mostly stuck with ir. I still keep a page about upcoming local used book sales, started when I posted to the local newsgroup in 1997, in part to show how we could be using the internet. When I moved it to the web, I never put it on a “free” webpage,just space that was part of my ISP account. I may read some facebook, myspace and twitter, but I’ve never had accounts there. I won’t link to them, either. I couldn’t use a graphic browser from 1996 to 2001, and only really started using one much in 2012. Hence for a big chunk of time, ads barely registered.

Up to a certain point, people had certain expections, but the more things became accessible, the more newcomers wanted “my space”. They wanted to buy, and keep in contact with people they already knew, and they didn’t want “all that technical stuff”. (About 1998, someone said “it’s technical” as a barrier to using the online world, my mental response was “it’s social”).

So commerce moved in, creating spaces that people wanted so the companies could make money. And for many people, that was “normal” since they never saw the early internet.

So groups use those spaces “because we have to go where people are”, instead of creating spaces early on. And thus they feed commerce.

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So, people who aren’t experts at computing should be shut out of the largest public space we have right now? If you can’t build your own online structures, you shouldn’t be online, which is critical for engaging in any sort of public life right now?


If nothing else, I’m sure the moderation policies for such an online “public park” would be non-controversial and straightforward to maintain.

Really you’d need Buffet or Bezos or Gates to donate money to create a cluster of connected Facebook-like systems that are also publicly owned. This, of course, means you’d probably need a government body or NGO (or several) to oversee it, and that that billionaire would step aside and out of involvement with said managing NGO.


Agreed, that would all need to happen and it would be prefable for such spaces to be publicly owned. I would still find it suspect, given the history of corporate largess in America, though - even with them being publicly held (the original infrastructure for the modern internet was built in large part with public monies, right, through DARPA, etc, working with private corporations, of course).

Just in general, I think that Zizek addresses some of my concerns here about charitable giving in a capitalist society (such as greenwashing in this case) but I’d argue it can apply to this topic as well:

Given the amount of damage that tech corporations have done to our body politic in recent years, I’m skeptical in the extreme that they can fix this without some deep government intervention.

I do think it’s time to rebuild a “liberal consensus” of some kind. It’s dismantling since the 1970s has only exacerbated the problems of government corruption that drove its dismantling in the first place. In part because we’ve been endlessly cutting taxes and depending on the private sector to fill in the gaps. This model has utterly failed us all (other than the 1%) and that means it really is time to rethink it. What better place to start than the internet as a public space?


About $12 bucks a user apparently.


That‘s probably not what they mean at all, as I understand it their key points is trust, decentralization and open source software.

A decentralized infrastructure could also mean that local providers you trust (your community, your tech-davy neighbor, or a relative in another state) provide theses services for you.

Without decentralization, that infrastructure is at the mercy mercy of a single party, and we all know how that goes. It doesn’t matter much if that is private equity or the state. Imagine Trump had control over those public spaces. They‘d look like r/TheDonald before it was retired.

Also these public spaces should not belong to a single nation, but to all of us, so that not only those who have the luxury of currently living in a liberal democracy can participate.

Of course the development of the open source software running all this could very well be be funded by the state, just not exclusively by one state. Some states do that already to a certain extent.

That doesn’t mean we would not need to regulate the shit out of facebook and all other tech companies who currently exploit their users and customers (Google, Apple, M$, Amazone etc.)

The video just says facebook makes $12 per user, which was true in 2016. Today, with 2.7 billion active users and 75 Billion revenue in the last 12 months that is actually more like $30 per user per year.

The cost of providing the actual service, without harvesting data, brokering ads and paying ISPs for preferential treatment and all that shit would be significantly lower. My guess is $3 per user per year or so.

Edit: video is from 2016

There was a time (and I know some still exist) where some people put up a website, and then sought out some advertisers to buy ads. Not Google ads, just local or relevant companies. The goal wasn’t make money, but to offset the cost of hosting. THere’s a website about antique radios run by some guy, and he has some advertisers. He goes out to find them (or maybe they find him) sand they all relate somehow to antique radio.

The advertisers, all small businesses, reach their target market, while the readers see ads they may need.

The shift has been from that to “how do we make money?”


That is the essence of platform capitalism: replace meaningful relationships with a platform on the promise that you‘ll give people more business. And eventually everyone is on the platform, you have everyone by the balls, and the business as a whole has not increased, but everyone now gives you some share of their revenue. Some small businesses go out of business, the rich get richer. The end.

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