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Building a respectful social publishing platform that gives you full control #indieweb

3 min read

Tim Carmody wrote a great piece how the social web is not living up to its promise on Friday:

Still, for as long as the web does work this way, we are never only these companies' "products," but their producers, too. And to the extent that these companies show they aren't willing to live up to the basic agreement that we make these things and give them to you so you will show them to other people -- the engine that makes this whole world wide web business go -- I'm not going to have anything to do with them any more. What's more, I'll get mad enough to find a place that will show the things I write to other people and tell them they shouldn't accept it either. Because, ultimately, you ought to be ashamed to treat people and the things they make this way.

As I replied on my personal Known site, this isn't necessarily an issue with the social web at all. Disrespectful software has become so commonplace that we've come to see it as the new normal.

Here at Known, we're committed to building easy-to-use tools that empower people to publish on spaces that they fully control. More than that, we're committed to doing so respectfully. That means we won't spy on you and won't perform psychological tests on you without your consent (or, in fact, even with your consent). We may perform A/B tests and do rigorous user research, because that's how software is made, but we'll do so transparently, and in adherence with ethical guidelines. To that end, we've already open sourced the materials we use to perform user interviews.

Why are we doing this? Partially because those are the ideals that led us to found the company in the first place. However, it's also good business: we're working with educators and journalists, and in both cases, we don't believe these practices would be ethical. Universities should not allow their students to be spied or experimented upon, and the sanctity of journalists' sources is paramount. For these kinds of organizations, respectful software isn't just an ideal: it's a feature.

We're not doing this in a vacuumL we're building our product in collaboration with these organizations. If you're a media company or an institution that is looking for a social publishing platform that gives you full control, get in touch with us. We're looking forward to working with you.

Working to bridge the #indieweb knowledge gap

5 min read

More than any stated principle of the indie web, I hold onto this core idea: Have your own website and really OWN it. Make it your content, make it your style, make it the greatest representation of you online. For some of us, that might mean that our websites are the singular hubs of all the content that we publish online, but if you’re not a content creator, it could mean something else for you. Your website is your own space to express yourself however you’d like.

The indie web is a movement; it’s not based on any one single platform. It’s based on a set of technologies that support interoperability between platforms. Known is one of those platforms, and we hope it becomes an easy and accessible option for people who wish to participate in the indie web.

For me personally, I rarely use Facebook anymore but I do use Twitter regularly. I’ve experimented in past years with pulling my stream of tweets in as a timeline on my personal website. For almost a year now, I’ve been doing something of the opposite – publishing my timeline of tweets and status updates directly on my own site (erinjo.is) and then syndicating that to Twitter, Facebook, App.net, etc. This is listed as Level 2 “Publishing on the IndieWeb” on IndieWebify.me.

My personal stream runs on Known, and it supports all of the stages outlined on IndieWebify.Me. This is what enables me to publish on my site, syndicate my content to various social networks, reply to tweets, and pull social interactions back to my site. However, the steps to achieve all of this are beyond what I could have set up on my own.

One of the reasons Ben and I wanted to turn Known into a company and a full-time endeavor was to bring these indie web technologies to a wider net of content creators and publishers. As Lynne Baer rightly points out there is a big knowledge and skills gap between merely having a personal website and having a personal website that’s set up with the various technologies needed to make things like web mentions and federated conversations happen.

Together, Ben and I are trying to build a platform that lets anyone easily create a site, choose a theme or customize a style, and share their stories with audiences on any platform. We’re not just focused on authors or bloggers. We are a publishing platform, but in addition to shorter status updates and longer posts or essays, we’re working to create a great experience for photographers sharing images, podcasters sharing audio, and filmmakers sharing videos. If you have a story to tell, we want to support you.

We’re working to build a platform that supports the open web and is intuitive and easy to use. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer. Some features are currently concept-only, and the platform is in active development. Ben set up a really great foundation, and I’m looking forward to iterating on the existing interfaces and user flows over the summer. As we collaborate on new developments during the next few months, we have the luxury of carrying out small user tests and working with some early alpha users to make sure we get things right.

For Known, some of these indie web foundations are what make the platform unique. However, the indie web – as a concept and a movement – is not widely known or understood. It’s gaining recognition, but it’s still a niche concept. As a company, we have to figure out a way to explain the indie web and its backing concepts to the masses. We have to address questions about ownership and identity online. We have to address feedback such as, “Is the indie web just a gathering of geeks doing geeky web stuff together, or is it actually turning into something greater?”

If you’re just learning about the indie web, you may find that there’s a lot of technology and terminology that’s new or hard to understand. There’s more that I want to do – and more that I can do – to provide clarity and understanding around some of the language and concepts that are part of the indie web ecosystem.

And in terms of Known? We still have a lot to do, but over the course of the summer here are some of the things we’re working toward:

  • an easy installer that works with a variety of hosts
  • human-friendly documentation
  • intuitive posting interfaces
  • a platform that isn’t just English-centric (we have plans for translation once the platform development has progressed a bit)

Known is an open source tool, so your contributions are always welcome. But we’d also love your feedback and questions. We’re building this with people in mind, so please reach out if you have something to share.

Why we believe in the #indieweb

2 min read

The headline quote from last night's Homebrew Website Club meetup at Mozilla San Francisco was from Kate Losse, author of The Boy Kings:

"I'm here right now because I realized my favorite platform is writing on my own website."

The indie web is a movement of publishers, developers and site owners who see the potential of the web as a democratic platform where anyone can own their own space and participate as an equal. Rather than posting to a small number of silo sites like Facebook and Twitter, the movement believes writers, artists, musicians and other publishers should post to sites that they own.

By "ownership", we really mean "self-determination". People should be able to control the look and feel of their digital identities; who can see each piece of content; what happens to the data. It's possible that your site will live on a server that actually sits inside your home, but it doesn't have to. The most important thing is that, when it comes to your identity online, you call the shots.

As the social researcher danah boyd noted in her latest book:

"Privacy doesn't just depend on agency; being able to achieve privacy is an expression of agency."

Controlling who can see something you post is part of owning that post. So is controlling the look and feel, the content, and which media you choose to use. On an indie website, nobody else gets to say what, where, or how you post. On a silo, that might not be true.

How we represent ourselves online is more important than ever for individuals, businesses and organizations. Our web profiles are used when we apply for jobs, make business deals, meet new friends and start new relationships. Isn't it time we demanded that our identities were our own?