David Bowie interview
Tantek: Hi, my name is Tantek Çelik and I’m here to tell you about the two hardest problems in computer science: projector hardware, naming things, and off-by-one errors.
I remember 1999, but let’s fast forward to the present, now it’s 2019, 20 years later.
Some things have not turned out like we expected them to, back in 1999.
The world’s largest social network is actively enabling AstroTurfing of election campaigns, if not outright manipulation. This is just happening recently.
Instead of turning the internet into this repository of information and knowledge free for everyone to share, they accelerate and spread misinformation, and, worse than that, misinformation that then encourages harassment.
It gets worse. Algorithms designed to make you remember a memory with all kinds of assumptions of privilege built into them are being used to autogenerate hateful content, celebrating some of the worst things, worst aspects of human society.
As Charlie pointed out, the bar has been set pretty low. Don’t enable genocide.
If those global harms seem a little abstract and distant, I want to bring this to a level closer which is, there’s active harm occurring with the censorship and repression of underprivileged populations. They call it being "Zucked", or being put in Facebook jail.
As if being racist wasn’t enough, or encouraging it, they’ve actively been profiting off of racism as well. Now, as the Guardian points out, this article is one-year-old. I’m hoping that they’ve actually cracked down on this, but the question I would ask is: have they turned around and taken all that money made from selling advertising to racists and donated it back to the Anti-Defamation League? I don’t know. Does anyone?
This is not new information. They’ve admitted to deliberately engineering to exploit human vulnerabilities, to understanding human psychology, understanding how our brain works.
A study by Harvard looked into the different methods by which Facebook interacted with the dopamine response and found there are three different dopamine pathways that Facebook has actually taken advantage of, reinforcing their mechanisms of addiction. They’re building software that is smarter than our ability to out-think it, or out-feel it.
A few years ago, they introduced "The Algorithm", a method of showing you information that was supposed to be more relevant. It turned out it was more relevant to get you to engage, which I feel is a euphemism for "stay addicted", and one of the side effects of this is increased polarisation, amplified rage, and the spreading of conspiracy theories.
As if outright polarisation and increasing rage wasn’t enough, they decided to do emotional experiments, without anyone’s consent, or without disclosure, altering what people saw in their feeds to see if what you saw could make you happier or more sad — they found that it did.
To bring this down to a personal level, if all of those harms weren’t enough, active use has been found to be personally harmful to individuals. It doesn’t make you happy. It makes you more sad — miserable.
I really like this picture in particular. It looked like it could be a stock photo shot, but I’m sure you’ve seen scenes similar to this, people glued to their phones scrolling away at social media and perhaps feeling even more disconnected than ever before. None of these people are alone. They’re obviously sitting with people, perhaps even with friends, but they’re not engaging in real life. They’re engaging with their rectangles.
I could go on and on, but I will stop and just refer you to Wikipedia. I looked and Facebook is the only social network that has a dedicated Wikipedia page just for criticism. And even the Wikipedia editors have decided this is too long of an article. Please consider splitting it into sub articles and let’s see if this works. I’m going to try this fancy new technology called transclusion. It just keeps going and going and going. Yeah.
As Charlie so eloquently put it, "fuck Facebook"! But how about something more actionable? [Applause]. Yes, it feels good, it feels good to express that rage. No wait a minute, that’s what they’re doing to us. They’re making us angry, they’re making us engaged in our limbic system and not thinking about it.
So I will take it up one notch and tell you and recommend you stop scrolling Facebook. Everyone say it with me: stop scrolling Facebook. One more time. Stop scrolling Facebook. This is an excellent start. If you’re able to do that, then maybe you could take the next step. How many times do we pick up our devices, reflexively?
Stop checking Facebook. Each and every one of us, if you’re here, you at least have some level of privilege. You have the ability to stop engaging in something. In fact, you have the ability to just pause.
[screen goes blank]
How is it that Doro just put it? Let me check my notes ... . [Laughter]. Yes, I deserve the right to be inefficient. I’ll go even further, I deserve the right to do nothing - nothing at all.
Nothing can be uncomfortable. But it is also amazing how productive nothing can be.
You might already feel yourself breathing differently, from not seeing anything on the screen. Maybe you should go for a walk. This weekend, at IndieWeb Camp Düsseldorf, one of the participants remarked, I want to do this simple, I don’t want to maintain my server because I want to go for a hike in the woods. I really like that prioritisation.
So I will put this up here. Yes, it’s a screen we are looking at. But think of it as a reminder. You can stop what you’re doing, stop your engagement with the screen and go for a hike in the woods. Maybe you’ll have some thoughts. Maybe you can take a nap in the woods. I’ve got to try this new technique "napworking".
Maybe you will find some flowers. Maybe you will stop to smell the flowers? Maybe you will be inspired to take a picture of the flowers. Great. Save them to look at later. Maybe you will write down your thoughts, a poem, a song. Maybe after that, you will feel motivated to share it with a friend. Maybe a few friends. Maybe — well, stop right there. Before we go any further,
I want to go back to 1999. And once again,
David Bowie. In 1999, he was the first artist that launched a complete music album on his own website davidbowie.com two weeks before it was available in stores. It was 20 years ago. David Bowie was IndieWeb before we even had a name for it.
Let’s fast-forward back to 2019. Here, Beyond Tellerrand, Düsseldorf, 2019: I actually have some good news for you, in the present day.
Here are all the speakers you’ve seen. Every single one of these speakers has their own domain. Every single one of these speakers — Every. Single. One. All of them, or perhaps almost all of them, have their own website, and actively use it to share content. This isn’t something that’s limited or exclusive to speakers. Everyone that was a speaker, at one point wasn’t a speaker. Everyone can have their own website.
I’m going to show you a few of these because they are so inspiring and different that it just makes you want to sit down and start coding something up.
This really is the underlying message here. When you have your own website, you get to choose. You can choose if you just want a one-pager, something really simple, perhaps some contact information, perhaps just linked to other profiles elsewhere. I think there was an entire start-up created just to do that. You can create a portfolio page. You can reference your work elsewhere. You can create a bunch of static images. You can make it HTML and CSS. This is the bottom line. You get to choose.
But you have to start with choosing your identity online. You do have to start with picking a domain name. And talking with the few people this weekend and here at the conference, I suggest asking around. The people sitting next to you, one of them probably has their own domain name if you don’t already. Ask them: where do they host it? Where did they register the domain? Find out. Something that’s less than the cost of a phone - much less - or internet service. What can you do with a domain?
The next step. And each of these steps you can take one at a time, when you feel like it, when you’ve got the time to do it, is to own your content.
Many of our speakers are doing that as well.
I’ll just flip through a few of these, because as you can see, they do look different.
I really liked Mike Hill’s presentation. It was incredibly inspiring. The stories we tell do matter. The stories we tell about the world around us, the stories we tell about what we can do.
I haven’t seen a single site that looked the same like any other of these sites. The diversity of all these sites just blows my mind, and none of them seem to be using that kind of three-column cliché bootstrap-y thing. You don’t have to do that. You can choose.
All of that was true in 1999. What’s different today, in 2019, are two things, and the first of those is that you can choose your connections between your website and other websites and interactions between them. That’s new, that’s something that the IndieWeb community has figured out, has helped people deploy, has helped build the tools to do. I’m going to show you a few examples of that as well.
Of all the home pages, Charlie’s is the only one that shows likes. Have you ever seen that before? I think it’s kind of amazing. So you can like her page. Which makes you wonder: why do you need a Facebook page that can get likes when you can make your own website that can get likes?
So how does this work? Well, I will show you one more example: the blog of this very conference. Here’s a blog post. It’s got reposts and likes.
These are enabled through a couple of minimal building blocks called Webmention and microformats2. These are web standards.
Webmention has been standardised at the W3C over two years ago, and is steadily growing. It’s got an open test suite. It’s got over a dozen interoperable implementations, that are able to contact each other. Do you remember Pingback? Anyone here? Remember Pingback? A few folks. Webmention is basically the evolution of Pingback. What we did with Webmention was drop the XML because it turned out you didn’t actually need XML-RPC to make Webmention work. Instead, we used simple form-based interaction. You can actually build an HTML form that will send a Webmention without any coding, any back-end coding at all. In addition, Webmention has been taken through all the security reviews and tightened up. There are extensions to help fight spam and abuse, which was always a problem with Pingback. And most interestingly, we added update and delete protocols, so when you send a Webmention from one site to another to create an interaction like a like, you can also update it or you cand send a deletion request as well. A complete CRUD protocol.
Microformats2 is the evolution of semantic HTML. Designed after the natural behaviour and patterns that web designers came up with, microformats2 codifies and makes that syntax explicit in a parsing specification which is now implemented in almost a dozen different languages. Again, with a test suite so that you know, that the implementations are interoperable. In addition, it’s a set of common vocabularies.
One of the most used vocabularies, which these interactions are using is called h-entry. h-entry is built on the Atom entry element semantics, which itself was built on RSS. So all these pieces have been evolving over time. We’ve been simplifying them, making them more accessible, more easy to create, reducing the number of technologies you need to learn. What is microformats? Simple bits of HTML. That’s literally it. If you know HTML, if you know how to use class names, you know how to use microformats.
This abides by one of the basic architectural principles of the web, which is small pieces loosely joined. There are other features that you can do on the IndieWeb — and I will talk about a few of those — that involve other building blocks. The key here is that with each step you can enable more functionality, and each step by itself is something that is simple and accessible, something that you can complete in an afternoon, or a weekend.
I didn’t tell Marc I was going to do this, and I know how much he hates attention. This is Marc’s website, and he supports Webmentions as well. There’s an Interview with The Dorf. There’s his likes. There’s one I posted on my site. There’s one from Carolyn.
And one more post from Marc. Marc almost always posts positive things. I really admire that about him. But I can relate to this as well, Did I Miss Something on Medium? How many remember when Medium’s design was so beautiful that it made you think, "I don’t want to maintain my own blog, I want to blog there. It looks great." Remember when that was true? How many people just abandoned their blogs and said I will switch to Medium because they’ve done a great job, the presentation is awesome, the styling is awesome, the UI is awesome, and then this happened — and more. And now why would you want to write and publish someplace that gives your readers such a horrible user experience? A bit of a UX bait-and-switch. But that’s not why I came to this post.
I came to this post because it was obviously really popular, and Marc has chosen how he wanted to display the responses, including comments. He was thinking, it’s a blog, blogs have comments. However, if you scroll down to the bottom, lots of comments, apparently. There is no comment form. All of these comments are coming in via Webmention and being read using microformats. So this is the beauty of the IndieWeb, is that we don’t need to have things called Webmentions, we have comments already. It just seamlessly works the way that you want a UX to work.
So how do you get started with that? You saw the GitHub template page. How do you get started with owning your content? In 2019, there are three distinct paths to take depending how much time you want to spend, versus how convenient you want it to be.
Micro.blog launched and is an excellent service that launched with support for all these IndieWeb protocols and standards. You literally sign up there, they have beautiful instructions there for how to add your domain name and how to be hosted there. You could be using micro.blog as your content hosting service, but all your URLs, your domain, your name, all your content belongs to you. The next step is, use a CMS. I’m sure there are some folks who use a CMS out there, like WordPress, or Drupal, Kirby, Craft, maybe Known. All of those either support these protocols built-in, or have plugins, actively maintained.
And lastly, because the IndieWeb is a bit of a hacker, tinker, creator community as well, there are quite a number of us that are making our own CMSs. Why? Maybe it’s something we want to customise. Again, you can choose. You can choose your level of involvement, your level of convenience, your level of flexibility.
And this is the second of the two new things from the IndieWeb. Which is the experience side. What did we say earlier? Stop scrolling Facebook. That experience of scrolling Facebook, of constantly looking at social media is what’s bringing us down.
And so it’s one thing to own your domain, to publish all this content on your domain that you’re now in control of. That feels great, that sense of ownership, that sense of I don’t have to worry if my site’s going to get taken down, or I don’t have to worry if my Twitter’s going to get locked. I have some recent experience with that. I can still post on my own site. How did Jeremy put it? He said, well I could see what you posted that pissed them off — a bunch of running pictures. Maybe it was the alt text. But this is the key piece, is to be able to be in control of your experience as well as what you express on the web.
Aaron Parecki wrote a blog post about the evolution of readers. So even though Google killed Reader, a bunch of independent RSS readers sprung up in its place and have had some amount of uptake. There’s a further step has been taken in the evolution of readers, which he’s calling IndieWeb readers, and he has successfully set his up so he doesn’t have to visit Twitter or Facebook any more. He does still uses the Instagram app just to post, but he doesn’t have to visit there. He still has accounts there. And how does he do that?
He uses a set-up with any one of a number of interoperable social readers. You might think well what’s different about these? What’s different about these readers and RSS readers is that they allow interaction right there inline with the content you’re reading. You’re in control of who you follow, so you’re in control of who shows up on your feed, instead of random suggestions. And the items show up in time order. A brilliant concept! But it’s this interactive piece that really makes the difference. Right there in the reader, you can reply, you can repost, you can like, bookmark, and that works with a handful of other IndieWeb building blocks — Microsub, Micropub, IndieAuth.
All of these readers interoperate. That is, you can be using one to read your content, switch to another — let’s say you like one reader on desktop and one on mobile — and they are in sync in terms of the items you’ve seen before, and that is using this protocol called Microsub to synchronise your reading lists, to synchronise who you’re following and what you’ve read with your own server.
Just like websites, the diversity of the UXs of these readers is amazing. Together has different views, for example. One of the views is a map view where you can see where your friends have checked in, for those of us that still use Swarm. It’s got a photos view that’s got a beautiful gallery mode. Again, this is all coming from people’s own websites. So not only can you choose how you want to publish, you get to choose how you want to read, and that perhaps is the most powerful side of all, because now you’ve taken control of what was previously triggering you and reinforcing the addictive behaviour, and instead, you’ve chosen exactly what you want to see and when you want to see it.
How do you get started with a reader? That blank GitHub site that I pointed you at earlier, that has the minimal pieces you need. You set that up on a static GitHub domain with your own domain name, and you can sign into the social readers and start using them right away.
You don’t even need to publish content if you just want to change how you read content. Most recently, like two days ago, Matthias Ott, who is a brilliant UX designer, wrote this blog post "Into the Personal-Website-Verse". I said wow, my job is almost done, I’m going to cut my presentation short because he goes into so many good reasons why you should be on the independent web.
I’m not going to scroll the whole thing here, but there is one piece in particular that I want to point to. It’s this quoted tweet from Sara Soueidan (and I’m probably saying that wrong so I apologize Sara). But a lot of people ask me why do I need an independent website? Why do I need my own website? Do I deserve my own website? Yes of course you deserve your own website.
If you code, if you tinker, if you design, I think Sarah’s appeal is the best. Her favourite part is she gets to use it to experiment with the latest and greatest features, and she talks about using it professionally for what she did to learn. Her CSS grid implementation, service workers, CSS variables. I just recently started using those myself, like ten days ago. They’re awesome. I added theming to my site. All of those, on her own site. And there’s more. I’m not going to scroll the whole thing. I highly recommend you read his blog post. It’s excellent.
Where does this bring us? This is his call to action to join the independent web. And that’s what I want to tell you to do as well. Here are two easy-to-remember entry points for you. If you’re online and you want to get started, indieweb.org/start. But more importantly, I think the value of engaging with people in-person is not to be underestimated. I met Marc because of IndieWebCamp. And I would suggest checking out one of the IndieWeb events that happen, in particular,
IndieWebCamp. We just held two of of them, one in Düsseldorf and one in Berlin. How many here have been to an IndieWebCamp? Okay, look around you, and look at the people holding their hands up. Maybe say hi, and introduce yourself. Ask them what did you experience? What was it like? Is it something you would go to again? I bet each of them will have a good story to tell you.
Here are the upcoming IndieWebCamps in case any of these cities are near you. Utrecht coming up this weekend. Portland, Oregon end of June we are having our IndieWeb Summit, Oxford’s doing one end of September, and Brighton in October. And these events are run like BarCamps which means they’re either free to attend, or there’s a minimal fee just for registration or donation purposes. No-one is ever turned away for lack of funds. These aren’t professional conferences. These are user-generated or un-conferences, the participants make the conference happen, and get the most out of it by doing so.
I want to emphasise and remind you the four things that we talked about: choose your identity, own your own domain name, choose your expression and own your content. Start posting on your own site, either rather, instead of, or before you post on social media silos. Choose your connections. Decide what you want to show from other sites on your site. If you want to show likes great. You want to show reposts? Great. You want to show comments? You can choose, which kind of things you show, what kind of interactions. You can choose who they come from. You have all that control. And lastly, choose your experience. Take active control of what you read and consume on the internet. What you read and consume helps shape your own personal story of what the internet’s about and what the web is about. Take those four steps and you can take back your web. Thank you.
[Cheering and applause].