Every single day we’re hearing about the failings of big tech companies and what they’re doing to the web. The ethical failings, the transgressions against privacy, the rampant and shameless exclusion of most people from the opportunities that tech creates. Honestly, it is fucking exhausting to think about sometimes, and I get why so many well-intentioned people just give up.
And then those of us who are watching, we have our ideals of how the web should work. We want these ideologically pure sites that are inclusive and make money by passing the hat, but not too much money, and not the wrong kind of money, and also we don’t really want to pay for it. I mean, we want to pay for it, but if there’s a way we could also not pay for it, that’d be great.
So for those of us who are still idealistic about tech, there’s only one thing we can do. We can try to make the web we want to see. For lack of a better term, it’s a “good” web. Not the best! Maybe there are better things. And not the only web! Because even if they’re kind of terrible sometimes, Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Pinterest and Tumblr and all the rest are also kinda great a lot of the time.
We try. And what it looks like is a small core of people who are ridiculously, absurdly, passionately supportive. Maybe enough to squeak by, maybe not. And then things get tough. You’re MetaFilter, and Google Ads don’t perform like they used to, and you have to let go some of the best people who’ve ever moderated a community. You’re MLKSHK and you have a huge spike in traffic without a huge spike in paid users, and you have to consider shutting down until there’s a last-minute reprieve.
Or you’re ThinkUp, and you’re trying to get this weird little app that you really, truly believe in out into the world. But it’s taking longer than the venture capital model of tech can wait, and you decide to make the hard choices it takes to do right by a community and forgo doing a regular round of funding.
Let me tell you something: This stuff can be fucking awful. Even with all the effort and support and sheer love that we get by making things for the web that we think will make the web better, it can be grueling and there’s a reason most websites are the equivalent of fast food instead of home-cooked meals.
I don’t know anyone who runs an independent web app or web site that hasn’t had to look a friend in the eyes and tell that friend they can’t afford to pay them anymore. Not one.
So now what?
But I see some glimmers of hope a lot, too. MetaFilter and MLKSHK got back up on their feet, and then some. I see the scrappy team at The Toast make a site that brings joy, on their own terms, in a way that I had always hoped was possible. I see NewsBlur do a great job making an app in a category that the conventional tech industry said was old fashioned or dead, and build a thriving and vibrant community on top of it. I see a bunch of sites where instead of women getting harassed, women are founders. I see a web where people are having fun with each other, while they’re goofing off during their lunch hour. I see the web we’ll curl up with when we’re stuck at our parents’ house at Thanksgiving and can’t stand listening to the TV blasting anymore.
I see an industry that changes just enough to treat a mom-and-pop indie app as being just as important as anything that gets VC funding.
That’s what we tried to start working on today. It’s imperfect, and probably still a little confusing (I am struggling to explain all these concepts a bit more briefly than I did here!) but it makes me hopeful that we can do something new. Well, a little bit old-fashioned, but new.
Let’s Try This
A few weeks ago the folks who run a couple of the best small apps and sites on the web got together and tried to figure out a way to make it easier for those who believe in what we’re doing to support us. It’s not cheap. It’s not a thing you can tap on in the App Store and download with a click. But it is something I believe in, and that I’m incredibly proud to have made with Matt, and Amber and Andre, and Sam, and Nicole and Mallory and Nick, and Gina. And we had the help of a whole community of folks behind us.
Here’s what we made: the Good Web Bundle. I hope you’ll give it a look, and tell a few friends about it, and maybe buy one for yourself and gift the codes to a loved one for the holidays. But even if all it does it gets you to think about the web as a place that has lots of big box stores and not nearly enough Main Street shops, that’d be wonderful.