What's wrong with the internet and how can we make it better?

We talk a lot on this forum about how terrible the internet is, so I thought it might be nice to start a discussion about how we can make things better. I don‘t mean a complete structural overhaul, since that’s certainly beyond any of our capabilities. But what are some small, realistic actions a few of might be able to take that would make life on the internet more enjoyable for everyone, or at least for Insert Credit people (without making it life less enjoyable for non-Insert Credit people)?

Here are a few questions to help get the conversation going. There's no need to answer all of them, or any of them.

  • 1. What do you think the internet should be? Is there a “higher purpose” for the internet? How would you characterize the current state of the internet in regards what you'd like it to be?
  • 2. What kinds of things do you do on the internet? What kinds of things do you wish you could do on the internet? What kinds of things did you use to do on the internet, but now can't or won't because it's no longer fun/interesting/useful/safe?
  • 3. What are some of your best internet experiences? What made those experiences possible? Are they still possible?
  • 4. What are some of your worst internet experiences? What factors led to those bad experiences happening?
  • 5. Are there any recurring visual/ui trends or ways webpages are often structured that bother you/make you uncomfortable/make you not want to or unable to use a website?
  • 6. What meaningful spaces used to exist on the internet, but are now gone? Why are they gone? What real life spaces has the internet destroyed without offering a suitable alternative? What could be done to support similar spaces now in the current state of the internet?
  • 7. Finally, can you think of any concrete (perhaps very small) things you (or someone else) could to do to make the internet better for you? For others?
  • I have my own responses to these, but I'm kind of hungry right now. So I'm going to post this now so that others can have a chance to respond, then come back after I make myself dinner. Interested to hear what people have to say!

    This is kind of a cop-out but what I really miss is people being nice to each other, discovering things together, helping each other, and digging deep into topics of interest, and my solution was to force my programmer to make this forum lol.

    But I have a less utopian view of the internet than I did the last time I started this, and realize it needs moderation and attention paid to the quality of conversation etc, and people to lead those discussions in positive directions while basically very low tolerance for bigots and jerks (in the past I was too light with the ban hammer).

    Now if we're talking about how to widen this into the rest of the internet, I have really no concept of how you do that. Like one idea to come out of the political concept of anarchy is that capitalism is unsustainable especially at scale, and smaller communities are more natural for humans to self-sort things out. So the cynic and perhaps pragmatist in me says that you can't do this to the internet at large, but you can try to positively influence small communities which may have reverberating effects toward positively affecting those people's lives. To an extent I feel an obligation to the insert credit show and forum because during the pandemic it's been an escape but also a community feeling for a lot of people who were missing it.

    Anyway I didn't really answer all your questions there but that's how I've been thinking about this lately. I think all of us, collectively, maintaining the positivity in this forum as we have is admirable and helps not only our small community but our own selves. If we could carry this sort of thing into our other online interactions maaaaaaaaybe something would happen!? I dunno :o

    This is a bit of a higher level question than that of specific online interactions, but I often think about what steps can be taken to improve internet access and literacy and whether or not those efforts might indirectly address some of the lower-level issues you discussed.

    I am far from an expert in this matter and really don't have a well-formed opinion, but the internet is so vital at this point that it should probably be treated more like a utility and perhaps provided or at least regulated on a more municipal level. This is not the case in the US from my experience--I wonder if any forum members outside the US have experience with systems closer to this.

    In terms of internet literacy, I have had many conversations with others who feel that teaching or at least emphasizing the skills of critical thinking may stem of the worst tendencies of internet users or groups. I don't know what form that education would take, however, and, frankly, it may be for naught as long as for-profit algorithms are incentivized to subvert critical thinking.

    Mostly re: points 5 and 7, let me say I appreciate that this forum allows you to like posts, but that accumulation of likes has no bearing on post visibility/longevity. Reddit, Youtube, etc. are supposedly democratic in their promotion of posts/videos with lots of likes, but that is obviously not how that really works.

    Likes are useful. They let you signal approval or broadcast in a neutral way that you have seen what someone said. That they are the basis for an economy on basically every website sucks.


    Going to think about the other points. Very good post.

    I think “the commons” is maybe the best possible thing the internet can aspire to be. I suspect that many of the big problems (sociopathic behavior, tech monopoly, surveillance state malpractice etc) are aspects of “superstructure” thanks professor

    it was actually my job to think of this for a couple years, from the specific perspective of designing social systems around matchmaking in PvP competitive games, which actually isn‘t that different from designing any other kind of interaction on the internet and gave me a neat lens to look at this stuff for a while. A lot of it ultimately boils down to the fact that the systems we design give people a range of interaction possibilities but few cues as to how to use them and few indications as to why you should trust the other people using them. Higher trust enables richer interactions, but it’s hard to build trust on the internet when identity is often disposable, so you need to build systems that enable people to build trust with each other if you want them to not be awful.

    This forum does it pretty effectively because the entire value proposition is to hang out and talk with a bunch of other people with weirdo eclectic taste in stuff in a format that is not meant to be quickly and easily consumed, so between the friction of the forum format itself and the filtering criteria present in how you find your way here, you can develop a fairly strong feeling of community for as long as the group stays pretty small. But if you want to bring this kind of richness to internet spaces that need to scale for whatever reason, you have to do a whole ton of shit to yield interactions that are like 20% as good, or narrow the expressive range of potential interactions within that space (think Tinder vs traditional online dating platforms).

    Great discussion topic, @saddleblasters ! Please be a guest on the show already.

    Recently (like, since the start of 2021, roughly), I've held to a personal rule to only share links to articles or posts that inspire positivity. So much of the internet and, by extension, social media platforms, is/are reliant on shocking and outraging people, but you can be an arbiter of what gets shared by your own self. So in the past, I might have shared a link with friends to something I found outrageous and said, "Look at this! Can you believe this shit?!" But now, if I do happen to encounter negativity or anything that I find spiritually harmful, I let the cycle end with me, and proactively do not share it.

    I think that if we all tried to only share positivity with everyone we encounter on the internet, or at the very least those we consider friends, it would go a long way toward making the whole enterprise feel less cursed.

    @exodus#21165 I really like your points here about fostering vibrant and positive communities. The other side of the coin, unfortunately, is creating siloed echo chambers where even the most absurd beliefs can be validated and potentiated. I don't group IC into this, of course (other than validating my absurd belief that little pieces of plastic hold some inherent value), just ruminating on some of the slippery slopes of online communities.

    yes good thread. “internet” be such a big thing that it‘s hard to make any comment that’s not a sweeping generalization but one thing that stands out to me is that when humans are only communicating via words they‘re way more apt to just act like a piece of garbage. like i remember reading some of the book “Leviathan” way back and laughing at ye olde thomas hobbes making little catty comments about his intellectual rivals, like oh man people have always done this huh?? something about being able to spend time crafting the ultimate own + absence of a living human being in front of you to actually drop it on triggers bad behavior. i’ve been guilty of it for sure

    no real viable way to combat that unfortunately. i think eliminating anonymity would solve a lot of that specific problem but employers have proven they'll scour social media for any evidence of their employees having ever used a beer bong; intelligence agencies will put all that shit in your dossier, etc. etc., to name a couple of the thousands of reasons why that would be a bad idea

    the other thing i had to say is that brands ruin everything

    I don‘t think there are small actions individuals can take to “make the internet better” because it is a top-down problem with the machinery that dictates the contents, forms, and access. It’s the same issue with the rest of the world and all of its problems that are too large – you realize as you age that the best you can do is make your peace with a world that propounds exploitation, destruction, and war instead of life, community, art. I don‘t believe this is a pessimistic view but a healthy one because you can’t properly love for others if your emotional and mental wellbeing are not also cared for. Just being born into the world is an acknowledgement that life is cruel and unfair, everyone is struggling against their circumstances.

    The only actions that effect change are mass actions, as seen over and over again in history. And that only usually happens when the conditions are truly dire and untenable for people. Maybe we will reach that point in the future when the negative effects of social media and the algo on mental health, civic involvement, child development, etc etc become impossible to ignore? I don't know. Again, the state of things in modern times have had to become terrible before you get actions like organized national strikes with specific demands. How can we even attempt to resolve the shittiness of the internet via the processes and institutions of society and government? There's also the complication of the technology changing too fast for legislation to even begin to broach these problems, not to mention the global nature of the internet versus national laws. Fields like psychology are struggling to catch up with addressing this stuff as well. Social and cultural existence has become gameified in a way that rewires our dopamine reward system just like actual drug addiction. It's a complete upheaval of life not unlike the industrial revolution and we're still struggling with that one.

    I think if you are not already a gigantic piece of shit, you ARE taking the "small actions". Try to be an empathetic person, try to assume good intentions, try to remember the human on the other end of your words, etc. It's the same stuff we should be doing IRL. We should be teaching this as basic internet/media literacy courses in early schools, but public education everywhere is already so poor -- what can be done? I don't mean to throw up my hands and give up, but I really do believe you just have to do the best you can inside your little community and try to not worry about fixing the world in order to sleep at night.

    >!jk buy btc bro!<

    thank god 4 insert credit

    Also I have so many thoughts about the disappearance of IRL subcultures (barrier to entry is a necessity for subculture – when the internet makes all culture accessible, there are few barriers or gatekeepers – not a good or bad thing but a thing) but that is a larger topic I'm probably saving for a book. I kind of hate having these big conversations online! Would love to chat with everyone over a coffee/beer!

    like many others, my mother‘s company is currently in the process of trying to move at least part of its business online. she’s not very familiar with the internet, and barely ever active on social media. the other day, i was struggling to communicate to her the shape interactions take online. all i could come up with was like… you know, in a city, you walk down the street, and no matter who you are, what you like, or what you think, you‘re gonna encounter the same storefronts; some will pique your interest more than others, but they are the same for everybody. same with everything else, if you don’t like certain kinds of people, or styles, or music, you‘re going to have to learn to live with them if you want to be in the same place as millions of other people. the internet is not like that. increasingly, it is being designed so you tell it what you want to see, and it just shows you more of that, or things adjacent to that, and that’s it. that's the beginning and the end of the experience, for you.

    i was talking about it in terms of advertising, but i realised that's what makes browsing the internet so dull now. before, when it was dumber, there was a real sense of possibility in terms of the kinds of things you could accidentally encounter. there was no visible consensus, no clear metric giving legitimacy to certain things over others. and as a result i think there just was more interesting stuff being made on a regular basis (or not! it's very hard to tell now!); not necessarily in terms of sheer quality or talent, but in terms of variety of starting points and end points, of format and of expectations. the internet has been thoroughly game-ified and the game fucking sucks. i really go out of my way to find weird unexpected stuff online, to the point of searching random words on Youtube and sorting by most recent, but that doesn't remove the sense that things are overwhelmingly being made from and made for isolated bubbles.

    it's getting so bad now that most of the time i'm not even entertained. like, it's failing at the one thing it's supposed to be uniquely gentrified to be dedicated towards! it doesn't just not feel good, it feels real bad. will there be twitter outrage controverises in 10 years? 20 years? 40 years? 80 years? will some people really spend their whole lives, infancy to retirement, trolling and engaging in bad faith arguments online? or finely curating fake lives for virtual approval points? how? is that even possible? like how many years can you dedicate yourself to that before its entertainment value wears off? and what else can everyone else do except completely disengage or keep watching in extremely bored disgust?

    and yeah, i love insert credit, but to go back to my analogy, this is like, in my city, a particular dive bar i really like. i feel comfortable here, and i like the music. but where's the rest of the city at? why does the front door lead straight into my bathroom?


    @bodydouble#21201 Also I have so many thoughts about the disappearance of IRL subcultures […] but that is a bigger topic I’m probably saving for a book.

    Yes, please write a book about that!

    Also, once this pandemic is over, we should totally organize an irl insert credit get together of some kind. Not sure how it would work with everyone spread across the world, but! It could be interesting.


    @pattheflip#21176 and the filtering criteria present in how you find your way here

    This is one of the things that bothers me about how the internet's been since 2010-ish. For all I know, there might be a perfectly healthy and friendly community of ridiculously cool people for every one of my interests, but how am I going to find them? The answer seems to be either know someone who's already part of the community, or see it mentioned on Twitter. It feels like nowadays all of the good communities are these islands that aren't really connected with anything else.

    As an illustration, the way I found out about Insert Credit was, weirdly enough, through you, @pattheflip. An acquaintance of mine had gotten a short story published in \~2013 about the relationship between fighting games and real life martial arts ([this guy](https://www.beyondeasy.net)). You replied to his tweet about it with a [link to this article of yours](https://web.archive.org/web/20130124011025/http://insertcredit.com/2011/07/11/the-world-warrior/). (I see @whatsarobot representing in that comment section!) It feels totally possible that if I never saw your tweet, or if I'd only read the article then promptly forgotten forever about Insert Credit, that I'd not be here. Maybe I'd find out about Insert Credit from other sources, like Brandon's Gamasutra articles or Tim's Kotaku articles, since both of those were sites I occasionally perused at the time. But who knows!

    So I'm wondering how it can be possible to reduce the luck element of finding great communities, without totally losing the filtering mechanism that you mentioned. Maybe it's impossible!


    @exodus#21165 and my solution was to force my programmer to make this forum lol.

    In the world we live in, this is probably the best solution we have.

    I guess I would like Insert Credits of things besides video games. Obviously not every thread on here is about video games, but an eclectic taste in games is what binds us and a big part of that trust element that pat talk about. But it's hard to find spaces centered around other interests (e.g. Japanese music) with the same general coolness that exists here. Like, there are a couple Japanese music forums on the internet I've found, but I feel like if I posted an Insert Credit style thread ("What song is this?" where people post 100 milliseconds snippets of songs for people to guess the name of) on one of them I'd get hated out of existence. Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places!

    Perhaps the answer to this is for people on here to make Insert Credit "sister-forums" based around other things people are interested in, hopefully attracting cool people who don't happen to be obsessed with obscure games?? Though who knows. I can imagine a whole bunch of problems with this that I don't feel like writing right now, since I'm getting tired.

    Anyways, if I haven't said it already, thanks for making Insert Credit @shane, @exodus, @espercontrol (and anyone else I'm missing)!

    what‘s good about the internet can help inform our understanding of what’s wrong with it, i think. and we all agree that this place is a great example of what‘s good about the internet. what are the qualities of this place? well i’m new here, but it reminds me very much of other good places i‘ve been part of online, which are small communities centred around specific shared interests. other examples i can think of anecdotally include other small niche forums, and even certain subreddits devoted to very very specific topics, which operate separate from and unbothered by mainstream reddit (if i can call it that). what else do these places have in common? well, the communities i’ve been part of of formed around interests so specific and niche that it might be difficult to find irl discussion about them, or if i did have irl friends into the same things, it wouldn‘t be a core part of our friendship and not something we’d discuss frequently.

    so perhaps we can say that good social interactions online (and there are other things that might be good about the internet but we seem for the moment to be focused on the social) are often centred on shared, niche interests that benefit from removing the geographical or other barriers between participants; there needs to be a specific purpose to having a cyber venue for discussion. further, these spaces are created and sustained by community members and generally do not exist for profit.

    what can this tell us about what's wrong with the internet? well, the above is the opposite of the experience on typical ''social media' platforms, isn't it? they are big, general, artificially created & sustained spaces, which exist explicitly for profit. because there is no inherent purpose or unifying interest underlying to platform, inevitably interaction succumbs to chaotic antagonism and aggression, because strong emotions are the only way to reliably keep people engaged, and in the absence of any shared loves, the only really strong emotions are the twins, hate and fear. and that's before you even get into the parasitic use of these platforms and the heightened emotions they induce by any sufficiently savvy and well-resourced parties that have an ideology to sell. (it's worth noting her that the internet was originally a creation of the US military, and close relationships persist between the big corporate players and the military-intelligence complex to this day - I point this out not because I believe they're putting chemicals in the water etc, but because I think these relationships are germane to the problems we're discussing).

    what do we do about that? i dunno. smash capitalism, am i right? heh heh. but personally, i deactivated my fb profile long ago, and only keep messenger active because it's not yet fully replaceable. cutting out that platform is not something i do on principle so much as for my own wellbeing. I haven't had a twitter account for at least 8 years - i'm not sure why anyone would at this stage, unless they're in media or the arts in some way that requires twitter as a form of communication and promotion. et cetera.

    on a larger scale i think there is hope in the fact that places like this continue to be created and maintained. a whole bunch of great social interaction is happening off the radar, so to speak. i dare say the ease with which one succumbs to pessimism about the internet is directly related to the degree to which one's experience of it is sheltered. i don't generally believe in subversive uses of the big platforms because i think they tend only to end up providing sustenance for those platforms without any real change, but i can see a future in which things progressively move towards a a freer, more pre-myspace era of little sites and communities wildly varying in theme, membership and quality. paradoxically, the solution might just be for the underlying technology of the internet to remain neutral, but the web and other structures on top of it to become more fragmented, less connected-by-default - at least so long as those mass connections rely on and support the big silicon valley social media mausoleums of the human spirit.

    I tend to think of the internet in terms of a place where one can share artwork and communicate with others. In the second sense, it works well for my purposes. I can send e-mails or messages to my friends at any time, and then I can also discuss more broadly with a “club” i.e. Insert Credit Forums.

    In the first sense, I think every day the internet gets worse and worse. I blame this entirely on the prominence of Twitter, Facebook, etc. I don't know how exactly the causal relationship works here, but these places have made people "lazy." As in, people generally treat the internet like a television - you turn it on, and something entertains you. To a small extent, you curate what comes on, but in a larger extent, it is just fed to you. I think this lack of intentionality when it comes to internet usage is what makes it feel so bland and lifeless. Sure, there are great, creative videos, artworks, and pieces of writing, but they're placed adjacent to (and therefore equated with) celebrity tabloids, political news, stupid jokes, people's diaries, etc. It is hard to turn your mind to "appreciate a nice piece of writing" mode, when you never know at what point on your feed a piece of writing is going to show up. I am sure (based on zero scientific evidence) this is a major factor in shortening attention spans.

    Obviously, if you want to make any money, or have anyone look at your work, you are almost forced to publish in these places, because that's where everything is! I have a [website](https://soupwebzone.wordpress.com/) where I write what I hope are interesting little somethings for my friends and others, but I have no hope of anyone ever finding it, partially because no one is looking. Perhaps I am harkening to a past that didn't exist as much as I wish it did, but I do remember typing in an address because I was actually interested to see what was on that webpage, and not just as a subconscious compulsive "gimme dopamine" act.

    All that negativity being said, I still have hope. I think things like Patreon (although I hate that they are under the whim of credit card companies and corporate interests) are a good step in a direction. There are a lot of interesting people on Youtube who are able to crowdfund their bizarre lives by making absolutely bizarre works that never would have been possible before the internet. But even Youtube is 90% corporate bullshit, and even the non-corporate stuff is plagued by the algorithm, since people are often forced to publish half-assed videos weekly on zeitgeist topics, instead of putting more effort into meaningful works. And outside of Youtube, there is very little to be done in terms of sharing literary works, which is where my interest mostly lies.

    I am getting tired of writing this post but I'd like to briefly mention another positive aspect, which is that there is so much music easily available. It's amazing. I would never have been introduced to 80% of my favourite bands without the internet.

    So, I don't know what to do about the internet! For the most part, I just avoid it nowadays. I look at slow-moving group chats with friends, and I post here sometimes. I post my works when I feel they are worth posting, and try to support people whose works I like. But I don't want to be involved with Twitter or any of that stuff at all. I really think it rots your brains.


    @wickedcestus#21223 It is hard to turn your mind to “appreciate a nice piece of writing” mode, when you never know at what point on your feed a piece of writing is going to show up.

    Yeah, this is a great point. When I had a twitter account I'd accumulate a bunch of tabs of articles I'd see in tweets but was too tired to read at the time. Eventually the stack of tabs would get too scary and I'd just close them all, having only read maybe a tenth of what I planned to. When I get on here, I am 100% in the mood to read things, and tend to read articles people link right away. It's a very different mindset.


    @wickedcestus#21223 I would never have been introduced to 80% of my favourite bands without the internet.

    I have massive respect for people who had cool tastes in music in the pre-internet days. I listen to a huge amount of 80s and 90s stuff, but there is absolutely no way I would have found any of it when it was current had I actually grown up in the 80s. I'm incredibly lazy and scared to talk to strangers in record stores, so there's a 95% chance I'd just listen to Van Halen all day.



    As an illustration, the way I found out about Insert Credit was, weirdly enough, through you, @pattheflip. An acquaintance of mine had gotten a short story published in ~2013 about the relationship between fighting games and real life martial arts (this guy). You replied to his tweet about it with a link to this article of yours. (I see @whatsarobot representing in that comment section!) It feels totally possible that if I never saw your tweet, or if I’d only read the article then promptly forgotten forever about Insert Credit, that I’d not be here. Maybe I’d find out about Insert Credit from other sources, like Brandon’s Gamasutra articles or Tim’s Kotaku articles, since both of those were sites I occasionally perused at the time. But who knows!


    So I’m wondering how it can be possible to reduce the luck element of finding great communities, without totally losing the filtering mechanism that you mentioned. Maybe it’s impossible!

    This is a pretty good example of another thing that I learned while working on this stuff, which is that the series of events that lead to the destination play a critical role in determining the value of that destination. If you had found IC through a recommendation algorithm or a crowdsorted content aggregation platform like Reddit, it's entirely likely that you would have never given anything else related to IC another shot because it wasn't tied to people you trust and your relationship to the platforms and services you're interacting with effectively strip a lot of the humanity out of your interaction with the content creator who makes the stuff that you're finding through those channels.

    I generally stopped posting my stuff on Reddit for this reason; Twitter, despite its faults, is ultimately a series of personal interactions, with each RT carrying an endorsement. When I surface my stuff in impersonal channels, I get a significantly lower-quality audience, and it's just not worth it. Twitter is also low-value to me, but less so than Reddit; Twitch is the highest value of all because the people who come hang out with me on Twitch while I'm streaming have passed the rather high bar of being willing to hang out with me at a certain time and (internet) place. If you find me on Twitch and you like what i'm doing, the number of steps you've taken to get there contribute to your feeling invested in my stuff, and you're in a chat room with people who share a similar experience and opinion.

    @pattheflip#21234 I think the very nature of the internet supports this sort of discovery by recommendation. Blogs used to gain readers by linking to other blogs, and being linked back. Everything is found at some point on a path of hyperlinks. And I fully agree that something popping up on Reddit or as a Twitter retweet does not carry with it that same feeling. I think people often forget (or simply don't know) how people used to discover stuff on the internet prior to corporate algorithms.

    I think embracing this fact on a mass scale would point towards moving away from the major aggregate sites. I just feel like this sentiment that there's _no way_ to find anything outside of these sites is part of how they continue to hold so much sway.

    @whatsarobot#21181 I need to get a lot better at this specific thing - I made an internal pact with myself to do that, and… lately I have been failing! I gotta get back on the horse, because I do think it‘s important, and helps with positivity in general. Where I start backsliding is when one of my friends is like "nobody is paying attention to this problem that’s happening! help!" and then I‘m like… well… I guess I’d better.

    and @tombo yeah, I think you hit it for me - I used to go wild with my music searches on youtube, but then they made it impossible to find new things unless you are able to come up with a particularly curious word string. the internet has definitely been smoothed out into something less wild, but also more dangerous! how is that possible.