5 minute read.

In response. Rebuilding the open web.

Paul Anthony / April 25, 2018

Posted in: Opinion, Social

Some of you will remember the Internet pre social-media days. There was a period of time when I fondly remember connecting with people directly through their blogs, adding their RSS to my Google Reader and following what they were up to directly through that medium. Blogrolls were something of a badge of honour and we all ended up reading and sharing each other’s work. We built our own communities, commented on each others new posts, arranged blogger awards, attended Barcamp’s, met up for beer IRL, attended photowalks and generally did ok without poking each other on Facebook. There was a much richer social scene without the need for Facebook or Twitter and there are a number of amazing people I’ve met through those hazy days of the web, particularly in the Irish web scene.

With the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal with Facebook, it seems like many of us who knew the web before (social media swallowed it) know that it’s our responsibility as developers to do something to return it to that time when we learnt about each other through our own websites.  A time when the open web was growing and content wasn’t hidden behind closed gardens. I’ve posted before on the benefit of the Indie Web and the sentiments shared in that post are just as true today as when I originally scribbled that down; if not more so. I’m not alone in my thoughts. Unfortunately with the network effects that Facebook benefits from, we are someway off experiencing a significant shift in the everyday behaviour of the great unwashed, and it still feels like it’s just the geeks screaming into the void without any of the everyday users deciding that enough is enough. Privacy? Who cares about privacy when you’ve got Candy Crush invites to send and cat videos to watch? 

There have been a number of recent articles that have presented similar viewpoints, the last one I read was from Chris Hardie. It’s time to rebuild the web.  I agree wholeheartedly with many of the points raised by Chris that to save the Open Web it’s not enough to just show people how to setup and create their own website and that the Facebook news feed and threaded Twitter timeline have become the new standard in user interface.

In the spirit of Chris’ post I have the embryo of an idea that I offered to share with him via this post, so here we are.

What if, instead of having a central website that people go to meet each other we could meet each other on each of the websites that we already visit?  What if we could have a social layer over every website, with a timeline that shows us what our friends are publishing on the web? The only way to add content to this social layer would be to have an associated connected website that you write responses on or for you to actively post comment on the website you are on. The only way to join, is to be a verified publisher with a website. No comment box, No tell us how you feel, just good old fashioned publishing. A social network for websites if you will. In much the same way that Medium facilitates comment posts but keeps the content for itself, a comment post on this system would add an additional entry to a stream filtered to the hosting website for other users to read.

For anyone familiar with the service MyBlogLog prior to it getting acquired by Yahoo, this is kind of an extension to what they were originally doing; but with more RSS integration and inclusions of timelines and some way to keep the content decentralised.  Think MyBlogLog married to Pocket. The only content which would be shown inside this social layer to your audience would be from the trusted people the website you are on currently follow. (likeminded publishers). Profiles of each of the current users would provide an RSS feed of the recent content they have created along with the websites that they follow as a user.  Comment sections could be enabled for an individual site, with comments only permitted from the trusted users you follow. RSS discovery would automatically come from the social component of the system, and with each of the recent visitors to your site getting exposed to the other visitors recently published content.  The holy grail, is for an anonymous user to turn up on a static site, and be able to collaborate in stream / chat with other users creating additional user generated content for the website they are currently on and enhance the current static page behaviour that the open web has into a more living breathing system of collaboration.

I haven’t worked out lots of the problems with building something like this, least of all how to make it self hosted and mobile ready, but throwing these sorts of ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks goes at least some way towards finding a solution. A basic demo is prob worth putting together to explore ideas a bit further and this quick screenshot doesn’t do justice to the vision but keen to hear anyone’s thoughts if they think there’s something there worth experimenting with.

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2 responses to “In response. Rebuilding the open web.

  1. I saw this form an email from feedburner (I never did bother to learn how to use RSS readers properly). If I was relying on the only social media I use (Twitter), I’d probably have missed it.

    Something needs to be done for sure (not disabling comments on blog posts would be a start (some big sites – you know who you are)). Though I am guilty of disabling comments on my own site – it’s not the sort of site you’d expect to get any comments worth reading (a bit like Facebook in that respect).

    Anyway, good luck.

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