I’m at the IndieWebCamp — a meeting of people who believe in “a people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web'” — in New York City. This is a small but vital movement aimed at restoring (some) control of our data and communications to the people who create it at the edges of the countless networks that comprise the Internet.

I wrote about the Indie Web a couple of years ago, and it’s good to catch up with the impressive progress since then.

decentral1
(I’ll be updating this regularly during the day. New stuff will be at the bottom of the post, not the top, on the principle that most people reading this will read it only once or twice. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the method in my madness. For great to-the-moment info, follow Kevin Marks on Twitter.)

After an amazing Builders Day–a gathering of technologists who talked deep code about the potential to re-decentralize the Web and the larger Internet–it’s the official start of the Decentralized Web Summit. Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, convened the event and the archive is hosting it. (My blogging from yesterday is here.)

Note: You can watch a live stream of the event.

Mitchell Baker, executive chair of the Mozilla Foundation and Corp., is launching the day. She has three guiding principles:

  • Immediate. Safe instant access to content accessible via a universal address without the need for install.
  • Open. anyone can publish content without permission or barrier and provide access as they see fit.
  • Agency: user agent can choose how to interpret content provided by a service offering.

It’s not about a particular technology, she says. It’s about much more than that.

Vint Cerf, one of the genuine originators of the Internet, is calling himself the “chief Internet evangelist” in the room. Fair enough. (More below…)

Continue reading

decentral1
(I’ll be updating this regularly during the day. New stuff will be at the bottom of the post, not the top, on the principle that most people reading this will read it only once or twice. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the method in my madness. For great to-the-moment info, follow Kevin Marks on Twitter.)

After an amazing Builders Day–a gathering of technologists who talked deep code about the potential to re-decentralize the Web and the larger Internet–it’s the official start of the Decentralized Web Summit. Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, convened the event and the archive is hosting it. (My blogging from yesterday is here.)

Note: You can watch a live stream of the event.

Mitchell Baker, executive chair of the Mozilla Foundation and Corp., is launching the day. She has three guiding principles:

  • Immediate. Safe instant access to content accessible via a universal address without the need for install.
  • Open. anyone can publish content without permission or barrier and provide access as they see fit.
  • Agency: user agent can choose how to interpret content provided by a service offering.

It’s not about a particular technology, she says. It’s about much more than that.

Vint Cerf, one of the genuine originators of the Internet, is calling himself the “chief Internet evangelist” in the room. Fair enough. (More below…)

Continue reading

Journalism watcher and professor Jay Rosen’s “How to be literate in what’s changing journalism” is a solid list of things tomorrow’s journalists will need to understand, and in many cases adopt. As he wisely does in his PressThink posts, Jay asks at the end what he’s missing.

From my perspective, there’s one more major element that every journalist, today and tomorrow, truly needs to grasp and deal with: who’s in control.

The answer, increasingly: Not us.

I’ve written many times in recent years about the dangers we face as a society as centralized entities, primarily governments and corporations, are taking control of the Internet away from those of us who use technology from the edges of the network of networks. The promise of the Net, and of the personal devices that emerged starting with the PC, was a radically decentralized system of computing and communications. Conversations and innovation, in that system, started and thrived at the networks’ edges, not in the center.

Some vital functions are being recentralized, through technological developments and political fiat. Governments that feel threatened by technology increasingly use our devices and systems to spy on us, and much worse.

In many cases, governments act (read: are paid) to protect legacy industries that loathe the liberty that technology can spark. Industries like Hollywood push harder and harder for laws giving them the authority to determine what innovations will emerge, especially if these breakthroughs threaten legacy business models that no longer make sense in a networked arena.

Meanwhile, corporate centralization is burning through the ecosystem. Facebook and Google, in particular, have taken control of wide swaths of the Internet’s key functions. Facebook is becoming what amounts to an alternative Internet — literally so in some countries where mobile dominates — and its growing power over content, along with Google’s search dominance, should worry everyone. (Jay alludes to this in his first point, I should note.)

That centralization may pale next to what telecommunications carriers are attempting: control over how information moves in and across our networks. In the U.S. wired-Internet market, local duopolies of cable and phone companies — the cable companies are effectively monopolies when it comes to actual broadband, not the pathetic imitation that phone-line DSL service provides — are insisting on the right to decide what bits of information get delivered to our devices in what order and at what speed, or whether they get delivered at all. Mobile service is completely deregulated on this score. Federal regulators, claiming the opposite, give the carriers more and more power, and the FCC’s pathetic mutterings about restricting carrier dominance tell us network neutrality is on its last legs.

All of the above trends are relevant to journalism. Which is why journalists need to understand at least these key points (among many others in this context):

  1. Carrier dominance is the ultimate in media consolidation. If they get away with their power play, they will determine almost everyone’s future in the media world. They will decide which content, and to some degree which innovation, lives or dies.
  2. Facebook and Google — with Twitter looming on the horizon — are not just incredibly powerful and ubiquitous platforms. They are competitors for advertising, eyeballs and time. Journalists who use Facebook to promote their material — or, with supreme stupidity, as a host for their material — are also feeding a beast that intends to consume them.
  3. Government surveillance and censorship are acts of control that threaten all serious journalism.
  4. The Copyright Cartel’s efforts to restrict deployment of technology that threatens traditional business models is a threat to all innovation of the future.

Again, Jay is entirely right to push journalists to understand the items he mentions. It’s a great list. I hope he’ll add “who’s in control” as another.

We pay a non-trivial annual subscription fee to read the online Wall Street Journal, and consider it worth the money. But the company feels it has the right to not only charge us royally for the privilege but also to insert all kinds of surveillance into our reading.

I use browser plugins that block nearly all of this stuff.

bugswsj

It’s not too late to send a comment to the FCC regarding its moves toward creating a “fast lane” on the Internet — thereby handing control over innovation and speech to a tiny group of corporations that have amply demonstrated their intention to abuse it. I discussed much of this in my new Guardian column this week.

And here’s what I sent to the FCC separately:

Please reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II, with an exemption for small wireless providers.

It is unconscionable for the FCC to permit the monopoly/oligopoly ISPs — specifically the cable and phone companies (the latter via newer fiber deployment) — to decide what bits of information reach end users’ devices in what order and at what speed, or even whether the information reaches them at all. The ISPs insist they will not abuse this power, but there is no record of monopoly/oligopoly businesses NOT abusing power.

It is even more unconscionable that the telecom companies take this position even though they were built initially on the backs of helpless customers who had no alternative to the carriers’ government-granted monopolies.

In addition to Title II reclassification, the FCC should pre-empt all state and local laws forbidding ISP or other telecommunications competition from the public sector. The carriers’ successful lobbying to prevent this kind of service is testament to their anti-competitive motives.

The future of American innovation and free speech could well depend on your decision. Please make the right one.

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.

It’s the second day of the IndieWebCamp in San Francisco, where some talented tech folks are discussing, demonstrating and deploying tools designed to keep the Internet as open as possible. I’m learning a ton about things like microformats, webmention, and other useful (if, to relatively non-technical people like me, somewhat arcane) technologies.

Already, using easily deployed tools, I’m using this blog to create posts that show up on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ (I don’t use Facebook much). That’s easy because WordPress has built this kind of functionality straight into the Jetpack plugin.

What I’ve also done, using the IndieWeb plugin — created by a member of the growing community dedicated to making this all work — is to get Twitter replies and retweets to show up as comments on the blog posts. At least that was happening with a different theme; still waiting to see if it works in this one (UPDATE: it does!).

Ryan Barrett‘s work is key to this. He created something called Bridgy, which

sends webmentions for comments, likes, and reshares on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram. Bridgy notices when you post links, watches for activity on those posts, and sends them back to your site as webmentions. It also serves them as microformats2 for webmention targets to read.

As you can see if you look at the comments, it’s working nicely for me on this blog. I’m seriously blown away by what this suggests for the future of an open Internet.

I’ll be writing more about this in an upcoming Guardian column, and in Permission Taken, my new book project that’s dedicated to helping people understand the consequences of centralized technology/communications, and what we can do about it.