Remark.as is Moving Along
Last week I had the smallest window of time without any pressing obligations at the end of the day, paired with enough energy to code something for fun. So I used it to lay down some more code for Remark.as.
I’ve settled on the MVP being a social space for Write.as users — it’s the simplest path to releasing something usable, and it’ll test my primary thesis: that blog comments need better social context (not just the blog itself, but the larger sphere the blog lives within).
You can imagine how that “larger sphere” could eventually encapsulate many blogs and communities across technical / website / server lines. But for now, we’ll prove the concept in a smaller space.
This initial version will also test another new concept: that of a shared, malleable space.
In thinking about how to design digital spaces that connect and free people within it, without becoming an addictive cage (à la ad-based social media), I’ve become enamored with the idea of a digital place that can be directly modified by its inhabitants, just like a physical space.
The underlying thought is that a significant amount of emphasis needs to be placed on the collective (i.e. community / platform) over the individual (i.e. my blog / profile) if we’re going to build something that doesn’t make people more lonely.
At best, the hope is that this leads to feelings of a shared experience, like being at a concert or sitting in a busy public square, rather than the lonely, egocentric popularity contests that make up today’s social web. It’s to bring the social context to the forefront, where you’re naturally still a free individual, but you can’t easily ignore the culture around you.
In the tech world, I think we’ve largely failed to acknowledge how directly the tools we build affect the people that use them. Of course, this is plain on world-eating platforms like Facebook, where their scientists experiment on users’ behavior without their consent. But even everyday tools affect what we’re able to create, how we can communicate, and how we feel afterward.
I think it makes sense that we should be able to move and rearrange our digital social spaces, like tables in a restaurant, because in the right environment, humans are dynamic — not predictable drones. What happens if we build an equally dynamic social space with this worldview in mind, rather than the dull, Zuckerborgian view that people are just robots with behavior you can sell to advertisers? I hope we can find that out with Remark.as.
The Web as a social medium
Overall, I don’t think these ideas are entirely new. People have been socializing on the Internet even before the “World Wide Web” existed. As I mentioned on my website poking fun at Facebook’s re-brand, the Web itself is a social medium. We don’t actually need these walled gardens to socialize; they just make it a brainless process (and profit on our data while we’re at it). In more grounded terms, Remark.as is meant to demonstrate exactly this truism: the Web is a social medium.
What we think of “profiles” can take many forms, like blogs or personal sites — we can actually bring those together into a convenient space, without diminishing their original independence.
What we know as “leaving a comment” can be a much more natural, everyday process that isn’t tied to a single platform. We can form small, interesting communities instead of living within these culture-less, mass-appeal mega platforms. We can use the Web as a tool to connect with new people and new ideas from elsewhere in the world, instead of having these meganetworks use us to feed their ad machine.
I’m still aiming to launch Remark.as before the end of the year, per our roadmap and stated plans. As I mentioned on my microblog, I want it to be as accessible as possible, so we’ll have creative and affordable options for getting into the community. But on launch day, it’ll be available to active Write.as Pro users.
I’m also having some fun thinking about how I’ll present Remark.as to the world. As a more social tool, its tone is going to be much more playful than how I talk through our other products. I’ll poke a little fun at the current visions for the web’s “future” coming out of Silicon Valley right now. The voice will be as dynamic as the platform. Overall, it’ll be a blast. Follow the @remark_as Twitter account and have a healthy chortle with me.