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<nettime> Scratch-off the Facebook logo, and youâll fin
Dmytri Kleiner on Sat, 8 Feb 2014 02:09:32 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Scratch-off the Facebook logo, and youâll fin

I didn't have the opportunity to speak at transmediale this year, 
though if I did, It would have been along the lines of this text I 
published a few weeks ago. I would have used slides, along the lines of 
what I used in Hyderbad the previous week: 



Scratch-off the Facebook logo, and youâll find the CompuServ logo 

During the summer I traveled to the Monostori Fortress near KomÃrom, 
Hungary to attend IslandCQ 2013 âCrisis! Re/Constructing Europe.â This 
text is for the IslandCQ 2013 publication. Rather than simply 
transcribing my presentation, I have created this text to cover some of 
things we talked about, and to expand upon them and take the topic 
further. This text is a remix and extension of three previous texts, two 
from my blog, and one co-written with Baruch Gottlieb.

Remixing and forking both software and text is an approach I have used 
for years, and indeed most of my texts contain fragments of other texts, 
some of which I have written myself, some co-written with others. I 
inherited this technique from the long history of radical art, from 
practitioners of cut-up, like Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, to Dada 
and The Situationists International, and into my own generation with the 
Neoist Network.

The Internet and free software, to me, were a natural extension of my 
already existing support of free communications and anti-copyright. When 
I encountered the Internet for the first time I immediately embraced it, 
its distributed architecture, its capacity for allowing free speech, and 
perhaps most significantly, its culture of sharing. The Internet 
embodied the social relations to match my political and artistic 

However, when I encountered the Internet, though I didnât know it, it 
was already dying. It was clear to me that there were challenges, to be 
sure, but I didnât yet realize how bad the prognosis was. To me, my 
fight to save the Internet was against the cencorius desires of other 
users and the timidity of the small companies providing internet 
services. This was a fight that seemed winnable. However, what I didnât 
know at the time, was that the real fight was against Capitalism, and as 
such, the inevitable end of the Internet was already evident.

A good example of my early participation is a text I posted on Usenet, 
it was republished on Wired Magazineâs HotWired site, which claimed to 
be the worldâs first commercial web magazine. In it, I argue that 
sysadmins working for internet service providers should focus on keeping 
their servers running, and sanction users that are abusing system 
resources, but not interfere with content, because if they did so, if 
they assumed the role of online censor, they would jeopardise the spirit 
of the Net, and also jeopardise the viability of their own service.

In some way I was right, assuming the Net worked the way we thought it 
worked, worked the way that John Perry Barlow thought when he wrote âWe 
are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her 
beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into 
silence or conformity,â or the way John Gilmore thought when he wrote 
âThe Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it,â or the 
way Richard Barbrook thought when he wrote âWithin the Net, people are 
developing the most advanced form of collective labour: work-as-gift.â

Unfortunately, I wrote my article in September. The 790th day of 
September, 1993, to be exact. What would have been October 31st, 1995 on 
the pre-September calendar.

The Jargon File defines âThe September that never endsâ as âAll time 
since September 1993. One of the seasonal rhythms of Usenet used to be 
the annual September influx of clueless newbies who, lacking any sense 
of netiquette, made a general nuisance of themselves. This coincided 
with people starting college, getting their first internet accounts, and 
plunging in without bothering to learn what was acceptable. These 
relatively small drafts of newbies could be assimilated within a few 
months. But in September 1993, AOL users became able to post to Usenet, 
nearly overwhelming the old-timersâ capacity to acculturate them; to 
those who nostalgically recall the period before, this triggered an 
inexorable decline in the quality of discussions on newsgroups.â

Once the internet was available to the general public, outside of the 
research/education/NGO world that had inhabited it before September, the 
large numbers of users arriving on the untamed shores of early 
cyberspace ânearly overwhelmed the old-timersâ capacity to acculturate 
them.â The Jargon File mentions ânetiquette,â a quaint term from the 
innocent times of net.culture, yet netiquette was not simply a way of 
fitting in, it wasnât like table manners at an exclusive dinner party. 
The cultural context of that Internet that made acculturation necessary 
was its relative openness and lack of stratification.

Netiquette was required, because the network had relatively little 
constraints built into it, the constraints needed to be cultural for the 
system to work. There was much more to this culture than teaching new 
users how to not abuse resources or make a âgeneral nuisance of 
themselves.â Netiquette was not so much about online manners, it was 
rather about how to share. Starting from the shared network resources, 
sharing was the core of the culture, which not only embraced free 
software and promoted free communications, but generally resented 
barriers to free exchange, including barriers required to protect 
property rights and any business models based on controlling information 

As dramatic as the influx of new users was to the âold-timersâ 
net.culture, the influx of capital investment and itâs conflicting 
property interests quickly emerged as an existential threat to the basis 
of the culture. net.culture required a shared internet, where the 
network itself and most of the information on it was held in common. 
Capital required control, constraints and defined property in order to 
earn returns on investment. Lines in the sand were drawn, the primitive 
communism of the pre-September Internet was over. The Eternal September 
began, and along with it, the stratification of the Internet began.

Rather than embracing the free, open platforms where net.culture was 
born, like Usenet, email, IRC, etc, Capital embraced the Web. Not as the 
interlinked, hypermedia, world-wide-distributed publishing platform it 
was intended to be, but as a client-server private communications 
platform where usersâ interactions were mediated by the platformsâ 
operators. The flowering of âWeb 2.0â was Capitalâs re-engineering of 
the web into an internet accessible version of the online services they 
were building all along, such as the very platforms whose mass user 
bases were the influx that started the Eternal September. CompuServ and 
AOL most notable among them.

The Eternal September started when these Online Services allowed their 
users to access Internet services such as Usenet and email. Web 2.0 
replaced Usenet and email with social platforms embedded in private, 
centralized web-based services that look and work very much like the old 
Online Services.

Scratch-off the Facebook logo, and youâll find the CompuServ logo 

The Internet is no longer an open free-for-all where old-timers 
acculturate new-comers into a community of co-operation and sharing. It 
is a stratified place where the culture of sharing and co-operation has 
been destroyed by the terms of service of online platforms and by 
copyright lobbies pushing for greater and greater restrictions and by 
governments that create legislation to protect the interests of property 
and âsecurityâ against the interests of sharing.

The culture of co-operation and sharing has been replaced by a culture 
of surveillance and control.

Much later that September, the 6,820th day of September, 1993, to be 
exact, I gave a talk with Jacob Appelbaum at the 6th annual Re:publica 
conference in Berlin. In part, I responded to the earlier presentation 
by Eben Moglen, the brilliant and tireless legal council of the Free 
Sofare Foundation and founder of the FreedomBox Foundation, who gave a 
characteristically excellent speech. However, in it was something that 
just couldnât be right.

Moglen claimed that Facebookâs days as a dominant platform are 
numbered, because we will soon have decentralized social platforms, 
based on projects such as FreedomBox, users will operate collective 
social platforms based on their own hardware, retain control of their 
own data, etc. The trajectory that Moglen is using has centralized 
social media as the starting point and distributed social media as the 
place we are moving toward. But in actual fact, this transformation had 
already occured very long ago.

During the twilight of the CompuServ era, both personal and commercial 
users migrated en masse to the Internet. For instance, in a letter to 
their customers that is still available online the software company 
BASIS international, âThe Big Little Software Company,â writes: âBASIS 
plans to move completely off CompuServe (CSi) and onto the Internet. 
This is a logical consequence of the many changes that have taken place 
in the online world over the past few years.â

In their letter, BASIS spells out a lot of these changes: âWhile our 
CSi presence has served the company well in the past, its pay-to-access 
structure is increasingly harder to justify with the Internet providing 
almost limitless content at a negligible incremental cost. People are 
moving away from CSi in significant numbers, making it a less effective 
platform from which to address our current and future customers. We 
believe that moving our existing support infrastructure from CSi to the 
Internet will give us better access to our customers and our customers 
better access to us.â

It goes on to explain how it will now use open platforms like email, 
Usenet and IRC instead of CompuServâs proprietary and centralised 
applications. This letter was published around the same time HotWired 
reposted my Usenet article.

Contrary to Moglenâs trajectory of social media, the fact is that we 
already had distributed social media, we already abandoned the centrally 
controlled platforms such as CompuServ and AOL, and moved to the 
Internet, and despite this, our decentralized platforms have since been 
replaced, once again, with centralized social media. Why? Because 

The Internet is a distributed social media platform. The classic 
internet platforms that existed before the commercialization of the web 
provided all the features of modern social media monopolies. Platforms 
like Usenet, email, IRC and finger allowed us to do everything we do now 
with Facebook and friends. We could post status updates, share pictures, 
send messages, etc. Yet, these platforms have been more or less 
abandoned. So the question we need to address is not so much how we can 
invent a distributed social platform, but how and why we started from a 
fully distributed social platform and replaced it with centralized 
social media monopolies.

The answer is quite simple. The early internet was not significantly 
capitalist funded. The change in application topology came along with 
commercialization, and this change is a consequence of the business 
models required by capitalist investors to capture profit. The business 
model of social media platforms is surveillance and behavioral control. 
The internetâs original protocols and architecture made surveillance and 
behavioral control more difficult. Once capital became the dominant 
source of financing it directed investment toward centralized platforms, 
which are better at providing such surveillance and control, the 
original platforms were starved of financing. The centralized platforms 
grew and the decentralized platforms submerged beneath the rising tides 
of the capitalist web.

This is nothing new. This was the same business model that capital 
devised for media in general, such as network television. The customer 
of network television is not the viewer, rather the viewer is the 
product, the âaudience commodity.â The real customers are the 
advertisers and lobby groups wanting to control the audience.

Network Television didnât provide the surveillance part, so advertisers 
needed to employ market research and ratings firms such as Nielson for 
that bit. This was a major advantage of social media. Richer data from 
better surveillance allowed for more effective behavioral control than 
ever before, using tracking, targeting, machine learning, behavioural 
retargeting, among many techniques made possible by the deep pool of 
data companies like Facebook and Google have available.

This is not a choice that capitalists made, this is the only way that 
profit-driven organizations can provide a public good like a 
communication platform. Capitalist investors must capture profit or lose 
their capital. If their platforms can not capture profit, they vanish. 
The obstacle to decentralized social media is not that it has not been 
invented, but the profit-motive itself. Thus to reverse this trajectory 
back towards decentralization, requires not so much technical 
initiative, but political struggle.

So long as we maintain the social choice to provision our communication 
systems according to the profit motive, we will only get communications 
platforms that allow for the capture of profit. Free, open systems, that 
neither surveil, nor control, nor exclude, will not be funded, as they 
do not provide the mechanisms required to capture profit. These 
platforms are financed for the purpose of watching people and pushing 
them to behave in ways that benefit the operators of the platform and 
their real customers, the advertisers, and the industrial and political 
lobbies. The platforms exists to shape society according to the 
interests of these advertisers and lobbies.

Platforms like Facebook are worth billions precisely because of their 
capacity for surveillance and control.

Like the struggle for other public goods, like education, child care, 
and health care, free communication platforms for the masses can only 
come from collective political struggle to achieve such platforms.

This is a political struggle, not a technical one.

sharable version here: 

Dmytri Kleiner
Venture Communist

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