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We spent a great weekend helping @DavidsonCollege design their @DavidsonDomains program. Excited!

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A short note about web standards from your friends at Known

5 min read


As a company, we have a mission. We've read lots of advice since we started about how you should show, not tell, your reason for being. That makes sense to us, but here it is:

Known empowers every group and individual to communicate from their own space on the Internet.

It's a pretty simple idea: the Internet should be a level playing field for everybody, whether you're a student in a developing nation, a lone hobbyist, or giant tech company. The Internet works best when everyone can communicate with everyone else, without censorship or uneven distribution. It's an ideal we share with other open organizations like Mozilla.

One of the things that makes this work is standardization. Everything on the Internet talks the same underlying languages. It's worked pretty well for the low-level networking protocols that move data; it's worked well for applications like email; and it's worked well for the web.

The web in particular has become the most powerful communications medium human civilization has ever known. That's a pretty big statement, but consider the cultural impact of blogging and social media on society in a relatively short space of time. Facebook - undeniably part of the web - has, by itself, at least 1.44 billion people who use it regularly to talk to their friends, share photographs and learn about the world.

The web grew organically, like the Internet before it. Like any technology, it's a little older now, and it's missing a few things. There's no agreed-upon concept of identity on the web, and no way to represent actions like "sharing" and "liking". We are also in a multi-device world, rather than one where we access the web solely from a computer screen. Understandably, work is underway to upgrade and improve the standards we rely upon. Just as we need HTML to have an agreed-upon way to display information on the web, we now need a way to deal with these new uses of it.

Standards without grassroots adoption are just bureaucracy. It's crucial that any new "standard" is broadly embraced without coercion.

These standards can't be dictated by large corporations alone (although they're an important part of the web ecosystem). If we want the web to continue to be the platform for innovation it has been to date, it must serve the interests of individuals: both individual developers, and people who rely on it to live and work.

In the latest version of Known, we shipped experimental support for Accelerated Mobile Pages. This is an answer to something called Facebook Instant Pages, which caches website content inside a mobile app so it can be displayed immediately. While Instant Pages content must be negotiated with Facebook, anyone can publish AMP content. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, AMP redefines the HTML standard with some custom tags. That's not great. It also requires that we load JavaScript from a specific source, which radically centralizes website content. We assume this is a shim until these features are more widely supported, so we can live with that. What's less impressive is that AMP whitelists ad networks that participating pages can be a part of. If you're not generating ad revenue from one of A9, AdReactor, AdSense, AdTech or Doubleclick and want to have your websites load swiftly inside social mobile apps, you're out of luck.

We've shipped support for AMP because we see potential here, and recognize that something should be done to improve the experience of loading independently-published content on the web. But attempting to bake certain businesses into a web standard is a malformed idea that is doomed to fail. If this is not corrected in future versions of the specification, we will withdraw support.

Elsewhere, we see other web standards efforts attempt to bake in certain ideologies or approaches. I think it's important to understand that the web succeeded because:

  • It's open
  • It's easy
  • It's agnostic

Here's what I think that means in practice:

Open: Any new web standard must be created as part of an open process. Imagine if Marc Andreessen hadn't been free to propose the img tag, for example. It also can't be created behind closed doors, or solely as part of organizations that require an entrance fee. The conversations that shape the standards have to be open, too, which means being welcoming to newcomers and understanding of different personal contexts.

Easy: Any new web standard must be easy enough to understand and implement that a developer can get something up and running in an afternoon. HTML, HTTP and RSS all adhere to these principles. So do the indieweb protocols, which is why we support them and think they are likely to succeed.

Agnostic: Any new web standard should not give preference to any company or organization.

We believe in the web, and the Internet as a whole, as an incredibly powerful platform for innovation, business, communication and personal expression. To do that means standing up for openness and accessibility.

Self-hosted Known 0.8.5 has left the building - with better indieweb, micropub and AMP support.

1 min read

We just released Known 0.8.5, which you can download from our website.

This version contains expanded support for the micropub open standard, so you can use open tools like Quill and Woodwind to post to your Known site. It also contains experimental support for Accelerated Mobile Pages. We have more to say about both, and open standards on the web in general, at a later time.

There's also a new command line tool, with a simple plugin interface, so server administrators can script certain tasks to run automatically.

Here's the full list of changes:

  • Experimental AMP support
  • Better support for embedded content
  • A slew of indieweb improvements, including upgraded micropub support for actions like likes and reshares
  • A command line tool (with extensible plugin interface) to automatically create a config.ini file, among other things
  • Themes now take template precedence over plugins - so a theme can create a new style for a plugin-provided feature
  • Known now works better under FastCGI on some shared hosts
  • Lots of API fixes and consistency changes under the hood

If you prefer, of course, you can get a fully-featured Known site on our fully-managed service.

Known Announces DreamHost as Exclusive Web Hosting Sponsor

3 min read

SAN FRANCISCO, September 29, 2015 – Known, an open source publishing platform used to empower both individuals and groups to own their social activity online, today announced that it had entered into an exclusive web hosting sponsorship agreement with DreamHost, the Los Angeles based web host and domain registrar. This exclusive sponsorship will help fund further development on Known, and allow Known users to easily find high-quality hosting for their sites at a special price.

“DreamHost is one of the most trusted web hosts in the world, as well as a prominent supporter of open source software, and we’re excited to work with them,” said Known CEO Ben Werdmuller.  “Web hosts like DreamHost empower anyone to own a space on the Internet, and this collaboration makes it easier than ever. DreamHost services are fully compatible with Known, and we recommend them for supporting Known sites.” 

DreamHost will be visible across Known’s websites, and in the administration panel of the software itself. Known has also committed to make installation of its software as simple as possible across DreamHost services.

DreamHost has long been a supporter of open source platforms, and is a major supporter of Open Stack solutions. As well as affordable web hosting, the company provides virtual and dedicated web servers, standards-based block storage, and domain registration.

Known was a graduate of Matter Ventures, a values-based accelerator in downtown San Francisco backed by the Knight Foundation, PRX and KQED. It released its first beta version in September 2014, and powers tens of thousands of social community sites. Its group sites are used by universities and organizations around the world.

For organizations in sectors other than web hosting, the benefits of sponsoring Known include:

  1. Value from association with the project and its mission of allowing everyone to own their social activity online
  2. Recognition of sponsorship on Known web presences and in the administration panel of the Known software

About DreamHost

DreamHost is a global Web hosting and cloud services company with over 370,000 entrepreneur and developer customers, and 1.3 million blogs, websites, and apps hosted. The Company develops and uses Open Source software throughout its infrastructure, and is a leading proponent of OpenStack and Ceph. DreamHost offers a wide spectrum of Web services including Shared Hosting, Virtual Private Servers (VPS), Dedicated Server Hosting, Domain Name Registration, the public cloud storage service, DreamObjects, and the public cloud computing service, DreamCompute. Please visit for more information.

About Known

Known is a provider of open source social software solutions for groups and individuals. Its flagship product allows anyone to run a group website where participants can publish and discuss using a variety of media. Known also provides consultancy services to media companies, universities and corporations, helping them own their social activity online. Please visit for more information.

Self-hosted Known 0.8.4 has left the building!

1 min read

We just released Known 0.8.4, which you can download from our website. Here are some of the fixes and changes:

  • See who you've invited to Known, and resend or rescind invitations
  • Hashtag linking improvements
  • List your Bitcoin, Spotify and SIP addresses in your profile
  • Upload SVG pictures
  • Numerous interface improvements

Known 0.8.4 also contains many more fixes and improvements. You can download the Known 0.8.4 package from our open source page.

If you prefer, you can get a free Known site on our fully-managed service.

Create an enterprise social discussion space in 3 minutes

3 min read

Over 90% of organizations have some kind of social network running internally. As the co-founder of Elgg, one of the first internal social networking solutions, I find this gratifying: 12 years ago, few people saw the potential for social technology beyond personal blogging and sharing.

Unfortunately, too many organizations choose to purchase an enterprise social solution with a Field of Dreams mentality: "if you build it, they will come". On the contrary, as Harvard Business Review noted recently:

The reality is that the landscape is littered with failed technology deployments. Altimeter’s research shows that less than half of the enterprise collaboration tools installed have many employees using them regularly.

When we work with higher education, we're keen to point out that technology should support teaching, and not the other way around (a curriculum shouldn't be moulded around the capabilities of your technology). The same is true in organizations: the way your enterprise functions should be in tune with your business goals, rather than the software you happen to be using.

Forcing people to use an internal social platform is counter-intuitive. Instead, it makes sense to provide a platform that supports you when you need it, in a flexible way. That means it's got to be simple, support ad-hoc use, but allow you to keep your activity around in case you need to refer to it later. Many organizations also require the ability to audit activity.

If you just need to create a one-off simple space to bring up to 200 people in to discuss a project either privately or publicly, you can use Known Pro. $10 for up to 200 users with unlimited storage and bandwidth is hard to beat. Signing up and inviting your users in takes less than three minutes. (I know: I've timed it countless times.)

If you're the kind of firm that needs to run social spaces on your own infrastructure, for compliance or legislative reasons, Known can provide this too. We can also run Known on a fully-managed private cloud for you.

We can also create a system for your organization that allows you to create unlimited social discussion spaces, all linked to your existing accounts via Single Sign On (in education, we use LTI; in enterprise, LDAP and Shibboleth are available). You can easily keep track of all the project spaces that have been created, and you can control access individually - which means you can invite people from outside your organization to help with a project, on a project-by-project basis.

It's completely customizable, flexible, easy-to-use, and mobile-first. We're proud to give you full control over your data and discussions.

To learn more about how Known can help your enterprise, get in touch.

Three features to make #edtech classroom life easier

2 min read

One of the best parts of my job is speaking to educators and learning about how they teach. Teachers are amazing: creative and inspiring, often in the face of limited resources.

A trend we've seen is that teachers are frustrated by the social publishing and discussion features provided by their Learning Management System. While an LMS can help with grades and assignments, often it's important for a class to share their reflections, discuss ideas with each other, and post links, bookmarks and other resources relevant to their class from the outside world.

Known has always let you publish and discuss in a group using a variety of media: blog posts, bookmarks, status updates, audio, photos and more. It's always been mobile-first, had a choice of visual themes, and included full search and hashtag support. Recently, we also added per-post access permissions, so you can choose how widely you share your thoughts. (Not everyone is comfortable publishing to the whole group right away.)

Now, we've added a few new features to our turnkey campus product that we think make Known even better for class use.

Seamless single sign on integration with your LMS via LTI. If you're unfamiliar with LTI, it allows you to create a very simple single sign on link from your LMS. Students just click a link from their class in the learning management system and they're immediately logged into their class Known site.

A searchable student directory. See who else is in your class, search for them by name or profile information, and click through to see what they've posted.

File uploads. This is probably our most-requested feature: the ability to post any file, as well as your thoughts about them. If you need to share a PDF or a Powerpoint presentation with your class, now you can.

These features are only available as part of Known's campus plan, which also comes with unlimited storage and bandwidth. We think it's a great solution for institutions and educators who want to add better social discussion and publishing to their classes.

To learn more, check out Known for Education, or get in touch to have a conversation with us about how we can support you.

Self-hosted Known 0.8.3 has left the building!

1 min read

We just released Known 0.8.3, which you can download from our website. Here are some of the fixes and changes:

  • Block users by email address
  • Fixes a bug with per-item access permissions in location check-ins
  • Improved Convoy display for syndicated content
  • Most content types now have a rich text editor
  • Improved interactions
  • Improved audio player display
  • Improved RSS feed display
  • Fixed an issue with saving configuration
  • Experimental Postgres support
  • Such dogeon support so removed wow

You can download the Known 0.8.3 package from our open source page.

If you prefer, you can get a free Known site on our fully-managed service.

How to do more with RSS feeds

5 min read

do more with rss feeds

When you think of RSS feeds, you likely imagine feed readers and news aggregators. Feed readers are a great way to subscribe to and view content from many sources, but there are other ways to use RSS feeds to your advantage. Below I’ve outlined three interesting ways to use feeds without a feed reader: through updates in Slack, by using IFTTT to send updates to your calendar, and by getting a daily email digest. Read on to learn how to set these up for yourself.

Send RSS feeds to Slack

RSS feeds in Slack

Slack is a popular group communication app. It features integrations with a number of services like Github, Google Drive, and Twitter, which makes it a nice way to keep everyone from your company or group up-to-date with changes.

If you use Slack, did you know that you can subscribe to RSS feeds through the service? Keep tabs on a company blog or streams from different group members.

To add an RSS feed to your group’s Slack visit From there, you can add a feed URL and choose which Slack channel the updates should go to. I created a new channel called for mine. Updates are fetched periodically.

Send RSS feeds to Google Calendar

Send RSS feeds to Google Calendar with IFTTT

While you might think that RSS feeds are really only about reading the latest blog posts, I’ve found them very valuable as a tool for logging updates to my calendar.

First with Foursquare - and now with check-ins from Known - for several years I’ve used feeds to record the locations of places I’ve traveled to, restaurants I liked, and events I’ve attended. They’re synced up with my Google Calendar so that I always have a calendar-based record of my locations. I’ve found this to be very useful to find dates for different trips I’ve taken in the past.

I’ve also done something similar with tweets and status updates for many years. Twitter has always made it hard to search your own tweets. By sending tweets and updates to my calendar, I was able to keep a daily diary-type view of updates that I shared.

If you save updates or locations (or anything else) in Known, it’s easy to do something similar with IFTTT and Google Calendar.

First, you’ll want to create an account with IFTTT if you don’t already have one. IFTTT is useful service that lets you tie different platforms together through recipes. Once you’re signed up, you’ll need to create a new recipe. The recipes tie services together through the statement, “if this then that,” where “this” and “that” are triggers and actions.

For your “this” trigger, search and select “feed.” Choose the “new feed item” and input your RSS feed URL. If you’re using Known and want to save locations, your RSS feed URL will follow this format:

If you’re using Known and want to save status updates, you’ll have a feed URL like this:

If you want to save other types of content from Known (or maybe all content that you publish with Known) they’ll follow similar formats. Just add ?_t=rss to your URL.

Once you’ve created your trigger, you need to choose an action. This is where you’ll send updates to Google Calendar. Select “that” and then search for and choose Google Calendar. If you haven’t already authorized Google Calendar with your IFTTT account, you may need to do this as an intermediate step. Next select “quick add event.” You’ll have the opportunity to modify the action text that gets saved to your calendar. You can update this or leave it as is.

Once you create your action, you’ll be asked to give the new recipe a name. Save it, and you’re done. You should start to see updates from your RSS feed appearing on your Google Calendar now.

Create an email digest from RSS feeds

RSS feed email digest with Blogtrottr

Feed readers are great, but many of us are still glued to our email for frequent updates and notifications. Feed service Bloggtrottr turns RSS feeds into daily email digests to read in your inbox. If you’ve got a handful of sites that regularly post content, this could be a great way to catch up with the latest from the comfort of your email client.

To use Blogtrottr, you’ll need to give the service an RSS feed, your email address, and then choose an email frequency. There are options for daily, every few hours, and realtime. The realtime updates work with sites that support PuSH (which Known does). Basic accounts are free and include ads in the emails, but you can update to a paid plan for more features and customizations.

If you liked this article, you may like my previous post "How to get RSS feeds for your favorite services".