Tools for Independence

So I signed up for . I added some friends from the roster already there (my Gmail contacts, I guess). Created a small circle to discuss VRM. Nothing happened there that I know of right now, but I haven’t checked yet. I’m about to (see below), but first I’ll go through my other impressions.

First, the noise level in my email already rivals that of Facebook‘s and LinkedIn’s, both of which are thick with notices of interest in friending (or whatever) from people I don’t know or barely know. On Facebook, which I hardly visit, I see that I have 145 messages from (I guess) among my 857 friends. I also have 709 friend requests. Just said okay to a couple, ignored the rest.

Second, when I look at, the look is mighty similar to Facebook’s. Expected, I guess.

Third, I see now that “circles” means streams. Kind of like lists in Twitter. I had thought that cirlces would be a discussion thing, and I guess it is. But I prefer the threading in a good email client. Or just in email. I’m so tired of doing this kind of thing in silos. Email is mine. Google+ is Google’s. In terms of location, I feel like I’m in a corporate setting in Google+, and I feel like I’m at home when I’m in email. The reason, aside from design differences, is that email is free-as-in-freedom. Its protocols are NEA: Nobody owns them, Everybody can use them, and Anybody can improve them. Not the case with these commercial Web dairy farms.

I don’t mean ‘dairy farms’ as an insult, but as a working metaphor. We are not free there. We are the equivalent of cattle on a ranch.

The problem remains client-server, which is cow-calf, and was a euphemism in the first place (I’ve been told) for slave-master.

We’ve gone about as far as we can go with that. We need freedom now, and none of these dairies can give it to us. Yet another site/service can’t work, by the nature of its server-based design. Asking Google, or Yahoo, or Microsoft, or Apple, or a typical new start-up, with yet another site-based service, to make us free, is like asking a railroad to make us a car.

Email is one kind of primitive car. Or maybe just a primitive way of getting along on the road. (It is, after all, a collection of protocols, like the Net and the Web themselves.) We need more vehicles. More tools. Instruments of independence and sovereignty, as Moxy Tongue suggests here and I riff on here.

I’m thinking more about infrastructure these days. Facebook, LInkedIn, Google+ and Twitter are all good at what they do, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient as infrastructural elements supporting personal independence and real social interaction, like the kind we’ve always had offline, and in marketplaces since the days of Ur. Right now nearly all the sites and services we call “social” are platforms for advertising. That’s their business model. Follow the money and that’s where you end up. Then start there to see where they’ll all go. (LinkedIn, to its credit is an exception here. They have a serious set of professional personal services.) Yes, a lot of good in the world gets done with ad-supported social sites and services. But they are still built on the dairy model. And everything new we do on that model will have the same problem.

There are alternatives.

Kynetx’ execution model, for example, transcends the calf-cow model, even as it works alongside it. RSS always has supported personal independence, because it’s something that gives me (or anybody) the power to syndicate — without locking anybody into some company’s dairy. There are other tools, protocols and technologies as well, but I’ll stop naming my own votes here. Add your own in the comments below.

18 responses to “Tools for Independence”

  1. The Economist recently had an excellent analogy of social networking and the new ways we interact with news with the baroque-era coffee house: the place to go to see and be seen, and hear first about the East Indiaman that went down.

    Necessarily the coffee house isn’t “ours”, so we shouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t on-line either.

    The question is: what’s the equivalent of my own house on the internet?

  2. I think the equivalent of my own house on the Net is a server that you operate, and which is clearly yours. Mine is

    Of course, everything on the Net is temporary, and rented. We rent our domain names. We rent our connections. In some cases (such as mine) we rent our servers too.

    But, that’s as close as we can get.

  3. @Doc – I’d just like to point out that your house isn’t really yours either. Someday, it will most likely be reclaimed by a larger entity, such as a bank, a government, or Nature. Don’t be depressed, though. It’s still pretty neat that you can borrow the space for while, right?

    1. Thanks, Ryan.

      I really like the way Lewis Hyde describes property in Common as Air: as a “collection of rights.” Specifically, “rights of action.” That is, you can use your home as a house, though not as a pig farm or a missle silo.

      And yes, rights are temporary. Like life.

  4. g’day.
    pretty good comparison. i call the silos “cathedrals”, as they need – or require – you to preach to them. and there’s plenty of software and above-software “cathedrals of knowledge” that’s not questionable nor improvable.

    recently i’m trying to make sense of idea of mine, which tries to revert it all. here a brisk description:
    the point is that i’m a user of myself for quite a long time. i’d like to have a way to reuse some of that knowledge, over routine things. kind of personal dashboard with gauges and green and red lights. and translate my meanings to/from other people.

    as u may see i’m a software guy and not that good in beating the drum. if someone is interested in making a community around this, let me know. There’s lots of things to talk/read, though not much practical yet.

  5. Wait for Socialistr. We relaunch in a month and we offer the kind of freedom you are talking about. You are absolutely right – we’ve gone as far as we can in our relationship with mega corps owning our personal data, thoughts and files. It’s time to break free

    Kofi C

    1. Kofi, on your site it currently says “Socialistr is a third party application for use with Twitter.” Are you planning on breaking free from Twitter too? That would be cool.

      Can you let me know what you’re up to, at least under NDA? If so, send me an email or DM me at @dsearls.

  6. Absolutely all so called social websites are there for advertising. It is all about money for a long time. Isn’t it?

  7. I actually view G+ circles as a way to manage RSS feeds from people who post to G+, much like the categories you can sort feeds into (but that also aggregate the contained feeds) in Google Reader. So all of G+ is really a lot like aggrgated twitter or so, but allowing longer links and (IMO) a better interface.

  8. I just found your profile on and started following–though it’s been 3 months since the last update was posted there; while it looks like you’re plenty active on Twitter….

    StatusNet addresses many of the issues that you’ve raised in this article, doesn’t it? I know that you even mentioned it, two years ago, in `What’s the tweeting protocol’; did you know that you can even link StatusNet and Twitter together, so that your posts automatically relay?

    So, why aren’t you using or another part of the federated, open network 🙂
    Maybe you’ve just been using your own server, and forgot to tell us? 😉

  9. […] Tools for Independence- Doc Searls , July 27, 2011 […]

  10. Johannes and Doc:

    It is interesting that you use the coffee house/house analogy. EnThinnai is named with that analogy in mind and offers the ability to do social sharing using your own servers. These servers can be a low-end device located in your home to a hosted server in a data center. You can get a quick overbiew of it at and

  11. I am kind of confused about the concept of google +1, but I agree it feels very commercial. I am hoping in the near future there will be a good open source alternative to all these social sites. One that focuses on freedom, privacy, and user security.

  12. Go, then had never seen from that point of view. So what would be the development of a hypothetical platform according to their vision?. You can have maybe a great idea to develop on the Internet. And maybe this could work. Think about it.

  13. Diaspora is designed to support the breadth of possibilities in social networking: the “seeds” are instances of the software that can be run on your own server, on o co-op server, or at some service to which you subscribe. I can imagine it being used like Jabber as it matures.

  14. […] REmail I’m so tired of doing this kind of thing in silos. Email is mine. Google+ is Google’s. In terms … […]

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