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.

Over on the IndieWeb wiki, Tantek Çelik claims the small web is just what they've been doing, under another name. Uh, no. Hands off. You already have a community, with a fancy brand name, international events and so on. Leave us alone.

The small web is for the rest of us. Those of us who don't live in America (or Germany), don't make six-figure salaries and can't even dream of flying to a meetup on another continent. Those of us who struggle to be heard at all.

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.

As of late, Gemini is also picking up quickly. And not only it's getting popular in its own right, but giving people new insights into what they've already been doing for years. Flounder straddles Gemini and the web, for example, and it's not alone.

Then there's twtxt. It's microblogging done right (not just decentralized). It's born on the web, but can work equally well on all three protocols. I've compared it to newsfeeds, but its radical simplicity makes for a qualitative difference.

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

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).

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