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Lost Promise

What happened to the blogosphere? Why is the USENET dead? How did Yahoo and Google groups (listserv-like services) wither so quickly? Why is podcasting struggling?

The answers to some of the above questions are simple:

  • USENET was killed because ISPs feared being sued for the amount of illegal files being distributed via the newsgroups.
  • Groups and listservs died thanks to a mix of spam and inconvenient delivery methods. Who doesn't stuggle to manage a flood of email as it is, without mailing lists?
  • Forums require frequent visits, and the "loudest," most annoying members drive the curious and open-minded away. Forums are now for true believers… arguing about ideological purity.
  • Podcasts and music downloads have lost ground to streaming audio and audio-on-demand services. It's still "podcasting" in a form, but through larger services like iHeartRadio and TuneIn.

Blogging and forums are the saddest loss, to me, though I miss the USENET programming newsgroups, a lot.

I've been watching Medium and other blog sites struggle, despite seeming like good ideas. I dislike Facebook and the click-bait in my stream, but I dislike the Google+ layouts even more. Nobody I know uses Google+ and the Groups/Communities there and on Yahoo have fizzled.

Slashdot, my favorite website, has said traffic dropped precipitously over the last year. Tom's Hardware dropped, too, not even bothering to fix a broken iOS reader app.

Every Slashdot discussion on operating systems or programming descends into useless screaming. That was always a problem, but you could filter the idiots. It is now so bad you can't find the good technical arguments. Looking for information on Swift programming, Apple's new C#-like language, what I find instead of useful information is diatribes. The USENET groups on coding would have featured discussions of the compiler choices, why LLVM works well (or not), and what the implications are of optimistic parsing.

The coding blogs? Dead. The coding listservs? Spammed to death. The IRC forums? More bots…

Remember when the Internet was supposed to create and expand "community" or something? Instead, it has reinforced tribalism (ugh, lousy word) and cliques of like-minded ideologues, while the generalists and moderates walked away.

The good news is that for information I'm back to attending real, physical meetings with other programmers to learn about tech. We don't even bother to update the group websites anymore, though.

The fading value of online communities might lead to… real communities.

Of course, things could change in an instant. Facebook could revive discussion threads. A new alternative could emerge. Google+ could finally be made useful.

Whatever happens, I doubt we can predict how we will communicate and convert information into knowledge five years from now.


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