My response to David Rovic’s essay “How Facebook killed the internet”

I’m on the mailing for an independent progressive musician I really like, David Rovics. He recently wrote an essay on his blog titled ‘How Facebook killed the internet‘.

I thought it brought up a lot of good points and it made me think, something I admit much of what arrives in my inbox does not do.

In a random and unexpected burst of creativity and verbosity I wrote the following response to him via e-mail … and then I decided to post it here too since it’s been a long time since I wrote anything unique here. I’m sure my regular readers, if any, have been eagerly awaiting more from me 🙂

(Oh and for those of you who know my father, I’m well aware that I suspect I sound a lot like him in the following note 🙂 )


Interesting essay David, a lot of good points and ideas. I think the title is a little bit ‘Click bait’, perhaps a better title could have been ‘The internet is dead. Long live the internet’ 🙂

I wonder if the same things were said by folks when books became more prevalent, or maybe when newspapers and magazines started appearing. Or when radios first started getting popular, or television. All of those were paradigm shifts where suddenly more information and content became available than was previously imaginable and I’m sure they all seemed overwhelming to those experiencing it. I’ve heard stories that the music industry was deeply against radio when it first became available, and that the movie studios hated the idea of VCRs, and TV stations hated the idea of tivo. Napster & Bittorrent scared the bejeezus out of the music industry, yet by many counts it brought about the revolution that brought us ipods and removed the music industries model of buying ‘albums’. Currently the cable companies are scrambling to deal with the idea that people can stream almost all their content and don’t need cable packages and bundles.

I don’t disagree with the premise of your essay though, I agree that things have changed and surely there is a lot of noise coming from … well.. everywhere. But at the same time, while now anyone can publish or broadcast, for cheap or free, well… ANYONE can publish or broadcast for cheap, or free.

Two sides to the same coin. The ‘double edged sword’ metaphor comes to play once again.

We can also now all choose what we want to read, watch, listen to if we are willing to ‘find’ or ‘pull’ that content down, as opposed to just watching what is ‘fed’ to us. Your essay mentions that in the past you observed many people asleep on public transportation, whereas now they are playing games or reading Facebook. Is that really a step backward? Seems to be just another form of sleep. I realize your point was in the past people were reading books, whereas now the games and social media have taken their place, but to assume all social media is pictures of kittens and pop-culture is also an assumption (though I admit, most of it is the internet equivalent of white noise).

But today, even super niche focused content creators could potentially find an audience. 20 years ago I might have known you were out there, and I might attend a concert if you were in my area and I happened to see it listed in Dirty Linen or someone told me about it. I could mail order a CD from you, but besides that I’d just know you that ‘Bonnie’s brother’ was out there somewhere and I should check him out sometime.

I certainly would never imagine I’d communicate with a musician directly in a letter form, heck I have enough trouble buying a CD from the actual performer, let alone talking with them as if they were mortal (ok perhaps I’m unique in feeling that folk musicians are akin to rock stars, but humor me).

So with all the noise coming from all directions, does cream still rise to the top? I would like to think so, but perhaps that’s just me being optimistic. I’m sure some good stuff never gets airtime. I guess what I’m saying is, we can all, if we choose to, hand pick our own ‘cream’. Perhaps a poor metaphor, and I guess it remains to be seen how things go. I don’t think all hope is lost, though I admit there are powerful forces pushing things in the wrong direction.

But..(sadly)… haven’t there always been?

I guess the pessimist in me says that, as it has been, only the properly populist filtered and crafted content will get the ‘air time’ where anything unique and different will become obscured and ignored. On the other hand the optimist in me says that we’re still in that ‘golden age’ where anyone could create something, whether it’s a thought provoking essay, song or movie and have it go ‘viral’ whether the powers & forces that be want it to or not.

It seems like every piece of media eventually gets ‘too big to fail’ and then is unexpectedly toppled by the next one to come along. The way you describe the internet now makes me think that if it’s all become noise and it all seems like it’s beyond it’s useful lifespan, that maybe we’re on the cusp of another ‘paradigm shift’. You pointed out areas where our current infrastructure is lacking and previous media succeeded, so there are ‘holes’ that need to be filled… better mousetraps are waiting to be created.

The human race and it’s creativity remain bigger and more diverse than any big corporation or government can predict or control. New technologies, ideas, etc could catch fire tomorrow and topple facebook, twitter, apple, google, etc.

Perhaps the laws of physics apply, with every action that dehumanizes the internet and communication another action of equal and proportion occurs to help foster new communities and communication.

Thanks for listening (or at least I like to imagine that you might actually have the time to read this unexpected e-mail).

I may even blog this, who knows, maybe someone else might read it and I might actually spur an unscripted idea in someone else 🙂

May we live in interesting times.

I’m glad you’re out there. Thanks for all you do and all your ideas & thoughts, you certainly are one of my hand-picked content sources.

Best wishes.


I have trouble asking to be paid

I have run a small web hosting and design business for over 18 years with some friends. We’re not big but we have provided a solid and reliable service for a long time and we have a number of great clients. We provide a reliable, friendly and fairly priced service, I’m really quite proud of what we do.

twohandscashbig-040614However, we’ve never been aggressive or strict about billing with our clients. We let our billing software send automated e-mail reminders and occasionally we send a personal note politely saying ‘Hey you know you’re really overdue on your bill’. We never shut people off for being past due. I just assume they must just have other things going on and this was a low priority bill. This results in some clients being months, sometimes years behind in payment. (yes, seriously, years)

I guess, while my logical side knows better and knows some people will take advantage of trusting people like me, I still believe the best in everyone and assume everyone intends to pay and that hard work will be recognized and rewarded fairly.

Sometimes this had paid off, the person who moved and changed e-mail addresses and totally forgot they owed us money for their website finally resurfaces athen says ‘Oh I’m really sorry, I’ll pay my entire balance right now, thank you so much for not shutting it off‘. However for everyone of those clients there are 2 or 3 others that say, ‘I no longer want this site please cancel it and void any old invoices‘. Sigh, there goes months of services rendered with no compensation. I could argue with these people that they should have informed us earlier and that since we kept their site up they owe us, but is it worth arguing?

Asking for money isn’t a strong suit of mine, to say the least. In fact I joke with friends I do contract work with that they need to keep an eye on me because I am amazingly adept at NOT making money. Given the chance I give away, not only the milk, but the entire cow.

I feel greedy, guilty and selfish asking people to pay me for work I’ve done or services I’ve provided, like I’m being unkind to them by even asking. A real friend/nice person wouldn’t ask. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve felt bad about asking for money for work I’ve done on a website, and thus never even billed them for my time at all. I rationalize this for various reasons like;


  • “It was just a few minutes/hours of work, not really worth bothering them with.”

  • “I know they don’t have much money, I hate to bug them about this.”

  • “They are a non-profit I like, this’ll just be my donation.”

  • “It wasn’t their fault their (dreadfully neglected) wordpress site got hacked, I hate to bill them to fix it”

  • “They are a friend, this will just be a favor for them. I’m sure they’ll return in kind when/if the time comes.”

  • “It will take more time explaining what I did and why I want to charge for it than it’s worth.”

  • “They already pay me for hosting their site, I’ll just consider this part of the services we offer for hosting”

I also tend to really round down my costs

  • high-risk-payments-150x150Well I worked 5 hours on this, but they probably only expected 2 so I’ll just bill that”.

  • “They only asked me to update the graphics, they didn’t know the site was out of date and needed 2 hours of other work, so I’ll just bill what they expected.”

This has been an ongoing thing for pretty much the life of the business and something I’ve struggled with all along. The first step to recovery is accepting you have a problem right? “Hi, my name is Matt, and I have a problem asking for money.”

… but recently the ‘universe’ spoke on this issue. Coincedence? kismet? karma? who knows.. but a few weeks ago in a period of several hours the following messages hit me;

1) Grace Judson, a friend I’ve never met in person but met online because our websites were both based off the word Svaha, recently posted a link to this blog & video on Facebook; How to get paid when you hate asking for money .

In fact, much of the first part of this post I wrote as a comment on her facebook entry with that post.

It was rather ironic that she posted this (and I took note of it) since I had moved her over to my server a while ago but didn’t add her to our billing system for a number of months because I wanted to make sure she was happy with our service before I billed. She asked me on numerous occasions to bill her before I finally did.

The video itself has some good advice, mainly that people should be confident about their services and their value. Perhaps that’s part of the root of my money issues in that while I believe the services we offer and the work I do is worth the amount I charge, I lack the self-confidence to argue this. If a client were ever to say “$75/hour? No way, I don’t feel you’re worth that much, I’ll pay $20”, I probably wouldn’t argue with them (though I certainly would never do business with them again). In fact, something like this happened to me last year

To be fair, business savvy friends like Nicole at Breaking Even Communications have been giving me business advice and telling me that things need to change for a long time, so the above examples are just the ‘final straws’ that pushed me into working towards a solution.

I had written up some ideas of what I’m going to do to address the above problems, but again the universe spoke and computer entropy (yes it happens to geeks too, more often than we care to admit. shh) struck and I lost the rest of this post. I guess that was a message that if I wrote too much more this post would way exceed even the most dedicated TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) threshholds.

So stay tuned for the follow up post… and if you don’t see one soon bug me, this is important.

I’ll end with a song that always comes to mind when I’m thinking about money. I want a new religion.