Notes on the small web

Where by small web I mean all the things people are doing to claw back the 'net from corporations:

and much more.

The small web doesn't have lofty principles. Nor does it reinvent the wheel. The small web simply aims to put the fun back into making websites, and pride into the old title of webmaster.

HTML is still good. CSS is still good. Even a little Javascript to spice up the page can't hurt now and then, in moderation. Want to follow updates? Drop by again sometimes — when you feel like it, not when I push updates to you. No worries, I'll mark what's new with a little GIF, or simply like this: new, or write a couple of lines about what's changed and when. Not that it's much harder to have a newsfeed. RSS remains useful too.

Even better, we on the small web are proud to be part of something bigger:

The small internet

The earliest social networks weren't on the web. Not even on CompuServe. They started in a big way with public access Unix servers, though even those had precedent, such as PLATO.

Those predecessors are largely gone, with Super Dimension Fortress as a notable exception. A new generation is rising as of late, a loose association known as the Tildeverse. And one thing people do on tilde servers, as they are known, is to make web pages like in the old days: a lesson in humility. But not just web pages!

Gopher was there before the web, and never went away. That's a good thing. We need alternatives more than ever. We've got another one, too.

For a while, Gemini was also an intriguing alternative, giving people new insights into what they had been doing for years. Flounder straddles Gemini and the web, for example, and it's not alone. Its shine has worn off in the mean time, but that's another story.

Then there's twtxt. It's microblogging done right (not just decentralized). Born on the web, but able to work equally well over any protocol. I used to think of it as low-tech newsfeeds, but its radical simplicity would make for a qualitative difference even if twtxt didn't have a killer feature.

Imagine if your RSS reader was also an RSS editor, and you could post updates to a web server somewhere while keeping up with friends or whatever. Social networking without accounts!

(Newsfeeds also work on all three protocols, by the way. Atom in particular is widely used in Geminispace, and Flounder used twtxt early on.)

There's still more. To my surprise, IRC is making a comeback (partly due to the aforementioned tilde servers). And e-mail never went anywhere, though younger people seem to think it's a kind of web service offered only by giant corporations.

Make no mistake, these corporations are at war with us. Given half a chance, they'll make it all but impossible for anyone to set up a website (or indeed any kind of online presence) unless they approve of it. To fight them, we need all of the above and more. Enough different things that the Big Five will never be done playing whack-a-mole if they try.

I know people trying to keep bulletin board systems alive. I know people trying to revive Bildschirmtext (that was the German equivalent to Minitel). I want to see all of them succeed.

I've been doing web development for over two decades now, and my work is only beginning.


And as a precursor to this current of thinking, The Slow Web (11 August 2019).

Last updated: (added and updated some links).