Monday, October 16
Paul Ford wrote about starting
ftrain 20 years ago:
I started this website 20 years ago, give or take a week. The original
address was www.interactive.net/~ford. Eventually it migrated here
into the form you see. I took it very seriously for many years and it earned
me thousands of readers, thousands of emails, and tons of opportunity. It was
better at generating opportunity than money. I drifted away for all the
Which got me thinking: The oldest surviving bits of this website go back to
April of 1997, so it's 20 years, give or take six
months. It lived other places for a while (GeoCities and a shell box with a
tilde in the URL) until I actually got a domain for it. p1k3.com was the first
domain I ever bought, and I chose it because my middle name is Pike and I like
the number 13 and it was four characters long, which even in the early years of
this century was getting to be kind of hard to come up with. There was also
this running joke with friends from IRC, about whether a pike was a weapon or a
fish, and I guess that must have played into my thinking somehow.
p1k3 has clearly not made me into a low-key internet celebrity. I don't
know about opportunity, but it has helped me get a couple of good jobs, and
probably prevented me from getting several more bad ones. To guess at its
current readership, I think that about a dozen humans might see this post sooner
I wrote one possible variation on the post you're reading now back in February — the one where
I regret writing so much stupid bullshit. That one doesn't really explain
why I've written so much less this year than most, though. This other one where
I worry about self-surveillance in an age of weaponized
data and network fascists comes a lot closer to the mark.
In 2017, I've fully given up on some things. A big one is the World Wide
Web. The "open web", as such, is dead. Or at best on life support. The
actually existing web is, mostly, bad. It's an abject failure in the terms I
thought I was involved with it on, and its architecture has helped bootstrap an
internet that's hostile to my values, if not ultimately to human life
It's no longer possible to use the web in a way that respects your privacy,
autonomy, basic personhood, etc. And for the same reasons, it's incredibly
difficult to work on the web for a living in any kind of ethical fashion.
But then: So what?
I think it's broadly true that most of us should treat the network as a
hostile environment, and that any information we publish about ourselves will
be used against us and our communities by systems we have no control over
— systems operating under few legal constraints, answering only to the
profit motive, under the authority of complete assholes with no sense of
responsibility, proportion, or historical perspective.
It's really tempting, in the face of this conviction, to shut up and just
focus on sequestering myself from the network to whatever limited extent that's
On the other hand. Writing is one of the only real powers I've ever had,
and the surface of this terrible website is still mine to write on. The web is
dead to me, as a hope or a cause, and the world it's made — the world
that so many thousands of us helped to make — is in bad shape and getting
worse. But why should I give up my only real canvas, the only place where I
have any voice at all?
Possibly (almost certainly) having a voice is itself an illusion, irrelevant
to the course of things now. But I guess it's something.