Thanks, @smokey, for your replies to my reflections. I think your confusion stems from the fact that I never really defined what I mean by “public” and “private” space.
No one owns a city park the way someone owns the interior of a shopping mall, or the interior of any of the stores in that shopping mall. No one owns the Internet the way someone owns the content of a single website. So, according to this definition, Micro.blog is public to the extent that the content that wends its way through the timeline doesn’t belong to Micro.blog. MB is a gathering place, the way the farmer’s market is a gathering place.
A coffeeshop sells coffee, and the “social” space it offers is secondary, and in many ways that space is no different from the branded mugs and merchandise it sells. A place with amazing coffee in an otherwise inhospitable or tiny space with no comfy chairs can still thrive. There’s no intrinsic reason why coffeeshops should have comfortable seating areas; it’s as much tradition as anything else that we’ve come to expect a coffeeshop to be a gathering place as well as a point of sale.
If Micro.blog is a coffeeshop, what exactly is it selling, to whom, and why? For example, I haven’t paid a penny to Manton & Co to participate here at Micro.blog. I have a free username, and I’m simply pouring my blog’s RSS feed into Micro.blog’s timeline (and of course I’m freeloading my @-replies, but that’s another issue). I’m not Micro.blog’s customer exactly, and I’m certainly not its product.
I am, however, paying someone for web hosting and domain registration. So that made me think that rather than a business that sells something like coffee or a commercial space filled with shops and businesses, in which social space is offered as an afterthought or as a loss leader to make the product more appealing to its customers, Micro.blog is more like an aggregator of many different independent endeavors, some but not all of which are commercial in nature.
Say I’m a farmer with a whole farm of my own, forty miles out of town. I set up a stall at the Micro.blog market. The stall is sorta like my farm’s RSS feed: the farm is out there regardless of whether I maintain any sort of presence at the market. And if I get banned for my offensive racist speech, I still have my farm. People can come visit it directly, or I can set up a new stall at other farmer’s markets, or on the roadside, off the back of my pick-up, with hand-painted particle-board signs: “sweet corn, kohlrabi, offensive racist speech, tomatoes”…
Or maybe I do crafts in my living room, and I just set up a stall at the market every weekend to peddle my tongue-depresser sculptures. Or I’m a self-employed poetaster with a letterpress in my basement, and every weekend I show up with a portable typewriter to bang out improv poems for a buck each, and a stack of weird broadsides. The tomatoes, the sculptures, the broadsides belong to us, not Micro.blog, and if we part ways with MB, we take all that with us.
But the only way we could see Twitter or Facebook as farmer’s markets – that is, as aggregators of content – is to say that Twt/FB supplies the gardening supplies and a little plot of soil, and they make all the money from your tomatoes and racism. And if they kick you out, you lose your plot, and you lose your tomatoes. (Your racism, however, is yours to keep.) They really are more like businesses that own the space you’re gathering in, and they exploit your identity to sell spectacle.
Anyway, the farmer’s market analogy is starting to break down at this point. And where it really falls apart is when we remember that a lot of people are paying Micro.blog directly to host their farms as well as their stalls. This is why Micro.blog is a bit of a hybrid: a social space and a commercial space.
But, you know, this is the thing I’m really struggling with – how pervasive the notion of business-and-customer is. Why do we go to all these storefront, shopping mall, coffeeshop metaphors? Is it because we’re all either the piper or the guy who calls the tune (or the schlemiel with the Spotify subscription)? The commodification of everything?
Sure, everything requires resources of some kind, directly or indirectly. The meter is always running. I paid someone my time (and my skills, which in turn cost time and money to acquire) in exchange for money, some of which I passed on to my landlord and the utility companies in order to have the space and time to sit here on a lazy Sunday and tap away on Micro.blog.
But not every model is a business model. I am not a business, I am not a brand, I am not a customer, I am not a product. I am a member of many overlapping human communities, one of which is right here inside Micro.blog’s RSS timeline.
Businesses can foster community. But community is not a business. The minute Micro.blog smells like a business, I’m gone.