There’s a book (and later film) by Dalton Trumbo, one of the “Hollywood 10”, a screenwriter blacklisted in the 1950s. It’s called “Johnny Got His Gun”. In that story, a wounded soldier is only able to tap messages in Morse Code using the back of his head on his hospital bed frame. His face and limbs were removed in an explosion. Those caring for him assume he’s been de-cerebrated and has no original thought to contribute. I feel a bit like that.
I can’t communicate with my readers directly on WordPress or leave comments any more, except here at my site. I can hit “Likes”, but can’t give others the feedback they deserve if I’m in their space. When I post in the Forums, it shows my username as “admin”, and my posts and replies don’t show when I am not logged in. This means I can’t even submit my problem to the Support Forum, because it doesn’t appear, except to me. Not that it would matter. WP staff have stated that Support is now only available to those who pay for upgrades.
I know many of you who have visited here have had a variety of obstacles placed before you also. There have been attempts to try and force people to join Gravatar in order to be able to comment, and those who aren’t members of WordPress.com are no longer given a backlink (the ability to click on a screen name) to their own sites, as they were before. I don’t care who’s driving these decisions. They are unwise.
Back in the early 1990s, I was a Communications Guide (volunteer) with AOL. America OnLine was a gated online community offering real-time chat on themed topics, and also a clunky portal to the (new) World Wide Web. Though their web browser was terrible, their chat was FAST, as fast as you could type. Instant Messaging was a brand new thing. It was intoxicating and addictive to be able to communicate in real time with 20-25 others on any subject in a freewheeling debate. You could also chat one-on-one with another in private, by invitation. Within a couple of years their membership exploded, growing from 6 million (when I joined) to over 30 million. They were the biggest and best at the time, so they commanded monthly membership fees and were rolling in money.
What happened to AOL? They grew too fast to control the situation. No one could keep up with the number of people conversing in real time, so chat rooms devolved into cursing and pointless arguments. Instead of putting a decent amount of their huge cash pile into improving the software, they went out and bought Time-Warner, a media conglomerate. This was a fatal decision. AOL was a bunch of sales suits, software geeks and volunteers. They didn’t know the first thing about making movies or publishing magazines. They did not understand that the core engine for generating original content is the ability to tell unique stories.
The employees remaining at Time-Warner looked to their new bosses at AOL for guidance about what to produce. The AOL guys said, “We thought YOU guys made the content.” Not only did that merger crash and burn, bleeding capitol every month, but AOL itself also began hemorrhaging members as competitors like Yahoo emerged with better software suites. In a few years AOL lost 86% of its value, and membership went back to 5 million, mostly newbies too clueless to go elsewhere.
Being a volunteer traffic cop in AOL back when it was cool and exciting, and watching it implode from greed and mis-management left a decidedly bad taste in my mouth about “virtual” life. Aside from email and web browsing, I didn’t join any kind of online community for 15 years, until I started blogging here. I’m starting to get a similar vibe from Automattic, the company behind this platform, and I don’t like it. WordPress.com is currently not “hassle-free blogging”, as advertised. I’m going to keep posting for awhile because I have a backlog of partly-finished articles, then I guess I’ll have to re-assess whether this is the place I should be providing free content to. But I still have to wonder…