I was reminded of Noah Smith’s great The internet wants to be fragmented post from a couple of weeks ago when Matt Bircher linked to it.

Matt pulled out the same quote that resonated most strongly with me:

It started with the Facebook feed. On the old internet, you could show a different side of yourself in every forum or chat room; but on your Facebook feed, you had to be the same person to everyone you knew.

I didn’t always believe this. I changed all of my user names to be something that was both consistent and identifiable around 2006. One reason1 I did this was that I came to believe that being identifiable meant I could be held accountable. Pseudonymity and anonymity in most contexts felt like avoiding standing behind your statements. 2 This was wrong.

At this stage, I kind of think that Reddit is closest to an ideal centralized system. It’s a place that aggregates many individual communities around one log in. Each community can be moderated based on its norms, with voting distributing norm enforcement in a fairly easy way. I think the one thing that’s missing is you still have to be the same person across Reddit. Imagine if Reddit allowed a unique psuedonym for each communtiy you post in. One log in, but your identity does not persist across communities. Finding that I wrote something in r/Urbanism about my politics doesn’t invite you to come after me in r/ProductManagement when I’m discussing something professional. Reddit the service can know I’m the same person, and this way truly egregious behavior can lead to more global banning, but otherwise, each identity can be separated to be policed separately within each separate community. No more clicking on my user name and finding me anywhere across the site. Of course, Reddit doesn’t even let you change your username, so there’s little hope in this feature appaering.

Centralization on the web is valuable to the extent that it permits me to have one login that aggregates multiple communities/people I’ve curated. That’s what my Twitter feed was/Mastodon feed is. That’s what my list of RSS subscriptions are. That’s what the Reddit communities I’ve joined are.

  1. The other reason was that after more than a decade online, from prior to puberty through college, I realized my name was the one thing I would not grow out of as an identifier. ↩︎

  2. To be clear, I always understood there were legitimate reasons to not use your real identity or to have an identity that was not easily tied to your “actual” (in real life) identity. ↩︎