The Wild West Internet is now Little Boxes on a Hillside

Back in the day, the internet was all open. You could write your own HTML, and do whatever you wanted. The only limit was how fast your modem was. Then along came AOL, and all the tech nerds decried it as the death of the Internet. It was a walled garden that treated users like idiots, sending them down prearranged paths to the world wide web. But those prearranged paths were guideposts for people who could not comprehend, never mind figure out how to navigate the world wide web. AOL is (mostly) gone today, but many many things have taken its place.

My tech/nerdy/geeky self’s initial reaction to walled gardens of the internet is one of derision. I think: If you want something done right, do it yourself. The web is open, why trust corporations? Etc etc. However, upon further reflection, these walled gardens have some nice foliage (OK now I’m taking the metaphor too far. My high school english teachers would be appalled).

WordPress, the blogging tool I am using right now, is one walled garden. I have to do things the WordPress way. Sure, I can dive into the code and change it – but overall, I’m stuck with the WordPress paths. But, just like AOL, these prearranged paths are here for a reason. If I want people to comment on my blog without having to make (yet another) account, someone made a WordPress plugin for that. If I want spam comments to be managed, one click and done (another plugin). These prearranged paths are pretty nice.

Reddit is another very well trodden path. If I want to post about Legos, I could post it on my blog. A few of my friends would probably read it. My brother might comment on it. But that would be it. However, if I posted to the Lego subreddit, and my post was interesting enough, hundreds of people would see it. If it got upvoted enough, it might show up on people’s main pages, and thousands of people might see it. That’s amazing. There’s a reason why I have typed many many more words on reddit than on a blog. Reddit has paths that lead me right to people that want to hear what I want to say.

I find this dichotomy very interesting. Tim Berners-Lee just recently told Wired that we need to decentralize the web (Wired.com article here). But human nature is to centralize. Why should I try and find 20 blogs when I can just go to Facebook? Why should I take out ads to promote my Lego articles when I can just post to Reddit? My geek self agrees with him, but my consumer self…less so.