Microcast #081 – Anarchy, Federation, and the IndieWeb

Happy New Year! It’s good to be back.

This week’s microcast answers a question from John Johnston about federation and the IndieWeb. I also discuss anarchism and left-libertarianism, for good measure.

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  1. Is there an RSS feed for the microcasts? I had one that I used with my podcast app (Overcast) but it stopped working when you moved to posting them here.

    Thanks, and I hope 2020 is a wonderful year for you and your family.

  2. I’m not sure this is fair or accurate. Tech has an abundance of white men all over; but IndieWeb has been one of the more diverse groups.

    I’d like to offer a drinking game. Simple rules, when podcasts and “listen to me” material is put out on the web when it’s put out by white men, you take a drink. If it’s a group of men, have a drink for each one that is white. You’ll get drunk faster than drink along with Dallas.

    That’s not a dig at podcasts, it’s just so depressing a lot of the world representation is white men, but it’s not specific areas; it’s everywhere.

    I’m also not sure on the stability or mass-market appeal, but instead I think this pulls me closer to watching what the IndieWeb are doing. What puts me further away are some of their conclusions, but that’s on me. I don’t like how most people use computers.

    On my own latest attempt at blogging, I’m serving static content, using some micro-formats and using their webmention service; but I’m not displaying any comments, likes etc. I’m also not syndicating. I like the isolation; it’s like a journal for someone who is working on developing that muscle. They have in-turn shown me what they are working on, gained some PR’s and percolated some interesting experiments.

    I like the less conventional lense and more information on Libertarianism you’ve shown, but I hope it’s not a pillar of Indieweb. Although interesting in abstract I find many Libertarian ideals a little childish.

    • Thanks Lewis, perhaps the IndieWeb movement is more diverse than it seems from the outside. I’d be interested in your critiques of left libertarianism?

  3. Hi Doug, great to have you back :).

    The distinction you make between the indie web and federation is interesting, and I’d say I mostly agree with it. But I don’t see a problem with technology itself, I see it with the services available. With Mastodon it isn’t only easy to create an account on an instance, it’s also easy to have your own instance with mastohost. The problem with the indie web is that there isn’t any services to help non-technical users setting up their instances, or if there are they are too obscure. One example is domains, I believe personal domains should be provided for free by the government. But right now setting up a domain can be a hurdle for non-technical users who want to join the indie web.

    So yeah, I agree with your opinion that federation is a better approach than the indie web right now. But I think it’s given the current status of the ecosystem, not with the underlying philosophy.

    • Thanks Noel! Come to think of it, I wonder why the IndieWeb community don’t maintain a version of WordPress? About 15 years ago I used to provide a version I called ‘EduPress’ with pre-configured themes and plugins.

      Would be awesome if there was an IndieWeb version. There could even be easy domain setup (a bit like when you run Thunderbird for the first time!)

  4. @Tim I’ve been using this url on my podcasts app: https://thoughtshrapnel.com/category/daily/open/feed/

    It’s a bit weird because I also get non-microcast posts, but the ones that are microcasts work correctly for me.

  5. I posted a microcast as a I reply here: https://jgregorymcverry.com/2020-01-02indiewebupdate

    I found Doug’s points fascinating and his connection to political philosophy, enlightening as always.

    I do take issue with Doug’s ideas that IndieWeb’s focus on building out from the self first is at odds with his leftist liberalism.

    It seems the argument boiled down to easier on boarding with existing federated apps means scale is easier to achieve. Therefore replacing the ability to connect with just HTML and adding ActivityPub support is more rooted in philosophies of equality.

    Agree that the apps and software in the fediverse are more mature than the social readers of the IndieWeb but that to me is not a reflection of different values.

    In fact the four founders of IndieWeb came together as a reaction to the W3C working group that helped lead to the development of ActivityPub and Activity Stream.

    I believe an approach where everyone has their own space online that they control is more egalitarian.I believe HTML based websites are the most resilient, sustainable, and equitable approach ensuring everyone can read, write, and participate online.

    I have floated around the fediverse, been unwelcome on some servers, unable to follow archaic rules on others, and I have even seen major design decisions of Mastodon decided on a whim in a few toots….Federation requires feudal lords and I would rather know I own my castle.

    The fact that access to web literacy falls along traditional class and racist system fault lines is a reason to double down on education.

    Plus there are new apps that use IndieWeb building blocks emerging every day. You can use micro.blog or pine.blog as a social reader and blog/website builder on iOS, Android, and the web. You can visit ihazawebsite.com and get a site and a free domain.

    So if onboarding and scale is how we define egalitarian philosophies I think we can draw on the IndieWeb principle of plurality and welcome anyone online regardless if they connect through HTML or ActivityPub.

    • Hi Greg, thanks for the microcast reply! I listened to it with interest.

      To be honest, I think we’re on the same page here. The only comments I’d make are:

      1. We don’t change the system by perpetuating inequality.

      2. Federation doesn’t “require feudal lords”. In fact, you can (as plenty of people I know do) have an instance of one. Federation doesn’t care what you’ve got at the other end, whereas with the IndieWeb it has to be one person (at least that’s how it seems)

      3. You talk about “wanting a movement, not a moment” which is a pithy phrase, but somewhat at odds with getting people onto the IndieWeb one at a time? Would each person count very much as a ‘moment’?

      I’m not opposed to the IndieWeb at all. I just don’t think it’s going to scale. And by ‘scale’ I don’t mean the venture capitalist version, I just mean “any more than a niche thing for a few geeks” 😉

  6. Point of clarification: I had my history and timeline a bit off, #IndieWeb founders came together after the federated web social summit in Portland. I mixed it up with the W3c social web working group which came after and lead to ActivityPub (I think, don’t quote)

    On point one I 100% agree which is why I want to double down on digital literacies and I think approaches like #DoOO and #IndieWeb best get the job done.

    On 2 I think I am my own instance on the fediverse, but I don’t see the Mastodon crowd as being much more diverse than the blogging crowd….Even with its numbers still just a few geeks. I do think per capita there are probably more educators blogging on their own websites than any other sector, including tech.

    Good chance a teacher bio has a link to their domain.

    Never doubt the power of pithy phrases. Maybe movements are made up of many moments. And avoid alliteration, always.

    We have no idea if Mastodon or other ActivityPub clients will be around in a few years but we do know the inequity baked into the system will be around unless we work to address it. It just seemed you concluded that the fediverse approach is better in terms of addressing inequality. I just don’t think there are enough data to support this conculsion

    I think by encouraging people to build out their “digital cyberinfrastructure” we help address the inequity. Why I believe in the hyper local web rather than thje decentralized or federated model banded about in the “geek” community. I want to involve schools and libraries, art and music orgs, a community wide effort of change while we all blog about it.

    I will have to record another podcast on innovation systems and how those work. It is a really intriguing theoretical model for our work.

  7. This was a great reply from a thread on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CharlieRoseMari/status/1213181082218192897
    1. I have always felt that IndieWeb is more a culture of mutual aid than shipping tools. We do release tools, but the focus seems to be more on teaching one to fish than giving a complete out of the box replacement for social media.

    2. Or, I suppose I could also put it like this: IndieWeb is a philosophy. Fediverse is a solution. I think of the two as both complementary and categorically different.

  8. Greg, thank you for your thoughts on Doug Belshaw’s microcast discussing the IndieWeb. I really liked your point about the egalitarian web.

    I believe an approach where everyone has their own space online that they control is more egalitarian. I believe HTML based websites are the most resilient, sustainable, and equitable approach ensuring everyone can read, write, and participate online.

    Like you, I have not found a home in the fediverse and am happier in my own castle, or car as Alan Levine and Jim Groom put it.
    I am not sure if the ‘IndieWeb‘ is the answer, however for now I will hold on tightly and let go lightly. As Angus Hervey states:

    “At this point, given all the evidence I’ve considered and having made a genuine effort to try and see if from the other side (point to some examples), the balance of the argument seems to rest on this side for these reasons, so for now that’s what I am going with. If new evidence, or a better argument comes along I am totally willing to change my mind about this, and I’ll also be pleased because it will mean I’ve gained a deeper understanding about the world.”

    As a white male, I do find Belshaw’s point about power an interesting one. However, I am not convinced that the Fediverse solves that. Happy to be convinced otherwise.
    To be far, I am happy with doing what I am doing at the moment at the very least as a model of how things could be. My philosophical position comes via Jean-Paul Sartre:

    When we say that man chooses himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men.

  9. Thanks, Doug. The RSS feed seems to work. Looking forward to hearing more.

  10. Hey Doug,

    Replying seems broken, so I’ll give my thoughts on any libertarianism succinctly. The various groups of libertarians I’m less concerned with, unless they seek to unpick the following points.

    It supposes you can be in a society, without committing financially to other members of the society. This probably stems from the general breakdown of recognition we’ve chosen to, and continue to choose to be in this together.

    It asks questions which are often inhumane, such as why should I pay for {X}’s bad luck; incorrectly asserting that a current position was born into or remains perpetually.

    It seems to avoid subsidies and business and member views on taking from society and focus on not giving back.

    It continually ignores what property and capital owners get from societies outside of subsidies and unfair market advantage, including the marketplace of the nation, employees, protection of assets from government and law enforcement.

    It poses as an answer, relying on the poor access to information and dwells on anecdotes which are incorrectly controlled for such as local communities making their own road or living in a commune surrounded by a protective host nation.

    The only truly libertarian state I know of is Sealand and it was invaded by armed marauders despite proximity to a rather well armed state. Utopia, I think not.

    It’s interesting to hear about, but I don’t take it any more seriously than someone’s religion. It’s an unfortunate quirk to endure, which has nothing to do with independence from mainstream or DIY / hacker ethic I see in IndieWeb.

    • With respect, I think you’re confusing left-libertarianism with right-libertarianism (it’s the latter that’s usually just referred to as “libertarianism”)

  11. Replied to Microcast #081 – Anarchy, Federation, and the IndieWeb (Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel)

    This week’s microcast answers a question from John Johnston about federation and the IndieWeb.

    Hi Doug,
    Thanks very much for taking the time to give your take on the IndieWeb. It was both interesting and valuable. There are a few rabbit holes to dive down. I’ve not read much Anarchism since Kropotkin and that a long time ago.
    After leaving this reply for a fair time and a couple of listens my response is still a disconnected series of ramblings. Not arguing against anything you said but bouncing off some corners.
    My own interest in the IndieWeb came from being a blogger who was saddened by the lack of commenting on sites after twitter. The comments that used to live on in a blog were now scattered to twitter.
    Rather than read up on the principals or figure out how things worked I just loaded up a few plugins and clicked things. As you say the IndieWeb is not made for folk who do not enjoy digging into the tech a wee bit. I am testament to the fact that some of the technology can be used in a fairly careless fashion.
    Micro.blog excursions
    This toe dipping bumbled along for a few years until Micro.Blog appeared. Using micro.blog cost nothing for someone like me with a blog to join in. It took me a while to get my head round Micro.Blog. Partially it is an RSS reader that you can use to interact with your own and other folks sites.
    Manton, who is behind micro.blog has explained that he doesn’t want the service to scale to twitter size, but more sees it as a model for how communities of independent bloggers can work. That is the way I see it, I would love to see an educational ‘micro.blog’ a place where I could follow other bloggers and what would ease some of the friction, but not too much, of blogging and responding.
    The other thing that micro.blog solves is the ‘like’ and ‘follower count’ problem.
    If I like something on micro.blog it is more like a private bookmark, the liked person doesn’t know I’ve liked them. I need to write a reply. Now I am quite shallow, I like getting likes, that is why I still manually posse my photos to instagram. I can however see and feel the benefits. In fact I find myself, 1. spending less time on instagram and 2. when I am there writing comments. The community conversations on micro.blog are slower and richer than on twitter in my experience.
    Just as I don’t know who reads my blog I don’t know who follows me on micro.blog. This is interesting. Quite a few big name bloggers signed up for micro.blog I don’t seem many of them being very active or even posting. I suspect lack of follower numbers and knowledge of who is following you make it hard to use micro.blog for more commercial bloggers. I’ve not got anything against commercial bloggers but I want to be in a community that the conversations are two way.
    Back to the IndieWeb
    You used in your micro.cast to the idea of the complexity of IndieWeb as turtles all the way down (I am paraphrasing). This idea is much in my mind about technology in general. Even my best attempts to ‘own my data and technology’ relies on so many layers of thing I cannot fix. I can host a website on my Raspberry Pi, but that depends on hardware and software. Even it if that was all open source is far beyond my understanding. So to the complexity of the IndieWeb. I am not sure if mastodon has any less turtles than the IndieWeb. Micro.blog certainly show the way to simplicity.
    I’ve found the IndieWeb to be tricky, bits don’t work for me, or need twiddling, or more time and knowledge than I have. I see it as an add on from the activity of blogging, which I’ll do anyway. It is not in opposition to mastodon or federation, but for me is just a few more cogs and pipes. If the IndieWeb breaks or goes away my blog will still be there. If twitter explodes the replies to my blog posts will still be in my database.
    So I an a blogger first and see other things as an add-on to my blog. I understand the need for a less commercial and algorithmic network with a low technical entry barrier.
    Mastodon has not yet clicked for me, I did for a short time have my posts syndicating there, but I’ve broken that somehow;-) It might yet. Other things might come along, I continue to keep half an eye on Moodle net.

    Also on: Twitter icon

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