They say history repeats itself, that things go in cycles and circles, or something along those lines, but not the lines of a parallelogram. Cycles repeat. Even on final spin.
I’m in a silly mood and I’m blathering a little. The truth of the matter is, now that I’m teetering on that unnecessary label of “late 40s”, I’m starting to see history repeating itself. I saw a car that was the same color as the shade of orange as a relative’s 1970-something Pinto back in the day. Hairstyles are always repeating some earlier decade. And now the online experience is coming full circle.
Back in the 1990s you couldn’t go a week without receiving some sort of America Online marketing package, whether it was by mail, a free handout at the store or someone was chucking them off a float in your favorite gay pride parade. America Online was the onramp to the Information Superhighway for many and AOL did their best to keep everyone hooked by being inclusive. They provided a connection, lots of information, they provided chat rooms and discussion boards, communication tools such as Instant Messenger and it was always a charge of excitement when your computer exclaimed, “You’ve got mail!”. Yes, America Only WAS the Internet as far as many people were concerned back in the day. The broadband came to town and people realized that they didn’t really need America Online to get online and that there was a whole world wide web outside of the AOL walls. And people sought it out. Folks built web sites and blogged and technology picked up speed and moved forward. Life was grand.
Many years later, Facebook came to town. What started on a college campus soon took over the world and anyone that was anyone was on Facebook. You could easily find people, see photos, exchange messages, plan events, do pretty much everything you could do inside the walls of AOL back in the day, except with more glitz and glam and a heck of a lot faster. Like AOL, Facebook does its best to become an essential part of your online existence: they want you to use their Facebook Messenger, share anything and everything with friends, join groups and discussions with others with a common interest, look up restaurants and boutiques through location aware magic, share photos, videos, get your news, etc.
While I have been a Facebook user for many years, I’ve tried to enjoy everything on the Internet, not just the offerings of Facebook. I’ve kept my blog going, I Google things on an hourly basis, I read all sorts of news feeds, I tweet. My love/hate relationship with Facebook runs deep, but it isn’t my entire Internet experience. I know there’s a heck of a lot more outside the walls of Facebook.
But just like the days of AOL, people are becoming Facebook centric.
I am the web developer for a scholarship program called “Miss Mohawk Valley”. It sounds like a beauty pageant because it is a beauty pageant, in fact, the winner of “Miss Mohawk Valley” competes in “Miss New York” and can end up as “Miss America” if the cards and points are all in her favor. My friend Laurie was the Executive Producer for years and I enjoyed maintaining the website. When there was a change in leadership a couple of months ago, I agreed to continue the website, but there doesn’t seem to be an interest in it.
The current Miss Mohawk Valley does everything on Facebook.
Now, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with this approach, everyone that’s anyone in the intended audience is probably on Facebook, but as an old geezer in the tech world, it seems a little dangerous to hand all that information over to a single entity. It resides on their servers, in their framework and on their dime. People getting to the Miss Mohawk Valley page are giving up information in all sorts of ways through Facebook’s ad-opportunity snooping mechanisms and, lack of tin-foil hat aside, this would make me nervous. This is one of the reasons that I go through the exercise of maintaining my blog on my own server with my own copy of software, etc. It’s mine and I want to make sure that it’s mine and I want to be sure that it’s available to everyone, not just folks with a Facebook account.
As more and more friends and the like tap me on Facebook for friend requests and such, I can’t help but wonder if everyone is jumping back into that AOL-like walled garden again. While I can play in the garden, I certainly don’t want to live there.
And I hope the walls don’t close completely someday.