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January 2021
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New Year's Message: Make The World A Better Place

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It's tricky to figure out how to start this post this year, of all years. As long-time readers are aware, ever since 2008, my final post of the year was a reflection on optimism. It started, in 2008, in the midst of a few fights to create a better internet at the time, in which two separate people had expressed to me what they believed to be a contradiction: I am unfailingly optimistic about the potential for innovation to make the world better, and yet I often appeared (to them, at least), to be so angry about the state of the world and the efforts various people were involved in to impede the internet. And thus started the tradition of writing a post about how important it was to stay happy and optimistic, even in the face of so many challenges to that optimism. Whatever anger or frustration people sense from me has never been in opposition to that optimism, but directed at how that optimistic vision may be delayed or limited by short-sighted thinking. If you'd like to look over the history of these posts, here's the full list:

Of course, 2020 has been a different kind of year by pretty much any measure imaginable. You already know that we're still in the midst of a massive pandemic that has taken the lives of nearly 2 million people worldwide, and 350,000 in the US alone. All of our lives have been changed in the last nine or ten months. At the same time, one of the key issues we talk about and advocate for here on Techdirt — keeping an open internet thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Act — has been under attack (as began in earnest last year) to the point that today, as I write this, it is front page news, with both the outgoing President and the President-elect saying complete and utter nonsense about it, and the Senate Majority Leader basically using the open internet as a key poison pill in his effort to deny Americans the relief they so desperately need.Needless to say, it's been an exhausting (and frustrating and stressful) year all around.And that doesn't even mention that over the summer we had to take all ads off our site, after Google's ad moderators found our stories (including about Google, Section 230, and content moderation) "dangerous and derogatory." That has represented a financial hit for us that we are still dealing with. And that doesn't even touch on a few other projects that we had lined up that all were (hopefully temporarily) put on hold due to the pandemic, or how many of us have experienced personal tragedies this year, outside of work, that don't even warrant a mention here. I know that it's been probably the most difficult year of most people's lives.But, again, the point of this final post of the year is to the good things, the opportunities, and the reasons to remain optimistic, even in the midst of so many challenges. And, there is much to be optimistic about. Obviously, the COVID-19 vaccines were created in truly astounding, record-breaking time, in part due to the combination of new technologies and innovations and open information sharing (we'll have another post on that soon...). While many of us will be waiting months until we can get the vaccine, we can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel, and we're getting there thanks to the promise of innovation.We've also discovered just how much technology, the internet, and innovation have been able to help so many people make it through the pandemic. The ability of so much of the economy to shift, practically overnight, to a work-from-home setting thanks to the internet and a variety of technologies is quite astounding. Obviously there are many jobs that couldn't make the shift, and many companies -- often small businesses -- that have struggled to make it through, but it is hard to overstate just how important the open internet has been to making the impact of the pandemic significantly less bad for a huge number of people. Even for people who don't work from home, things like online shopping, telemedicine, video conferencing and more have made it possible for people to remain widely in contact with the outside world, without putting themselves and others at risk.This is incredible. And it should be celebrated. Imagine just how much worse the pandemic would have been without the modern internet.It has also given us some opportunities to branch out and experiment in new ways. While we had been running various live events and experiments, the pandemic gave us a chance to figure out how to convert our event games to an online format -- allowing us to run our election disinformation simulation game multiple times over the summer and fall, and then to create the Copia Gaming Hour as a place to experiment with more gaming concepts and ideas. It also resulted in us running an amazing online brainstorming game with the World Economic Forum just a few weeks ago (I'll have more on that in a future post as well).We've also found some other interesting ways to experiment with new technologies, including Coil and the web monetization protocol, which I think is one of the most interesting new innovations online these days. As always, we'd certainly appreciate any support you can give us. Techdirt remains one of the only remaining truly independent media properties out there. Nearly everyone else is owned by some giant company. And having to lose ads for half a year hasn't been great. And while we've been excited to see new media models, such as Substack, show up for independent creators, much of that relies on a paywall, which is something we're not interested in doing ourselves. I know it's been a tough year for everyone, but if you're able to, please consider supporting Techdirt.And, of course, we're not even close to done experimenting. We've been working on a wide range of interesting things behind the scenes to improve this site and the experience for users -- some of which are pretty close to being rolled out (and which I think many of our long term community members will find very exciting too). We've also got some other, slightly longer-term projects cooking, and I'm excited to be digging in on all of those.I'm less excited about the fact that heading into the new year we're still going to be spending way too much time fighting back against bad policy ideas. Section 230 is still going to be under attack, even after the new administration takes over (Section 230, like copyright, remains an area where there is bipartisan horribleness). Speaking of copyright, that's back on the docket as well, with Senator Tillis's absolutely insane ideas regarding copyright reform. But it will be important that we fight to move things in the right direction.I know that lots of people have been looking forward to the end of 2020 because, well, just look around. Of course, I've also seen a few people note that many looked forward to the end of 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019... and the following year was often, in many ways, even worse. It is absolutely true that "things can always get worse." And we should be concerned that even with things looking up in some ways, we're still not out of this mess. Things can get worse. But, the optimism is that they can also get better. And I've dedicated my life to trying to help people understand how it can be better, and to encourage them to help fight to make it better.So as we move into 2021, I hope that you're all ready to fight to help bring about this better, more optimistic world. We sure could use it.Finally, my final paragraph of the final post every year is dedicated to again thanking all of you for making this worthwhile. It really is the community of folks here that makes Techdirt what it is. It's the interactions and the discussions and the debates held on Techdirt and across the wider internet that make all this worth doing. It challenges us, makes us think, and always pushes us to continue to be better ourselves. So thank you, once again, for making Techdirt such a special and wonderful place where we can share and discuss all of these ideas. I look forward to what you'll have to say in 2021.

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posted at: 12:00am on 01-Jan-2021
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