I echo this 100%. Software should never be a serious limiting factor; it’s just code. And it shouldn’t shape culture and community per se, but rather facilitate its natural expression to the utmost, and yeah cultivate virtue. Of course, the Algorithm deployed in social software often serves to encourage and entrench our baser instincts: overconsumption, promiscuity, idle entertainment, and so on.
That happens to be why I prefer blogs and forums, things that are digital examples of “slow technology”, practically yeoman in culture. Its origins are in fact very independent and many of its earliest adopters and innovators were right and right-leaning. Deeper and lengthier formats – with a barrier to entry – literacy, some intelligence, and deliberateness are a few examples! – can lead to deeper engagement and relationship-building, perhaps more likely to manifest in real world activity.
But here’s the challenge and opportunity: We now have all the affordances and advancements made by social technologies after forum’s and blogging’s (first) golden era waned. We also have dirt cheap commodity infrastructure that is simply not readily censored.
One approach would be to effectively parasitize the big social platforms, using them as a mere delivery or distribution mechanism (which in itself isn’t so valuable in an era of bits). Strategically and in a very targeted fashion, you can draw select people away from them, and to a place like here. It’s not that you leave those venues completely; they’re just more like a waiting room and bulletin board pointing to where the action really happens.
Another approach is to leverage the low costs and ubiquity of hardware and fast reliable internet. These simply did not exist at this scale during the heyday of blogging and forums. Nowhere close. And even simple usability is vastly improved.
This second approach can be implemented in a few ways, but one is to sell a box for $200. You plug it into your home router. This box is a commodity single board computer running a Linux stack and a bunch of vetted/endorsed/custom-developed software. Could include things like media servers to stream files to your television, or filter out ads/trackers before they even reach your computer. But it also includes things like a self-hosted Mastodon/decentralized Twitter node.
The key to all this is usability. In many ways, all of the pieces exist. It’s all ready, if you have time and knowledge to piece it together. But it might as well not exist, probably 0.0001% of users host what amounts to a bunch of web apps from their house. Maybe 1% of developers even do this.
What’s needed is a giant abstraction layer on top of it all. Make it utterly trivial to set up a node, analogous to setting up a Twitter account, and that’s it. Self-hosters prioritize customization and advanced functionality, which can be leveraged by a team to preconfigure the experience for the end user. Get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t matter, add functionality that does.
Just plug the box in, visit a website (and one barely knows it, but it’s served from that box) and fill out a form. A few options, a sign up, and that’s it. Now you have your own effectively permanent Google Docs, Dropbox, Blog, Forum, and ________.
Very difficult to censor or deplatform en masse or individually; you’re talking about a consumer product that might be running on millions and millions of dynamic IPs. Add increased usage of VPNs and yeah. Very little of what’s involved in any of this is particularly sophisticated technology. It just took a while to be cheap and ubiquitous.
The closest anyone’s come to this is with modern NAS devices. But these are marketed for geeks, the UIs are generally terrible, they’re expensive, and our objective here isn’t really to store many and many files (as is their primary purpose). Self-hosted apps are an afterthought on them, and they’re subject to aforementioned security flaws and the assumption that folks are to become sysadmins.
But that special sauce that I elided, whatever connective tissue will serve as the end user’s UI, the hardware setup, and ultimately link these boxes in some fashion conducive to network effects – that’s where the work is to be done.