Social network nomads
There’s a migration in progress. Spurred by increasingly restrictive content rules, which barred content in categories ranging from breastfeeding to fan fiction, members of the LiveJournal community are flocking to Dreamwidth, a new service based on a fork of the LiveJournal code running on new servers. The first 200 seed accounts sold out in
hours minutes. The Dreamwidth community is in a promising place because the LiveJournal code was open source, and the community had skilled techies who could port the code and run a new server.
Migrations for liberty are not uncommon. For example, the community of self-hosted blogging tool users migrated from MovableType to WordPress when WordPress tools got better for installation and extensibility, and MovableType moved to more restrictive licenses. The availability of self-hosted social network tools like BuddyPress will make it easier for communities to achieve self-rule with a modest cost and moderate level of technical skill.
In a 2004 Corante article, Clay Shirky argued that ownership of server space would be key to community self-determination. This pointed post about LiveJournal TOS issues observes that lack of server ownership may be a particular problem for largely-female communities, since the interests of women are under-represented. Come to think of it, not sure I agree with that, since more men pursue porn and porn is disapproved of under common terms of service.
As noted in follow up to Clay’s original post, owning the server isn’t the only way to achieve online liberty. In the early days of the US republic, only property-owners could vote. But that changed. Liberty, political thinkers concluded in the physical world, is not an attribute of property ownership — it’s an attribute of being human. Someday online residents are likely to organize methods to secure voting rights over their terms of service even when they rent the server and don’t own it.
The migration to a land where the community can be free to practice its own norms, of course, has a long history prior to the internet. Puritans moved from England to be able to practice their unpopular religion and be free to oppress folk they didn’t like. European peasants flocked to the US for economic opportunity in the 1800s and early 1900s. The human species has a nomadic history. Give us something to move from, or something to move to, and our tribe will pull up our tents and pitch them somewhere else. Social networks that pretend to lockin will find that the tribe has gone.