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Indie Web



Thank you, Aral; cheers.

So the web. The world wide web is the sort of remarkable construct; it's just an intangible collection of documents and applications and essays and poems and hopes and dreams and pictures of kittens. And one of the really remarkable things about the web is that you don't need to ask for permission to publish on the web. This is truly important and one of the early steps in the web was to make it absolutely open, that anybody could publish on the web. It's the patent that never was, is one way of describing it.

But there are still barriers to entry to publishing on the web. You need to have certain skills; you need to have certain knowledge. You need to know HTML if you want to make a web page. You need to know about hosting if you want to have a URL that you're going to put that web page at.

But this is also obviously an opportunity, so companies appear to fill that opportunity and provide tools and provide the space for you to publish your essays and your poems and your hopes and your dreams and your pictures of kittens, and that's wonderful. The problem is that anything that was every published with any of these tools on any of these spaces is gone, forever: it is destroyed, it no longer exists, and that's because usually the story is that these start-ups, these companies get bought out by a bigger company; your Google, your Yahoo! your Facebook, your Twitter, whatever, and they shut it down; but not before they write a blogpost announcing how excited they are to have been acquired, and thanking you for all your data, but thanking you for joining them on their incredible journey.

There is an alternative: the alternative is the old idea, but now revolutionary idea, of having your own website that you should host those essays and poems and hopes and dreams and pictures of kittens yourself, and I certainly agree with my friend Mandy when she describes her reasons for doing this is so that you get to decide when it gets shut down, OK. I'm not saying these things will necessarily last forever, but when it gets taken offline, that's your decision, not somebody else's decision. Mandy says, "These URLs will never break." Now, never is a long time, I don't know if we can really get to never, but I think it pays to be thinking long term, so for me, having my own website is very much this…it's not a stop-gap solution; this is my long term plan. I've had a website for fifteen years; I plan to have it for at least fifteen more, and it is about future-proofing. The control is in my hands.

So, these days we're calling this revolutionary idea of having your own website the Indie Web, that you have an independent website, and there's a group of people, we have gatherings at indie web camps, and we've got these design principles first and foremost being that you own your own data, and that you share what you learn, and also that you have fun with this. That is a really important part. But I want to clarify that when we talk about owning your own data, it's not about OK, I've got my own data and I'm holding onto it, grrr, you can't have it. You still want to get the benefits that come from those big silos, those big social networks; you still want to be able to use those tools, you want to get the network effect that comes from those social networks, while owning the canonical copy yourself, so there's this idea in the indie web called POSSE: Publish on your Own Site Syndicate Elsewhere.

So, for example on my website, I publish status updates, little notes of fewer than a hundred and forty characters. The canonical URL is on my website, but I also push those out to Twitter, for example, or push them out to Facebook; they get a copy of those updates. And then if people like or fave or whatever it is they do on these sites, I get notified of that back at my own website. Likewise, if I publish something longer; a journal entry, a blogpost, whatever you want to call it, I won't accept comments, but I want you to write the comment on your own website.

Now, I'll take a copy of that using what we call Web Mention, so you ping me and say, "Here's the URL of my response to your post", and I'll have a copy of that on my website, but you own the canonical copy. But most of all, this indie web sort of movement, this indie web group, is kind of like just a support group; it's like a bunch of people helping each other out, and it's really good fun, and we get together in real life and we hack on stuff, we discuss stuff, we help each other out, and for me it's completely selfish; I'm not setting out to change the world. I should point that out. This is not a mainstream movement; this is very much a niche thing right now, and I'm OK with that, because all I care about frankly is my own website.

But I will point out that there is a big opportunity here. If all the other start-ups are thinking of ways to gather in user data and get hold of it so that they can sell themselves to Yahoo! or Google or what have you, then maybe start-ups should be looking at the alternatives. Marty Neumeier, the marketing guy, he has a book called Zag where talks about, if everyone else is zigging, then you should zag, so if the business model of every other start-up is to gather data and to get sold to a larger company, maybe there's a huge opportunity for start-ups and businesses to help people publish on their own website.

You know, start-ups like to talk a lot about disrupting existing business models, and on today's web of silos, I can't think of a more disruptive act than publishing on your own website. is the URL if you want to find out more, and there will be a gathering here in Brighton on the sixth September, the day after the wonderful DConstruct conference, so I hope to see you there.