I read this note from Dave Winer on state of publishing on the open web. The first part reads like a fact.
It’s too hard to publish something to the open web. It has to be available as simple content. Not rendered inside a commercial template.
Sure, I agree with this. Publishing on web is a need of time, every person with some access to the internet wishes to post his thoughts and pictures online. More often in closed groups — like Whatsapp, iMessage, Messenger etc. But then also on easily accessible and free services – like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. Highlighted aspects are important.
Technically it’s a very simple problem, actually. And the raw serving capability is dirt cheap. But it needs a corporate entity to run it.
It is those highlighted aspects that makes this a tricky problem. From the demand’s perspective, those aspects are of a lot of importance. Majority of the people are neither ready to spend their energies nor their money for the ability to post online. Open web currently fails to address both at the same time. Accessible solutions aren’t free. Free solutions aren’t accessible.
So the supply, mostly from the corporate entities, then caters to just those demands, bringing along the price for serving it.
I have recently been thinking a lot about making it easier for people to interact on my posts. The commenting systems of yesteryears served well till they were completely ruined by spams and unnecessary hurdles around setting them up and managing them.
Since I embraced the IndieWeb, I realised that webmentions can potentially address this need. One primary reason that I believe they can fare better than the existing commenting system is the required skills barrier to get started.
But I was afraid that the same barrier to “entry” would also mean not everyone could comment on my posts. It could potentially limit the audience, especially one that interacts, to the developer niche that understands IndieWeb. But I was pleased that wasn’t the case. More on why later, first a quick comment on comments.
I am not alone who is fed up of the commenting systems. Dave Winer has since long turned off the responses on his posts. And in recent times he also has been particularly unhappy with Disqus, his selected replacement to the in-built responses. So, he found out his way to enable a commenting mechanism that did not need constant managing. Plus at the same time, had an entry barrier of sorts. He now uses Twitter reposts for comments.
Use the [retweet] feature here on Scripting News more. It’s a way to comment on what’s going on here, without using Disqus.
Sure, it meets the need. You need not manage a separate commenting system. You can follow tweets on Twitter – they are closer to post on Twitter. And Dave publishes RSS feed of all the comments. So he, and the readers, can receive all the comments.
For me personally though, this does not meet the one main criteria – it keeps the responses away from the posts, hence from the context. And inadvertently from the readers too. There’s no way then to inspire any inclination amongst readers to contribute and be part of an ongoing conversation on the post.
So, back to webmentions. I can display mentions along with my post (and with this recent guide I had written, you can too) and that means any reader at my blog is aware of the sort of discussion that’s taking place over the post. If you see my recent posts, they have significant interactions between multiple people.
But where is this discussion taking place? And how can one be part of it? It’s primarily all happening on micro.blog. The platform fosters a pleasant community of many creative and open minds. It also encourages meaningful conversations over mindless reactions. And Manton, the mind behind Micro.blog, is a firm proponent of the open web.
I wish more people become part of the platform – better, support the platform by subscribing to the paid plans. And one of the ways I thought I can advertise the platform and bring it to the attention of many is by prominently displaying it along with posts. So, now for every posts on this blog with conversations at micro.blog, there will be a clear “Discuss on Micro.blog” link that takes you directly to the conversation thread (example). “You want to comment? Please join Micro.blog.”
That would, in addition, be a nudge to post a longer response on one’s own website.
My hope is this will exhibit the biggest asset of the micro.blog platform, it’s community, in context and as a result, inspire more people to join with a ready-to-access link to the place where the conversation is taking place. If a significant section of the platform users, one that can, starts to display the conversations (webmentions) and starts to include such links, we should soon have an extremely diverse set of users joining the platform.
This is such fascinating write up by Sinclair Target on history behind the challenges RSS has faced over the years. And also why it just never managed to succeed — even though it had the backing of all the major publishers, at least everyone adopted and served it.
Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was. Lots of people have offered explanations for why RSS lost its broad appeal. Perhaps the most persuasive explanation is exactly the one offered by Gillmor in 2009. Social networks, just like RSS, provide a feed featuring all the latest news on the internet. Social networks took over from RSS because they were simply better feeds. They also provide more benefits to the companies that own them.
RSS isn’t dead, yet. It still serves all the podcasts feeds, and there are a large number of users, including me, for whom it is the only source of any timeline of sort. But the fact cannot be denied that it does not draw any attention from big technology companies. With Firefox too recently dropping the built-in feed support, it became clear everyone wants the standard to exists but no one wants to work on improving and maintaining it. Wish it did not stagnate.
RSS might have been able to overcome some of these limitations if it had been further developed. Maybe RSS could have been extended somehow so that friends subscribed to the same channel could syndicate their thoughts about an article to each other. Maybe browser support could have been improved. But whereas a company like Facebook was able to “move fast and break things,” the RSS developer community was stuck trying to achieve consensus. When they failed to agree on a single standard, effort that could have gone into improving RSS was instead squandered on duplicating work that had already been done.
I believe that is the story of how standards proliferate. But I just hope more people realize the importance of the RSS standard for the existence of open web and work on evangelizing and advance it.
If we stay dependent on technology companies to back it, we will always end-up with siloed timelines. For them, achieving consensus and coexisting with other players is costlier. It is cheaper to foster user engagement in a walled platforms controlled centrally by the owners. Companies will always go with the cheaper options.
I had recently expressed my hope for more people to own their identities online.
There is nothing wrong with attempting to control what you post online, to make sure it stays online till you want it to. I do also realise that it is naive to think no one getting online will find this process irksome. Even though well defined, the (open web) principles are not for all. The simplicity of using and posting on social media services will continue to attract regular users. However, here’s wishing that at least a part of these users are inspired to get their own personal domain.
An innate wish there is that more people would leave the silos behind and get online as themselves, express thoughts that are their own, not mindless reposts and shares, and at the site they control – their blogs1. At the same time, the hope is the hosting platforms make it simpler to book such places online and get them up and running easily.
I think there has already been a huge improvement on this front. There are numerous platforms, like WordPress, Ghost and others2, that are making it simpler to get your own blogs up and running. They also allow you to link these blogs to your domain without fussing over hosting/maintenance. The promise is simple. Jump in with a free tier — if you are happy and if you want to, just switch to a paid account.
But then comes the million dollars question? What’s the point if what I write reaches no one? If no one reads it or talks about it? If everyone keeps shouting in the void without anyone listening, one better not spend the energy. After all, we are sociable. We like interactions, we want feedback.
RSS is a powerful protocol that could have solved this problem. Unfortunately, that’s what it remained, a protocol3. It needed a system to be built on top to gain any traction amongst masses. That’s where I believe lies an opportunity for Micro.blog. It brings in that social layer to the thoughts you pen on your blog.
You can either host your content there or get your posts from existing blog to the micro.blog timeline. You write on your blog, it’s visible for others on their timeline, just as a tweet or a Facebook post will on their respective siloed timelines.
But it doesn’t allow repost. It does not glorify numbers of likes and comments and followers.
Such behaviours and numbers are the signals for bots to game the machine curation systems. Tristan Harris put this very well during one of his podcasts appearances.
Outrage just spreads faster than something that’s not outrage.
When you open up the blue Facebook icon, you’re activating the AI, which tries to figure out the perfect thing it can show you that’ll engage you. It doesn’t have any intelligence, except figuring out what gets the most clicks. The outrage stuff gets the most clicks, so it puts that at the top.
So what do we do then? As Don MacDonald pondered in one of his posts, is sharing a problem? Shall we just stop sharing?
I doubt that will be effective. It will work when we make it work. We need to take control of what gets presented to us to consume. It cannot be done by a corporate inclined primarily first to maximise its margins. It cannot be done by an algorithm that’s designed to gallop every signal and spit a feed to maximise engagement.
Once we start consuming, reading, healthy, we will think healthy. And we should think. And share, and respond we should. Let’s just make sure it is a space that represents us. A space that one can point to and say that’s my thoughts in there. My social presence, a signature. Let open web be that space.
I use blog and site interchangeably throughout this article. I do not want to get into the technicalities. And I am just focused on individuals, not companies.↩
A lot many for professional sites too — SqaureSpace, Wix etc. Again, the idea is focusing primarily on individuals.↩
Of course, I am intentionally jumping over a phase when RSS was the buzz word. In Reader, Google had upped everyone’s hopes from the platform. And in Reader, it dealt RSS a dull shrug.↩