Suppose you could write in your personal blog and have a summary of your post show up on popular social-media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook – and then have responses on those sites show up as comments in your blog? You can, and if some talented programmers have their way you’ll soon be able to do so easily. In fact, it’s what I’m doing right now with this post, which is also running at Slate Magazine.

Why would you or I want to do this? Simple: We’re in danger of losing what’s made the Internet the most important medium in history – a decentralized platform where the people at the edges of the networks – that would be you and me – don’t need permission to communicate, create and innovate.

This isn’t a knock on social networks’ legitimacy, or their considerable utility. But when we use centralized services like social media sites, however helpful and convenient they may be, we are handing over ultimate control to third parties that profit from our work, material that exists on their sites only as long as they allow.

Even if most people don’t recognize what’s at stake – yet – I’m happy to say that a small but growing group of technologists does. And they’ve created what they call the “Indie Web” movement to do something about it, in an extended online conversation and at periodic in-person meetings. The latter are IndieWebCamps, where they gather to hack together tools aimed at liberating us, to the extent possible, from centralized control – what the Web’s key inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, has called “re-decentralization” of the Net. In their early work they’re taking advantage of the good things the social network “silos,” as they call them, can offer, while ensuring that the data we create, and as much of the conversation it engenders, lives in our own home-base sites.

They’re creating what the call an alternative to the “corporate-owned” Internet. And do we ever need it. The principles, as they say on their website:

  • Your content is yours. When you post something on the web, it should belong to you, not a corporation. Too many companies have gone out of business and lost all of their users’ data. By joining the IndieWeb, your content stays yours and in your control.

  • You are better connected. Your articles and status messages can go to all services, not just one, allowing you to engage with everyone. Even replies and likes on other services can come back to your site so they’re all in one place.

  • You are in control. You can post anything you want, in any format you want, with no one monitoring you. In addition, you share simple readable links such as mywebsite.com/ideas. These links are permanent and will always work.

Amber Case, one of the Indie Web creators, was drawn to it because the Web had become “a claustrophobic space where all I could do was consume, with barriers to building and owning.” She saw a new generation of Internet users who’d never registered a domain name, and weren’t even aware of what was possible.

That happened, in part, because “Twitter and Facebook showed an easier path to creating online,” says Aaron Pareki, another Indie Web organizer. “The original vision was everyone has their own space and made things . Then the silos formed and attracted people because it was easier.”

I spent two days with them and others in the movement at their recent San Francisco camp (there’s another camp being held this weekend in New York City), and came away dazzled by the vision of what they intend. I learned more about a variety of technologies they’re creating to make it happen, including things called “webmention” and “microformats,” among the underpinnings of the move toward re-decentralization.

I also came away with the open-source tools, which are still rudimentary, that have enabled me to move in a more independent direction. In my case, because I use WordPress for my personal blogging, I’ve installed several software modules that extend the WordPress software’s basic functionality. One is “Jetpack,” which lets me create posts that show up on on social network sites; another is “IndieWeb” to get the replies back to my own site.

The outbound piece depends on Tantek Çelik‘s “POSSE,” which stands for “Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. Getting the comments, likes, favorites and other responses back depends on Ryan Barrett‘s Bridgy. I won’t go into the technical details, but this stuff is close to magical even in its currently early-days form – and far advanced from when I first heard about it, in a post last fall at Wired News.

This is also classic Internet innovation: created and deployed at the edge, not the center; rough, and constantly being improved. And if we’re lucky, and help these folks by testing it out on our own devices, it’s a vital part of the future.

101 thoughts on “Why the Indie Web movement is so important

  1. Left a comment on the G+ post about this article, and am looking forward to seeing that turn up here. Meanwhile am checking to see whether comments can be posted here with JavaScript protection engaged.

  2. I was actually able to submit a comment directly on your blog +Dan Gillmor, with NoScript engaged. Very impressive, as accepting comments is the sine qua non of a JavaScript-agnostic WordPress template: Initially it appeared that the POST COMMENT button required JS because, when hovering a mouse over that button, no link appears. So I’ll backtrack, apologize, and just mention the feature which does require JavaScript there: The three glyphs at the top center of the blog page. Since comments are already working, best solution would be to contact WordPress.com about their Ryu theme, to see if those glyphs can be converted to links. Or perhaps those glyphs were an extra feature which you added to the basic template?

  3. Interesting to see Tantek and POSSE (Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.) mentioned. I’ve long suggested a similar approach of (POSE) publish once syndicate everywhere. Irritatingly though, G+ has no write API so it has to be the primary source. And it has no RSS-Atom out which makes it slightly harder to syndicate, but dlvr.it does a passable job of copy-posting to Twitter and Facebook and there’s a plugin or two for G+ > WordPress blogs as well.If everyone supported RSS-Atom out and a logical way of coping with RSS-Atom (and the attendant spam) in then all this would be a great deal easier.Linking, tracking and merging the comment streams on the related posts is a harder problem. I’m glad solutions are finally appearing.

  4. Today Forbes has an article about how BitTorrent Sync is taking off. I’ve been using it since the beta was opened up, and I’m very impressed.
    I run it on my phone. When I take a photo or record a movie, it sits in the DCIM folders (the name is part of the DCF standards for digital cameras). When the phone finds my home network, Sync automatically does a 1-way read-only sync of all the camera files to my Mac and my home server.
    I run it on my tablet. When I have a PDF or other file I want to read later, I throw it in a folder on any of my computers. When I power on the tablet, it pulls all the new files across the network and I can tap to open whichever one I want to read next.
    I run it on my laptops. When I find a cool new font while I’m working on web design, I toss it into the appropriate folder. When I go to my Mac after work, by the time I’ve logged in Sync will have transferred the data across.
    The thing is, because it runs across my home network whenever possible, BitTorrent Sync is fast. Sure, SpiderOak is supposed to use LAN connections when possible, but it never seemed to work that way.
    It also works over the public Internet. If I’m away from home and really need some file that didn’t have time to sync before I left, I can sync using free WiFi at a coffee shop, or tell BitTorrent Sync to use my wireless data plan to do the sync.
    It’s also painless to set up. No accounts, no logging in, no extra passwords, no firewall changes, no servers to configure. Each sync folder has a 40-character secret which enables access to it, analogous to a URL. Copy that to the destination system(s) by whatever method you like and you’re done.
    You can use these secrets to share files too. Set up a read-only sync folder, send the secret code to a friend via e-mail, they can paste it into their BitTorrent Sync and the folder will download via BitTorrent. Want to share 2GB video files with a collaborator? With BitTorrent Sync, you won’t pay to do so. Academics are using it to share terabytes of research data.
    And the big point Forbes makes: It’s secure. All data which goes across the Internet is encrypted. There’s no cloud provider the NSA can force to disclose your data or keys without telling you.
    Oh, and it’s free and works with NAS systems and headless servers. If you’re geeky enough you can run it on any random Linux VPS hosting plan and make your own DropBox alternative.
    Got a computer you leave running at home? Then why pay DropBox $100 a year for a measly 100GB of on-the-go file access, when you can stick a 2TB hard drive in your computer for that price?
    You might be worried about the battery implications of running a P2P client on your phone, right? Well, don’t be. At least on my phone, BitTorrent Sync uses less battery than “Cell standby”, i.e. remaining connected to the mobile network ready to receive a call.
    In short, BitTorrent Sync is the best thing since rsync. It’s easily the best thing Bram Cohen and team have ever done. It has replaced my use of Google Drive, Box, and AeroFS. I still use SpiderOak, but increasingly just to keep an offsite encrypted backup of medical and tax records.
    BitTorrent Sync is part of the bigger redecentralization movement, also known as the indie web movement, which seeks to break out of the walled gardens and move back towards the decentralized peer-to-peer system the Internet was designed to be. It’s also easier (on Windows, Mac and Android) and better than the centralized options, so give it a try if you value your freedom.
    Share:GoogleFacebookTwitter
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  5. I should probably mention up front that this is going to sound like one of those “things were better in my day, young fella!” kind of discussions that old people like myself are fond of having, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, feel free to move on. The subject at hand is what us geezers used to call the “blogosphere” — which is now just known as the internet, or online media, or whatever you want to call it. On the one hand, it’s good that blogging has more or less become mainstream, but part of me still misses what the old blogosphere had to offer.
    I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, but especially at those times when Dave Winer, one of the original fathers of blogging, writes about the necessity of having your own home on the social web — instead of a parcel of land given to you by one of the big silos — or when someone like blogging veteran Anil Dash writes a post like “The Web We Lost,” which I highly recommend. But it was a post from another long-time blogger, Dan Gillmor, that got me thinking about it this time.
    Dan wrote about how some independent developers are working on tools that allow anyone to cross-post from their own blog to another site — such as Slate, where his post also appeared — and to pull comments from Twitter and other networks back to their site and display them along with local comments. These kinds of tools and their support for the “IndieWeb” is important, Dan argues, because:

    “We’re in danger of losing what’s made the Internet the most important medium in history – a decentralized platform where the people at the edges of the networks (that would be you and me) don’t need permission to communicate, create and innovate… when we use centralized services like social media sites, however helpful and convenient they may be, we are handing over ultimate control to third parties that profit from our work.”

    Blogging grew up — and changed
    It isn’t until I see a post like Dan’s that I remember just how much has changed. When I started writing online in the early 2000s, individual blogs were the norm — blogs by people like Justin Hall and Doc Searls and Meg Hourihan of Blogger, and people like my friend and Gigaom founder Om Malik and TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington. At the time, Gigaom was just Om’s thoughts about broadband, and TechCrunch was mostly about Mike meeting (and in some cases offering a couch to) struggling entrepreneurs at his house in Atherton.

    Part of what was so great about those early years of blogging was how chaotic it was — a flurry of posts linking to other bloggers (remember linking?), comment flame-wars, and endless discussion about the value of blog widgets like MyBlogLog or your Technorati ranking, or how to set up your RSS feed. Everyone was tinkering with their WordPress or Typepad to embed some new thing or try out a new theme, and there was a natural (if occasionally tense) camaraderie about it.
    So what changed? Blogging grew up, for one thing — Om turned his blog into a business, and quite a successful one at that, and Arrington did the same and sold it to AOL. VentureBeat and Mashable and Read/Write and all the others did something similar, and gradually the line between blogging and regular media started to blur, although there are still flare-ups of the old “bloggers vs. journalists” dynamic from time to time. Meanwhile, plenty of individual bloggers got sucked into Twitter or Facebook and stopped blogging altogether.
    Obviously, it’s good that more people have social tools with which to express themselves without having to set up their own blog and learn HTML, and there are still independent voices blogging on Medium and other sites. There’s also no question that the social element of Twitter and Facebook is powerful, and getting even more so. But I think we’ve given over much of the conversation to proprietary platforms that remove content at will, and control the data underlying the content we provide — and that is very much a Faustian bargain.
    The unedited voice of a single author
    Before I start sounding like a World War II veteran who has had a few too many, the other thing that I liked about the blogosphere was just how personal it was. Yes, that often meant someone was up in arms or foaming at the mouth about something — often topics that perhaps didn’t justify the level of outrage being displayed (yes, I’m looking at you, Mike) — but there was still that quintessential element of blogging as defined by Winer: namely, the unedited voice of a person, for better or worse.

    That point came back to me when I was speaking with Ben Thompson, a tech analyst who recently launched his own membership-funded blog called Stratechery — written and edited and built solely by him, a kind of throwback to early bloggers like John Gruber of Daring Fireball and Jason Kottke, or Andy Baio of Waxpancake. Ben talked about how “there’s something really powerful about single-author sites that you don’t get anywhere else.”
    This is also what appeals to me most about the approach that I think First Look Media is trying to take with its “magazines,” each powered by strong voices with expertise and opinions. But will they be diluted in the same way that Ben argues Nate Silver’s voice has been at the new FiveThirtyEight? Will Glenn Greenwald be as effective or compelling when he is managing a team of other writers? I don’t know. But that’s what I feel like we have lost from the old blogosphere days — that personal connection between a blogger and their readers.
    I think (as I argued in a post yesterday) that this kind of connection is the most powerful thing, and potentially also the most valuable thing that digital media provides — I think it’s why we gravitate towards people like Greenwald, or Ezra Klein, or dozens of other brand names, and it’s why using social tools to connect with a community of readers is so important.
    We’ve definitely gained a lot as blogs and other forms of digital media have become more commonplace: there are a lot more voices, and that’s good — and they are being listened to by more people. I don’t want to downplay that fact at all. But it feels as though we have lost the personal element, as everyone tries to build businesses, and we’ve allowed proprietary platforms to take over a huge amount of our interaction. So forgive me if I get a little wistful.
    Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Alex Kopje as well as Shutterstock / Marek Uliasz and Thinkstock / Alexskopje


  6. I should probably mention up front that this is going to sound like one of those “things were better in my day, young fella!” kind of discussions that old people like myself are fond of having, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, feel free to move on. The subject at hand is what us geezers used to call the “blogosphere” — which is now just known as the internet, or online media, or whatever you want to call it. On the one hand, it’s good that blogging has more or less become mainstream, but part of me still misses what the old blogosphere had to offer.
    I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, but especially at those times when Dave Winer, one of the original fathers of blogging, writes about the necessity of having your own home on the social web — instead of a parcel of land given to you by one of the big silos — or when someone like blogging veteran Anil Dash writes a post like “The Web We Lost,” which I highly recommend. But it was a post from another long-time blogger, Dan Gillmor, that got me thinking about it this time.
    Dan wrote about how some independent developers are working on tools that allow anyone to cross-post from their own blog to another site — such as Slate, where his post also appeared — and to pull comments from Twitter and other networks back to their site and display them along with local comments. These kinds of tools and their support for the “IndieWeb” is important, Dan argues, because:

    “We’re in danger of losing what’s made the Internet the most important medium in history – a decentralized platform where the people at the edges of the networks (that would be you and me) don’t need permission to communicate, create and innovate… when we use centralized services like social media sites, however helpful and convenient they may be, we are handing over ultimate control to third parties that profit from our work.”

    Blogging grew up — and changed
    It isn’t until I see a post like Dan’s that I remember just how much has changed. When I started writing online in the early 2000s, individual blogs were the norm — blogs by people like Justin Hall and Doc Searls and Meg Hourihan of Blogger, and people like my friend and Gigaom founder Om Malik and TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington. At the time, Gigaom was just Om’s thoughts about broadband, and TechCrunch was mostly about Mike meeting (and in some cases offering a couch to) struggling entrepreneurs at his house in Atherton.

    Part of what was so great about those early years of blogging was how chaotic it was — a flurry of posts linking to other bloggers (remember linking?), comment flame-wars, and endless discussion about the value of blog widgets like MyBlogLog or your Technorati ranking, or how to set up your RSS feed. Everyone was tinkering with their WordPress or Typepad to embed some new thing or try out a new theme, and there was a natural (if occasionally tense) camaraderie about it.
    So what changed? Blogging grew up, for one thing — Om turned his blog into a business, and quite a successful one at that, and Arrington did the same and sold it to AOL. VentureBeat and Mashable and Read/Write and all the others did something similar, and gradually the line between blogging and regular media started to blur, although there are still flare-ups of the old “bloggers vs. journalists” dynamic from time to time. Meanwhile, plenty of individual bloggers got sucked into Twitter or Facebook and stopped blogging altogether.
    Obviously, it’s good that more people have social tools with which to express themselves without having to set up their own blog and learn HTML, and there are still independent voices blogging on Medium and other sites. There’s also no question that the social element of Twitter and Facebook is powerful, and getting even more so. But I think we’ve given over much of the conversation to proprietary platforms that remove content at will, and control the data underlying the content we provide — and that is very much a Faustian bargain.
    The unedited voice of a single author
    Before I start sounding like a World War II veteran who has had a few too many, the other thing that I liked about the blogosphere was just how personal it was. Yes, that often meant someone was up in arms or foaming at the mouth about something — often topics that perhaps didn’t justify the level of outrage being displayed (yes, I’m looking at you, Mike) — but there was still that quintessential element of blogging as defined by Winer: namely, the unedited voice of a person, for better or worse.

    That point came back to me when I was speaking with Ben Thompson, a tech analyst who recently launched his own membership-funded blog called Stratechery — written and edited and built solely by him, a kind of throwback to early bloggers like John Gruber of Daring Fireball and Jason Kottke, or Andy Baio of Waxpancake. Ben talked about how “there’s something really powerful about single-author sites that you don’t get anywhere else.”
    This is also what appeals to me most about the approach that I think First Look Media is trying to take with its “magazines,” each powered by strong voices with expertise and opinions. But will they be diluted in the same way that Ben argues Nate Silver’s voice has been at the new FiveThirtyEight? Will Glenn Greenwald be as effective or compelling when he is managing a team of other writers? I don’t know. But that’s what I feel like we have lost from the old blogosphere days — that personal connection between a blogger and their readers.
    I think (as I argued in a post yesterday) that this kind of connection is the most powerful thing, and potentially also the most valuable thing that digital media provides — I think it’s why we gravitate towards people like Greenwald, or Ezra Klein, or dozens of other brand names, and it’s why using social tools to connect with a community of readers is so important.
    We’ve definitely gained a lot as blogs and other forms of digital media have become more commonplace: there are a lot more voices, and that’s good — and they are being listened to by more people. I don’t want to downplay that fact at all. But it feels as though we have lost the personal element, as everyone tries to build businesses, and we’ve allowed proprietary platforms to take over a huge amount of our interaction. So forgive me if I get a little wistful.
    Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Alex Kopje as well as Shutterstock / Marek Uliasz and Thinkstock / Alexskopje

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  7. Thank you very much for sharing this +Dan Gillmor, installed Indieweb on one of my sites as well now. Works quite well, only problem I have is that I seem to have to approve every single one of them. Haven’t figured out yet which settings I need to adjust to allow repeat commenters/plussers to go through “auto-approved”. But I’m sure I’ll get there.

  8. Dan Gillmor: Why the indie Web movement is so important.

    We’re in danger of losing what’s made the Internet the most important medium in history – a decentralized platform where the people at the edges of the networks – that would be you and me – don’t need permission to communicate, create and innovate.
    This isn’t a knock on social networks’ legitimacy, or their considerable utility. But when we use centralized services like social media sites, however helpful and convenient they may be, we are handing over ultimate control to third parties that profit from our work, material that exists on their sites only as long as they allow.

    That’s a big part of why I started this blog. I realized I don’t want to let Google, Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr own what I create, even if it’s a link to a silly meme. I’ll continue to be as active as before on those platforms, and I’ve configured this blog to automatically post links from here to those places. But the content will originate here. And if you want to follow me here rather than somewhere else, well, that would make me happy. 
    You’re free not to follow me at all, too. I won’t mind. I know what I do here isn’t to everyone’s liking, and if you don’t like it I won’t take it personally. 
    This blog is hosted on WordPress.com, but WordPress makes it very easy to move a website elsewhere if you don’t like what they’re doing. 
    So you can find me here on Like I Was Saying, hopefully for, well, the entire foreseeable future. 
    Share this:TwitterFacebookGoogleRedditGoogle+Mitch WagnerLike this:Like Loading…

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    Why the Indie Web movement is so important ()
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  10. Why the Indie Web movement is so important
    “We’re in danger of losing what’s made the Internet the most important medium in history – a decentralized platform where the people at the edges of the networks – that would be you and me – don’t need permission to communicate, create and innovate.
    This isn’t a knock on social networks’ legitimacy, or their considerable utility. But when we use centralized services like social media sites, however helpful and convenient they may be, we are handing over ultimate control to third parties that profit from our work, material that exists on their sites only as long as they allow.”
    One reason why this site exists.

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