The Internet Orgainized By Personality, For Real, Yo

GlamKitty on why Backwash.com was so important — and cool.

Like lots of things, BW seems even more important and fabulous in hindsight. When I think back, what strikes me most about Backwash is the novelty of it all. Sure, the Internet itself was pretty novel back then. But what we did at BW was new and exciting — and remains so, even for an evolving medium in an ever-progressing digital world.

David Ring created a site dedicated to cutting through the clutter of information overload by organizing the Internet by personality. He provided the tools; we columnists ran with them. We threw ourselves into the digital playground with a dedicated abandon that sometimes puzzled our real-world peers. It was a labor of love; but labor still.

Every columnist, or personality, at Backwash, was responsible not only for writing (blogging) but also had to provide several links of interest (content curation) and moderate any discussions regarding their columns and links, as well as any communities, topics, and newsletters they managed. All resting upon a social network platform. Each of these components was important. When combined, it was too powerful to resist.

Content Creation

Some of us came with the mission to build our businesses. Some came to polish their writing. Some came just to give voice to their thoughts or passions or otherwise express themselves. Some came with the single-minded purpose of finding and organizing a directory of sites on a theme. Whatever our reason, we had to write columns.

Columns were original works. In Internet terms, they were content — and BW knew that Content Was King. Sure, today some people write or blog or post their creations (their content) at sites like Facebook; but the only way you can really find it is by already knowing the person and following them. After a while, all you can find on your timeline is the most recent or the most popular posts — and only if you are looking at that home page timeline at the right time. (If you think you are following Facebook Pages, heaven help you. You only think you are following them; Facebook severely cripples Pages and their content from appearing in your timelines.) For this, and other reasons I will get more deeply into in just a few paragraphs, your original content is largely wasted at FB. At BW on the other hand…

glamkitty column 2003It was understood at BW that original content provided a main gateway into the site. Columns were the means by which we displayed our personalities. Every columnist and community moderator had to provide columns. And they were easily accessible too — even the newsletters were archived on the site. Links to columns, communities, topics, newsletters, and the discussions of each of them could be found on the site itself; and the content, with links to discussions, could also be found searching outside the site itself. The idea was simple: If a person liked us, liked what we wrote about and/or how we wrote it, then they would follow us anywhere — at least follow us anywhere on the Internet.

Each page on BW was full of links on the word wide web. (Click the image on the left for a visual of an actual page; via.) Along with each column were links to more columnists, communities, newsletters, that were picked based on the columnist’s work and who they liked. There were links to message boards and social member profiles too. And of course there were the directory links that lead off-site too.

Content Curation

At BW we were were building a hand-picked directory listing of websites and content by topic, much like DMOZ, Yahoo, and others at the time. Only we were doing it better. Because our directory of topics was based on, and cross-referenced by, personality or “Flavor”. This meant you didn’t have to know exactly what you wanted to find, what it might be categorized as, or even what it was called. You just had to read some columns you liked, hang out with the kids you thought were just like you (or cool, knowledgeable, or whatever made you like or trust them) and follow the link trail they left you.

Of course, with it’s customizable options, you could skip the columns if you wanted to and just get to the links themselves too. (See image below; via.)

backwash screenshot

It was better than most of today’s content curation because we didn’t just clip something from the web and categorize it; we wrote our brief individual reasons for sharing the links as our directory listing and we rated those links too, designating the links we thought were superior as Gold and Silver. Any registered member could rate or rank the links as well.  Along with the directory by topic, the communities, and flavors, there were links shared via the message boards and chat sessions. (Yes, chat sessions; columnists could actually set and publish chat times, so that readers and other like-minded folks could come hang out and ask for resources and the like.) It was the Internet by personality — and very personalized at that.

Social Networking

BW may not have been the first in social networking or social media — but it certainly was ahead of its time. Of course, not everyone understood the social media aspect back then. I remember trying to get my extended family to join and use the social network. They didn’t get it; didn’t join. (Now, however, they are the reason I have to use FB — and I really don’t like it *sigh* for reasons I will get to in a minute.) BW was better at social media — it may even have been The Best. Certainly better even than Facebook is today. Why? Again, I refer you to the tagline, The Internet Organized By Personality. The keywords here are “organized” and “personality”.

The Internet Organized

BW wasn’t a closed community, like FB and other sites are. That meant you could use a search engine, any search engine, and find content and postings at BW — and find them again later on too. These are things you just can’t do at FB. Go ahead, try to find something you know you saw at FB. Try to find something you know you posted at FB. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait.

The fact is, the search on FB is not a search engine for FB — unless what you are looking for is the name of a person, place or thing that exists on FB and is marked “public”. Otherwise, you are given links offsite (via Bing). If you can’t search the site for what’s on the Internet, how can the Internet be organized? Answer: It can’t.

Instead, FB wants to hold you captive to your timelines and home page news feeds so you don’t miss anything; but it also views what content you produce there as ephemeral and not worthy of finding. Unless you already have the permalink. (So begin the cycle of remaining glued to that feed or timeline and bookmark all those permalinks!)

Yes, BW wanted you to come to the site, and often; but it didn’t try to keep you there, compulsively checking timelines. At BW, we would send you to other places on the web and count on our coolness, knowledge, personalities — whatever you’d call it — to bring you back to BW again.

The Internet Organized By Personality, Not Legal Name

Today, most of the large social media sites require a person to be “transparent” and use their real name. But what if you don’t want to share your personal business with everyone — let alone with your customers and potential customers? Yeah, Google+ tries to give you those privacy options, placing people in circles; but Google too only wants you to be a real person. (I swear these sites are just days away from forcing you to provide documentation; like 2257 and “papers please!”)

But at Backwash, you could be you, yet maintain some privacy in both name and image because we were graciously allowed to write our columns under pseudonyms, pen names or just plain old wed IDs.

Remember the anonymity of web IDs? Remember how freeing it was to be you, say what you wanted to say, be as real and even as uncomfortable as you needed to be at the moment, and still just be whatever you dubbed yourself? (Even if that name had to be followed by some numbers because a bunch of other cool people thought of it earlier.) Your identity was hidden, but your truth, your personality, would shine. Oh, how it would shine! The result was that you could Dear Diary as much as you wanted without fear. No reason to fear name or image searches by future employers. No need to worry about embarrassing your parents, your kids — your conservative sister. In fact, Backwash was so a-OK with you being whoever you wanted to be, you could pretend to be your pet and anthropomorphize to your heart’s content!

The Bottom Line

The bottom line, Backwash.com was fabulous because it provided true original content — columns — and those columnists were organizers and taste-makers, building a directory based on topic as well as personality. There was a reason to go to BW; you could always find something interesting to read, share, maybe even discuss. It wasn’t solely based on who you already knew, allowing you to swim in the small ponds you already belonged to, limited by whatever privacy concerns you may have. Instead, BW was based on topics and personalities you could continually discover!

It was ever-evolving.

Until it wasn’t.


 

Links:

Facebook has some weird data-mining graph search; but is not searchable for content/posts — but it may be on the horizon?

Social media may not be the Google juice your SEO guru told you it was.

Why they force you to expose your real identity online.

Do you think that anonymity leads to troll-behavior? Think again.

Have questions about the difference between content creation and content curation? Go here.

Boobs or Brawn?

This classic BW post from Laura dates to Saturday March 18, 2006. 

When you think role model who or what springs to mind?

I see Ms. Perfect Career Mom. She’s wearing a very tailored red suit (with a mini skirt to show off her great long legs, of course). She wears those ultra killer high heels and one thick gold necklace to offset the red suit and perfectly crisp white blouse. Not a hair out of place, her nails and lipstick are a perfectly co-ordinated shade of ’bite me’ red. She drives a modest car, fuel economy and being good to the environment. People wonder how she crams all those kids, school bags, sports equipment and that family cat in there. But, she’s perfect, so she does it all, just fine.

She’s not a Barbie, she just looks like one. She can’t be a Barbie, she has to manage her small business, keep her entrepreneurial focus and get her butt motivated and making money to support those kids, the perfect house and that car. Hubby is around… somewhere.

He’s kind of how I imagine GI Joe. He is a bit gruff, busy with his career but kind of floundering when you take away the guns and stick him with a couple of kids to babysit. He gets that “what do I do with these?” look. He is out of his element. Way, out of his element, kind of like the planet Pluto waving at the Earth and hoping it gets noticed.

Sure GI Joe is a great role model for masculine grunting and whatever else it is that they do. If you were in the middle of a war, GI Joe would be great to have around. But, can he cut the grass on weekends? Can he read bedtime stories at night? Can he wake up to change the sheets when someone wets the bed cause they had a bad dream? Can he be affectionate with Ms. Perfect Career Woman when she has had a long, tough day and needs someone to listen to her unwind? Can he barbeque in summer and shovel in winter? Can he have a pleasant, little home life and show his kids and the neighbour’s kids what it takes to be a good man, a good Dad and a good husband?

Let’s skip to Barbie, the stereotypical blonde with boobs out to there and a shopping budget that makes Loch Ness look like an insignificant puddle. I’m not sure the word “we” is in Barbie’s vocabulary. She has her own horse, her own car, her own massive wardrobe and her friends. For awhile she had a gaping hole in her abdomen for a perpetual baby carrying mechanism. I don’t think I’d want Barbie as a Mother though. I don’t even know what I’d do with her as a friend. She wouldn’t approve of me. I’m not fashion conscious and I’d rather talk about science than shopping. I can’t see Barbie as my Ms. Career Mom, even though they look a lot alike.

But, if you had to pick one as a role model… which would it be?

Let’s give Barbie to the boys as a role model. She can teach them how to dress up for every occasion. They can learn about PMS too, assuming Boobs of Steel Barbie gets PMS.

GI Joe can teach the girls how to shoot to kill. That will help later when they begin dating. Hopefully they will also learn about science along the way.

Picking a role model is a dangerous thing. No one is perfect or balanced in all ways to really be put on a pedestal. Each person needs to find their own path and not spend too much time admiring or feeling jealous of someone else and what they have accomplished. If you model yourself after them you will be missing something great in yourself in your effort to be like them. Be like you instead.

A Flashback In The Women’s Room

[This was the meat of the May 25, 2004, Women's Room BW newsletter. (It was edited for some links that no longer exist and the like.) How amazing -- and upsetting -- that this remains applicable a decade later.]

“A lot of the hate mail I get is clearly misogynist. I am a proud liberal, feminist woman, and the hate mail I get about those three things is not about me. It’s about those signifiers, and about what the right in this country has managed to do to perpetuate anger over what they mean.”
~ Janeane Garofalo ~

I know that politics is about as personal as sex (all references to strange bedfellows aside), and that I am not the official poster-girl for political information, but seriously, this is one election year that as a woman you should be paying attention to.

Women’s rights – not just the right to your own body, but your health – is at stake.

Hell, healthcare for everyone in the US is at stake. Why are we the ‘wealthiest, most powerful nation’ & the one big player without a health care program for its citizens?!

The war matters. It should. You must have an opinion on that – if only that you hate the idea of war, September 11, folks dying, something must move you.

You also have a million & 3 reasons to be interested in your local elections. Education, for example. Even if you don’t have children of your own, the fact is that ‘those kids’ are your future. They will create jobs, rob your homes if they believe that is the best way to provide for their drug habits, and they will be the ones changing your diapers in the old age home or hospital…

And what about your strange bedfellows? Do you want government telling you what gender your consenting adult must be? Or your marriage partner? Yeah, there are still old laws on the books about this, and about specific forms of sex that are illegal also, but for the most part they are unenforceable. They can’t break in & prove it – well, if your rights to privacy still exist. Which leads us back to candidates & issues regarding terrorism & the war…

The point is you still have plenty of time to read & research about the issues & the candidates.

You can find out more about the candidates than you can a prospective lover, so what’s your excuse?

Get informed, get an opinion & get prepared to vote. Then vote.

After all, who do you want to spend the next four years in bed with?

This has been GK, with a rant.

Links for further reading:

Dare To Be A Feminist

Politics at Kitsch Slapped