Do you remember how the web used to work? How the web was supposed to work?
In the earlier days of the web, we always published to our own web site. If you weren’t happy with your web host, or they went out of business, you could move your files and your domain name, and nothing would break.
Today, most writing instead goes into a small number of centralized social networking sites, where you can’t move your content, advertisements and fake news are everywhere, and if one of these sites fails, your content disappears from the internet. Too many sites have gone away and taken our posts and photos with them.
I want to encourage more independent writing. To do that, we need better tools that embrace microblogs and the advantages of the open web. We need to learn from the success and user experience of social networking, but applied to the full scope of the web.
As we move our code to CodePen, our writing to Medium, our photographs to Instagram we don’t just run the risk of losing that content and the associated metadata if those services vanish. We also lose our own place to experiment and add personality to that content, in the context of our own home on the web.
I thought this was an excellent talk on the hard questions we should be asking ourselves as developers. Why do most people use closed, proprietary systems and devices, if the open web is so wonderful? Even as developers, we still use them ourselves, and depend on them. How can we be more empathetic to what the average user needs and wants? How can we lock open the web, so the future isn't entirely dependent on huge corporations and services, which is where we seem to be heading?
On December 15th, 2016, someone attempted to assault Kurt Eichenwald, Newsweek journalist, through Twitter. They sent him a GIF known to trigger photosensitive seizures because Eichenwald has photosensitive epilepsy, and had reported highly unfavorable information about Donald Trump.
Let’s make this clear. This is assault. A seizure is dangerous. Every single person with epilepsy lives with the specter of SUDEP — Sudden Unexpected Death in EPilepsy. Attempting to cause a seizure in someone is dangerous and could be lethal.
(Small aside — a test for epilepsy involves trying to trigger a seizure with strobe lights, and this is done under medical supervision while hooked up to diagnostic machines. I’ve been through it. I did not have a seizure. You should never subject someone to such a test without informed consent and medical supervision on hand.)
The problem is not that Eichenwald failed to use a setting available to him. There are two culpable parties here — Twitter and Eichenwald’s assaulter.
Twitter is culpable in a moral sense, not legal. Twitter allows auto-played GIFs by default. A strobing GIF is easy to identify with an algorithm. The website could have made it impossible to assault Eichenwald this way. But Twitter never considered that its service could be used maliciously. It never assumed malice.
There was a widely held concept on the early internet that should have been carried forward to today. Bandwidth was limited, and computer users felt they had a right to control exactly what was put on their machine, so early internet applications allowed users to decide what images to download, and what GIFs to play. In that early internet experience, assaulting Eichenwald would have been impossible.