There’s no doubt that the web would not be where it is today without companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, and even AOL. Corporations have driven growth, investment, and innovation on the web, and social media networks have made the web a part of everyone’s lives. There are some who regret the influence that big companies have had in shaping the net. I’m not one of them: the internet would be a far poorer place without the innovation of Google and Facebook and the many companies that went before and didn’t make it to 2017.
But it is true that we need to exercise some caution. The early vision of the web was one of a decentralized and somewhat anarchic community where we each had control over our own content and our own online presence — that’s a vision that Tim Berners-Lee still endorses, but it’s one that’s put in jeopardy by the relentless centralizing tendency of big companies. And that’s why I find the Indie Web movement so interesting — not as a rejection of the corporate influence, but as a much needed counterbalance that provides the technology for people, should they so choose, to build an online presence of their own devising without giving up the communities and the connections that they have built on existing networks.
The Indie Web is the name given to a movement instigated by a group of technologists who want to put some distance between themselves and Silicon Valley. At the heart of the Indie Web are the IndieWebCamps, but I’d like to have a quick look at one of the central ideas motivating the creation of various technologies that help foster the same connectivity as social networks with a bit more freedom.
POSSE stands for Publish (On Your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. Today we post content all over the place: Facebook, Twitter, Medium, Tumblr, and a hundred other websites, none of which communicate very well with each other and all of which exert some degree of control over the content they publish. POSSE suggests a different approach: publishing first on your own domain and then syndicating content to whichever social networks and publishing platforms you choose. That approach avoids siloing of content, and it makes an individual’s domain the canonical location for their online presence. Known is a tool that’s intended to make this sort of publishing strategy straightforward: it’s a sort of personal profile page where you can post statuses, images, articles, and links, and have them replicated across your social networks.
We’ve seen similar innovations before, like the Diaspora social media network, but the key difference is that where earlier attempts wanted to move people away from their familiar social networks — which is obviously doomed to failure — the IndieWeb And POSSE are attempting to integrate personal domains with existing networks — personal domains are primary but the Indie Web doesn’t ignore reality.
But pushing content out is only half of the problem. For many, the whole point of publishing content is to have to conversation, and to bring the tweets, comments, and favorites back to an individual’s domain is somewhat more complex that pushing content out, but services like Brid.gy are an excellent early attempt.
The Indie Web is in its early stages and most of the solutions aren’t ready for mainstream use, but it’ll be interesting to see if the idea of individuals taking control of their own web presence takes off over the next couple of years.