Standards for Distribution, Customization for Consumption

It feels odd that we have to go back to this, but here we are. For a long time the mantra of the technological world was one thing well. Do one thing, do it well, and chain with other systems, so that each individual user can do what they need to do. the humble pipe symbol | is the champion of all this. Take the output from one tool that does its job well, and pass it as input to another system that can do its job well. Apple paid homage to it in the creation of their icon for Automator, the oft-forgotten GUI-glue program.

Auto, the Automator icon, holding a pipe

Now we're in a version of the internet where people, or rather, companies, would like to sell you a fully packaged version of the web. Videos that are only playable on a single app. Music that lives inside its own walled garden. Text behind paywalls. Each thing is doing all of it. Presentation, distribution, discovery, playlist management, the entire experience, curated and monitored by the service. Your activities are their new oil, feeding their algorithms so they can better target their ads to you.

And...well, people need to get paid. Servers aren't cheap to run at scale. Music and video aren't cheap to produce. Books take a long time to write and an even longer time to edit and get right. We should pay for what we use, so that people can make more good stuff and put it out into the world.

But we still have a vast amount of content that could be provided in an open and visible way. This blog for instance. It costs me very little to run. If you happen to have the right kind of payment system installed in your browser it will collect a few cents from you while you read it, but if not, no big deal. So here's my point:

We should deliver standards-based content, so that individuals can customize their own experiences.

If you hate my styling on this site that's fine. You can use RSS to consume the text in a nice reader app that styles things just for you. Or you can get it emailed to you, or you could even download the entire thing as an epub, if that's your idea of a good time.

Which leads to the bigger better point: we have all these lovely standards, and they're fully functional and useful. RSS is as simple as its ever been, and is still totally free, no matter how hard the big companies try to push their own walled-garden news aggregators. EPUB is glorious. There are many beautiful readers, both physical and software-based, that let you re-style a book any way you like, take notes, share sections, the works. But most people think eBook = Kindle. The walled library.

Support the open standards. Quietly, peacefully. Vote with your money and by witholding money. Find a way to consume the media you need or want without feeding back into the attention economy. It's not only possible, it's easier than ever.

Thoughts? Tell me about them!
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