Adrian's personal mailing list
Edition 0.036
Dear <<First Name>>,

Have you seen The Social Dilemma yet? If not, check it out because it’s a powerful documentary that confirms your worst suspicions about the damage social media is causing to society. One of the side stories that stood out to me was the heartbreak of well-intentioned creators who saw their art transform into something else. They believed they were making the world better but eventually realized their inventions had ended up serving something sinister. It’s a feeling I’ve experienced, and I thought I would share my story...

In the early days of the web you didn’t have many font options. Seeing this unmet need, I created a free service called FontBurner that let you pick from my huge font library and after a few clicks your blog’s bland typography would be transformed into something with personality. Before long there were thousands of websites and millions of page views boosted by the unique typographic options that FontBurner provided.

I believed I could make the web more beautiful. It was important to me to make FontBurner free and extremely simple to use. It felt like a noble cause. Which is why I am ashamed to admit that I inserted a line of code into FontBurner that allowed me to see the statistics of every website that used my service. I can’t even say that it was for quality control, the reason I wanted the data was purely to feed my ego. It made me feel good to see the huge numbers of people who were using something I created.

One day while feeding my ego by sifting through FontBurner’s data I figured out how to identify the websites that got the most traffic. The most popular website, by a long shot, was a pornographic site that was shockingly offensive. I wasn’t naive, I knew that there was no limit to the disgusting things you can find on the web but the fact that the site used FontBurner made the offense devastatingly personal. And while the images shook me, it was the popularity of the filth that really crushed me. I had hoped to find a high quality website using FontBurner, I wanted to ride the coattails of someone else’s fame, to brag that a celebrity was using something I built. Instead, I felt shame. My art was corrupted by association.

Heartbroken, I made some changes to FontBurner to distance myself from the abuse. I blocked some websites, removed my analytics codes, and forced users to host their own fonts rather than hot link to my files. Eventually the web evolved and FontBurner faded into irrelevance. FontBurner barely made enough money to cover my hosting costs. It was a labor of love, a personal mission to make the world a little bit more beautiful. And while my product failed, the filth prospered.

It feels free, but we pay for the web with our attention. Unfortunately, we also become the things we pay attention to. When we see humanity’s dark reflection in the traffic we send to worthless websites it’s easy to lose faith. And yet for some reason I still have hope for the web. The promise is still there, even if it is overshadowed by the junk. 

Watching The Social Dilemma leaves you with the feeling that you should unplug completely. If you can do that I salute you. But I also believe in the humans who are still trying to change the world with whatever contributions they can add to the cause. I still love the web. The makers, the original voices, the quirky humans – we are still here. The Social Dilemma doesn’t have to be a death sentence for creators, hopefully it is a reminder that we should work a little harder to seek out and support the original voices that still exist. 

I’ll write again next Sunday. Stay creative.

Your friend,
Copyright © 2020 Adrian Hanft, All rights reserved.

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