The Evolving Web and 16 Lessons It Taught Me So Far

Somebody asked on Twitter the other day how to explain what a blog is to a client. I replied with something like, “Online diary or journal. Easy way to put up a web site.” You get 140 characters to “talk” in Twitter. So I had to be brief.

She thought her client would most understand the web site part. I agree. This is what blogs have become thanks to the ease of the software they’re based on. Daily thoughts are now found in Twitter and Facebook statuses.  We know whenever someone has just eaten popcorn, what they’re watching on TV, the errands they’re running and whenever someone has a headache. No one ever needs to be alone while watching “LOST”. During each episode, Twitter fans talk back to the characters, critique the show, repeat lines and swoon over Sawyer – all while the show is going on.  The only thing missing is a bartender.

Blogs used to be like online diaries. Creative writers could show off their craft. Poets could share their art. Humor writers were out in force making us laugh. Journalists found that blogs were easy ways to publish news items. Opinion writers discovered new audiences. Today, blogs are used for all kinds of purposes. For example, companies will have a blog as a way to stay in contact with customers.  Blogs employ writers. Some companies use blogs to attract traffic to their mother-site or to help create their brand. Several blogs write about how to write a good blog.

Blogs have morphed and adapted. So have web sites, online forums, email lists, chat groups and fan clubs. I’ve learned some hard lessons since joining the Internet in 199o’s.

16 Internet Lessons

1. Nothing and nobody stays forever.

2. Readers & members of any communication-based site or software come and go.

3. The rules of engagement change along with the technology.

4. Become attached to a person or web site at your own risk.

5. Some people use the Internet as a weapon to hurt, threaten, harass and manipulate others.

6. The more time spent on the Internet and conversing in “cyberspace”, the less time you have for family, work, and doing other things you love to do.

7. The Internet has provided access to those who might not have been able to do something otherwise, such as get an education, find a job, find a mate, start a business, make new friends, buy products at better prices and converse with people from around the world.

8. We can use our remote to turn off the TV during commercials, but we can not not turn off Internet ads. Advertisers won.

9. There is no such thing as privacy.

10. You exist. You don’t exist. (Follow/unfollow, friend/unfriend, subscribe/unsubscribe, domain/nodomain, blog/no blog, member/lurker, web site/no web site, on/off button, wax on/wax off…)

ROTFLMAO <<hugs>> #justspitmydrinkallovermykeyboard

When I go to the store, nobody knows me unless they are a neighbor or parent of a kid active in school and local sports. My identity in the real world is different than online. Nobody knows what I do for a living unless it comes up in conversation. It rarely does, so I have no reason to talk about my work. I’m quiet and shy in situations where I’m new. I base most of my decisions on where and when to respond to something based on the environment I’m in and things like body language and the energy/vibe of the people I’m with. For me, communication doesn’t need words. I pick up on signals that are seen and unseen.  In off-line life there are no hash tags.  We can see what’s happening with whom its happening with.  We can touch each other. For real.

By contrast, on the Internet there is a giant barrier between people. We don’t physically see each other, so over the evolution of the Internet, we devised ways to make up for that. Avatars and gravatars are one way. A company logo. Pictures. Video. Words. Lots and lots of words. Conversations happen via email, Twitter, forums, blog comments and social sites designed to create even more conversation.

10.a   If you’re online, everybody needs to know what you’re doing right now. Without ever knowing what anyone looks like or who will see it, we have shared some of the most intimate parts of ourselves.   Many people share their lives online in ways others would never dream of doing in the real world.  We don’t all want to know when you’re naked in bed with your lover.  TMI!

11. The more conversation there is on the Internet, the less human we may become.

Many people have written about this over the years. It’s frightening to watch how disconnected and judgmental people are online.   Some expectations make no sense, such as pitching a fit because someone doesn’t make you a “top friend” on a social site.  Arguments can be witnessed by thousands of people who don’t know the persons fighting.  Being anonymous allows for rude behavior.  Any web site property that allows comments can attest to this.

12. There may be no before and after. No history. It takes years to establish an online presence in which someone has had time to show their personality, skills, likes, dislikes, opinions, humor, meanness, etc. This means that many online conversations can be taken out of context or misunderstood when taken in snippets.

13. Groups of people are not included. This is something that has been brought over to the Internet from the real world. Groups of people are excluded from certain web sites. Examples range from subscription-based forums to the Target store not making it possible for blind people to place orders for their products online.

14. There are groupies. In my younger days I was a groupie for a local rock band. I traveled with them because the lead singer, a woman, was a close friend. That was already bad enough, as far as the other girl groupies were concerned. When I started to date the drummer, a real hottie, everything changed. It was the mission of every girl to get him away from me. The same kind of behavior happens online. If you try to engage in a community that doesn’t want you there, they’re only too happy to let you know.

15. Keeping up is hard to do.

Sooner or later what you’re doing online and why you’re doing it may change. When I started out, my 286 PC with the screeching modem was in my kitchen. My desk had floppy disks scattered about and my tape cassette recorder played in the background. I belonged to several email lists and AOL chats. Even though I was nursing a child and going through a divorce, I was determined to teach myself how to make web sites so I could get a job and not need child support. Every contact I had then was a new online friend or mentor, announced by a horrible noise (we don’t have those modems anymore!) and a several minute download waiting for each single email.

That child is now 16 years old and driving. I never needed child support because I was hired at the first place I applied to for a web design job. I’ve managed to keep up for a long time.

16. There’s other things to learn.