IndieWeb ho! A brief intro to a little movement with big ideas

Independent Rider Rally
If you believe, as I do, that

  • Good things start small;
  • Open technology is more attractive and reliable than proprietary technology;
  • The Web works best when we connect as autonomous individuals in public space rather than as customers in private space;
  • Playing around with new Web tools is fun even when they’re not quite ready for prime time;

then you will be as excited as I am about the IndieWeb. Self-described as “a people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web’,” the IndieWeb is an umbrella term describing what is at once a movement, a concept, and a set of nascent software tools.

To date it has manifested itself mostly in the form of informal working meetups called IndieWebCamps (the first was in 2011). The next one is this weekend, taking place both in Portland and in NYC, with some farther-flung outposts checking in as well. Since Wordyard is both a place for me to write about stuff like the IndieWeb and also to put some of these tools to use, I’m going to Portland — both to report and to participate.

There is no single iconic IndieWeb project, protocol, or standard. Here are some exemplary initiatives (these are just the ones I’m most familiar with — there’s a fuller list here):

  • IndieAuth: Method for using your own domain name to sign in to websites.
  • Bridgy: Service that feeds social-media comments on your posts back to your personal site.
  • Known: Personal publishing/community platform in development, based on IndieWeb principles.
  • P3K: Personal publishing and status updates, based on IndieWeb principles.
  • IndieBox: “Personal cloud”-style hardware for managing personal data.

That should give you a quick sense of the breadth and heterogeneity of the work by IndieWeb enthusiasts. The spirit here isn’t “let’s conquer the world”; it’s “let’s stop just talking about this stuff and start getting it to work for ourselves.” The IndieWebCamp “Principles” page is a good read if you want to understand the ideals at work behind these projects.

Wired ran a thorough write-up last summer under the headline “Meet the Hackers Who Want to Jailbreak the Internet.” Since then the IndieWeb has largely flown under the tech-media radar.

In a world where the press is mostly occupied with handicapping the participants in a corporate Battle of the Behemoths, that’s only to be expected. But I think it’s a mistake.

Unless you enjoy tinkering with unfinished software on your website (some of us do!) most of these projects aren’t going to serve your needs — yet. The IndieWeb’s collective project is simply not ready for prime time or mass adoption. And sure, it’s possible that it may never be. It may always be for pros and semi-pros, developers and technical sophisticates.

On the other hand, every time I hear that line about some new technology, I think, you know, that’s what they said about the Internet in 1993.

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