When the best option for providing a service is awful, that indicates an opportunity for competition. (Of course, network effects make this harder in practice — though Facebook was able to defeat MySpace which defeated Friendster basically all on the strength of superior UX.)

As much as I hate the term ‘disruption’, if there’s one thing that can and should be disrupted, it’s something like LinkedIn: i.e., a dysfunctional system that performs morally dubious activities, backed by an ancient giant, that continues to be used essentially because no superior competitor exists but barely provides a useful service to anyone except recruiter-spam companies. As long as places like LinkedIn continue to exist and continue to be actively used, their worst habits are normalized. And, normalization of bad ideas is the death of most things on the web.

Here’s the thing about the web: everything, service-side, is incredibly cheap compared to other industries. (Except engineer time, I guess, but that’s systematically overvalued in a weird way, and part of the problem.) Bandwidth is next to free, compared to sending out the same amount of information by mail or telephone; storage is next to free, compared to keeping the same amount of information on paper and renting warehouse space for it.

As a result, we’ve allowed ourselves to get into lazy habits and rely upon really marginal ideas for much longer than is justified: the money keeps flowing, whether or not we screw up. So we keep doing things that never made sense in the first place, like ad-driven revenue for websites, using super wonky / insecure tech (php, perl), using bloated storage formats that are difficult for humans and computers to read (300GB XML blobs), and coding as though performance and size don’t matter.

It’s been more than ten years since Moore’s Law stopped, and high speed internet providers have been avoiding upgrading their infrastructure in favor of consolidating local monopolies for at least as long, so the shit is about to hit the fan on performance across the board; meanwhile, gaming ad-based revenue and breaking poorly-secured systems have graduated from hobbies to industries, so the shit is already hitting the fan on that.

We could never really afford to do what we’re doing, but now we can’t even afford to look away.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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