Categories
Applications Web/Tech

The original WorldWideWeb browser has been revived … in your modern browser

This is an awesome project:

In December 1990, an application called WorldWideWeb was developed on a NeXT machine at The European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN) just outside of Geneva. This program – WorldWideWeb — is the antecedent of most of what we consider or know of as “the web” today.

In February 2019, in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the development of WorldWideWeb, a group of developers and designers convened at CERN to rebuild the original browser within a contemporary browser, allowing users around the world to experience the origins of this transformative technology.

CERN 2019 WorldWideWeb Rebuild

My first browser was probably one of the early Netscape browsers (I loved those browsers), although it’s possible I may have started off with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer given how prevalent it was in those early days.

You can read more about the project that led to this browser’s recreation, here: Developers revive first Web browser at week-long hackathon | CERN

The WorldWideWeb browser
The WorldWideWeb browser

The WorldWideWeb browser has a certain appeal to it, although I’m not rushing to replace Firefox with this browser just yet. 😜

Via Jeremy Keith over at Adactio

Categories
Miscellany Useful stuff

The humble hyperlink that changed the world

This is a great video that highlights how the simple hyperlink has revolutionised how we work with information. It made the Web possible!

Categories
Blogs and blogging Publishing Social Web

Online publishing will not die if Medium fails

Dave Winer recently said, “If Medium were to fail a lot of history will go with it”. Kevin O’Keefe picked up on this and commented on Twitter that this would affect content published by the White House too.

I read both Winer’s and O’Keefe’s comments as suggestions that Medium is Too Big To Fail and that its hypothetical failure would be disastrous. If that were to be the case, it would say far more about the folly of investing so much of their work into a platform that its users had no meaningful control over.

Update (2017-01-10): O’Keefe made a similar point in his blog post titled “Medium lays off one-third of its employees“.

Taking a step back

Before I go on, here is a little context if you missed it. Last week, Ev Williams published a post titled “Renewing Medium’s focus” in which he explained Medium’s pivot away from various forms of advertising it had been experimenting with.

I agree with Medium’s assessment of the publishing landscape and that there is a definite need to find more sustainable and productive ways to earn revenue through online publishing:

Our vision, when we started in 2012, was ambitious: To build a platform that defined a new model for media on the internet. The problem, as we saw it, was that the incentives driving the creation and spread of content were not serving the people consuming it or creating it — or society as a whole. As I wrote at the time, “The current system causes increasing amounts of misinformation…and pressure to put out more content more cheaply — depth, originality, or quality be damned. It’s unsustainable and unsatisfying for producers and consumers alike….We need a new model.”

I also agree with Medium’s conclusions about the current state of online advertising as a dominant way for publishers to make money. It doesn’t leave the Web or their readers in a better place at all (even though it supports the basic model):

Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.

So what Medium decided to do is pivot away from advertising models to something else:

So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.

What that “new model” isn’t clear and I doubt Williams and his team have a clear idea of what that will be. Whatever they come up with is going to have a big impact on online publishing because there are a number of other major publishers asking similar questions. Online advertising as a primary means of earning money online is a downward spiral to fake news and clickbait because it is all about attention.

What if Medium fails?

Medium is the lovechild of a self-contained social platform and blogging. It has beautiful writing tools and is designed to be a wonderful reading and engagement platform.

It has grown remarkably and it’s no surprise that so many people have invested so much of their creativity and thoughtfulness in their articles published to their personal profiles (the Medium version of a blog). A number of publishers have also shifted their publications to Medium’s platform based, partly, on the promise of revenue shares from Medium. It seems these publishers were also caught by surprise by Medium’s pivot.

There is a huge challenge in investing so much in a single platform that you have no real control over. As Winer pointed out:

Through all the zigging, the thing that has remained constant at Medium is the high quality and usability of the software. But it’s possible for others to do what they do, to be as easy to use, without the uncertainty about its future as an archiving system.

It is still very early days (literally) and I think it is premature to worry much about the prospect of Medium failing to find a sustainable revenue model for itself and its writers and publishers. Still, it is something to think about because what happens to Medium could well mirror the broader online publishing industry in the sense that if Medium succeeds, it could revolutionise that industry.

Before Medium

What struck me this morning when I read O’Keefe’s tweet is that Medium didn’t create something new. Instead, it built on a distributed network of independent publications that sprung up 10 to 15 years ago. Back then, we called it the blogosphere and comprised a growing number of independent blogs that referenced each other using annotations called trackbacks. Back then, people followed each other using RSS readers (Dave Winer is one of the creators of the technologies that made that possible) and commented on each other’s blogs.

The blogosphere wasn’t as coherent as Medium. It wasn’t as well defined or connected and not everyone used the same software for their blogs. That meant interoperability challenges. It was very much a version 1.0 of independent publishing but it was wonderfully empowering because it gave people like me the ability to create a space to write and share.

The blogosphere was the first real version of the social Web that has since diversified and coalesced in terms of formats, platforms and media. More significantly, much of what Medium’s functionality existed long before Medium existed and exists alongside it today.

Over time, WordPress surpassed Blogger (another of Williams’ and his colleagues’ creations) as the dominant publishing platform and it remains the leader of the pack with 27% of the Web using WordPress.

Closer to what we really need

As popular as WordPress is, it isn’t always as easy to use as Medium. It has evolved over time and it has its share of dials and buttons to tweak if you want to take advantage of more complex features. I don’t agree with Frederic Filloux who painted a troubling picture of WordPress in his post “A New Model for Medium” where he said:

First, for elegant text-based publishing, there is a need for a simple, easy-to-use, well-designed platform such as Medium. WordPress was supposed to deliver just that, but it took a geeky turn, saturating its ecosystem with scores of third-party plugins — more than 48,000 at last count — whose quality can charitably be called uneven. Most WordPress sites end up using dozens of plug-ins, each one bound to create its own set of problems: slow page-loads, crashes, random behaviors or update cycles that don’t match WP’s platform agenda. Unless you have sizable tech resources at your disposal, WordPress is a nightmare.

For starters, if all you want is to create a space and start writing, WordPress.com is a great place to start. Setting up is probably a little more involved than Medium because you have more choices when it comes to theming and other customisations. Medium is simpler, sure, and a compelling option for many. Still, discounting WordPress so handily is misguided.

Something I have noticed about open-source software is that it can be messy when compared to closed-source products. One of the reasons for this, I think, is that open-source software aims to be more inclusive and permissive. WordPress is a little messy by comparison with Medium, although the design isn’t terrible (at least, not from my layperson’s perspective).

The reason why it is important not to lose sight of this is precisely the concern that Medium’s shift has aroused and its challenges beg the recurring question: where should you publish your work?

As much as I like Medium, I am still a big advocate for publishing to your own space on the Web, even if you then syndicate elsewhere (including to Medium). You may not even control your site’s fate completely but you usually have more say over its future than a wholly hosted space. As Winer put it:

In the meantime, all the content that continues to pour into Medium is at risk due to the missing business model. And this is where I part with Filloux. I wonder why he only discusses Medium’s interest and the interest of its shareholders. What about his interest and that of other people who use Medium as their publishing platform? Is this the best way?

I argue that it’s not. That what we need is a better designed WordPress, or an open source Medium. Or something new that is inspired by Medium’s smooth UI, and WordPress’s open source heritage.

Where to now?

For now, Medium users can keep using Medium to publish their work. I still find great, thought-provoking articles there. If you are concerned about Medium’s future and the risk of losing your content, you can always export it and keep backups.

I prefer to write my articles locally first before I publish to my blogs. Once I’ve published to my blogs, I’ll syndicate to my social media profiles and, now and then, to Medium too. Medium is actually pretty good for this because it incorporates rel=canonical links that point back to your original blog post if you import your articles into your Medium profile. At least, this way, you preserve your work in your primary publication and if Medium goes away, you still have it all.

And if it all comes to naught and Medium shuts down one day, WordPress and others like them will continue to thrive. The IndieWeb movement is doing some great work to build on the early blogosphere technologies and link all of our blogs with our social profiles and to each other. Yes, it is geeky but I think it represents another bright future for publishing.

Back to Kevin O’Keefe

I started this post with the intention of responding more meaningfully to O’Keefe’s reply to me and, as you can see, it grew a little.

His last point here about people not returning to archives is a fair point although it isn’t the real issue here. The important thing is that there should be archives for people to return to if they decide to.

If, say, the White House exports its articles and archives them on a self-hosted site (which is very possible given how the White House will approach Presidential transitions), that content will be accessible through search and by browsing the site directly.

On the other hand, if Medium/Twitter/Facebook/Other fails and takes all the hosted content down into digital oblivion with it, you will have to rely on initiatives such as the Internet Archive to capture your material and store it for posterity.

I’m holding thumbs for Medium more because I want to see if they can come up with a new revenue model for online publications. The ad supported model works fine for now but it’s taking us down a path I don’t like all that much. As M. G. Siegler put it in his post titled “Long Medium“:

At some point, there will be a fundamental recalibration of the publishing model. Medium can be the catalyst for this, especially now with such a strong base in place.

Image credit: Marco Djallo

Categories
Blogs and blogging Writing

The Web is still important for writing

I clicked on a link to a 2014 post by Matt Mullenweg titled “Why the Web Still Matters for Writing” after I scanned through another recent post and I thought I’d reshare it here:

Why the Web Still Matters for Writing

I especially like this quote:

But the web is like water: it fills in all the gaps between things like gaming and social with exactly what any one particular user wants. And while we all might have a use for Facebook – simply because everyone is there – we all have different things that interest us when it comes to reading.

I have this recurring thought that the Web is a wonderful platform for writing and publishing and, if we weren’t all so caught up in various models of control, we may be more open to publishing more stuff to the Web, natively. It just makes so much sense to me as an open and flexible platform (and one of the motivations for my newest project). It’s also why I love the idea of authors publishing books online as well as in the usual digital and print formats.

A great example of an author who has done this (and possibly for similar reasons) is Jeff Jarvis who decided to publish his latest book, Geeks Bearing Gifts, on Medium in stages.

While I’m on this topic, here is another gem I found on Mullenweg’s blog titled “On Syndication and Rolling Your Own“. It goes all the way back to 2003, those early days of blogging:

On Syndication and Rolling Your Own

Remember that this was before Facebook, Twitter and much of the social Web we have today. It was also a couple months before WordPress was first released.

Image credit: Foundry from Pixabay, released under a CC0 Dedication

Categories
Applications Tutorials

One of the weirdest Firefox unboxing videos ever!

When it comes to unboxing videos, this Firefox unboxing video is the weirdest I’ve ever seen!

I have Firefox set as my default browser on my work laptop, primarily for performance reasons: Chrome is just too heavy for my somewhat underpowered Lenovo laptop, even running Ubuntu Linux.

Categories
Applications Policy issues

The web was built by hand

I’ve been a Firefox fan since Firefox was in pre-1.0 beta. Even though it isn’t my primary browser at the moment (wait 5 minutes, my defaults can change without notice), I still love what it stands for and the work the Mozilla Foundation is doing. This video nicely encapsulates that mission:

I love this idea that the web was built by hand (which, if you think about it, it was). Firefox may not be the hot browser right now but it is largely the reason why we have a more open web today.


Photo credit: Lego Firefox by Johnathan Nightingale, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

Categories
Web/Tech

How communications networks harvest your data to personalize your Web experience

This video is beautifully designed and made and nicely explains how data collected by our communications networks is sold and used to personalize our experience of the Web and the ads that are presented to us on the Web.

Categories
Mindsets Mobile Tech Social Web

From privacy to publicity and the #JugCam debate

The #JugCam debate is a minefield and its probably not a good idea for anyone other than a woman feminist to say or write anything about it. Any perspective other than a feminist one is sure to be as incorrect as any answer to the dreaded “Do I look fat in this?” question.

If you haven’t discovered the #JugCam meme yet, its pretty simple. The idea is to tweet photos of women in bikini tops at cricket matches in an effort to spice up the game a bit. I believe the person who came up with this idea is person tweeting as @followthebounce (almost certainly a guy). A couple guys responded to the idea with tweeted photos of women at cricket matches in bikini tops. One or two photos were of women who posed, a couple were women in the crowd and a number were screen grabs from the TV feed.

Fleabeke: I don't usually start argu ...

I went back a bit and as far as I can tell, the woman tweeting as @Fleabeke sounded a call to action against the #JugCam meme and declared her intention to fight it. A number of people (primarily women) joined the Twitter protest against the meme on the basis that it is illegal (I doubt it); exploits women; encourages photos of women’s breasts being published without their knowledge and consent and is downright sleazy. Intellectually I understand some of the arguments and where they come from. To me the arguments against #JugCam resonate a little with some of the ideas behind the Slut Walk movement (my favorite slogan is “Its a dress, not a yes”). I don’t really agree with the protest against #JugCam.

I am going to throw what I am certain will be an unpopular argument against the wall. As the Twitter debate evidences, we live in a time when we are increasingly online, socially connected and capable of publishing a dizzying amount of content on the Web for virtually anyone to see. This is not new. We’re had the ability to take photos with out phones and upload those images to the Web for several years now. As more people use more capable smart devices we will share even more of our daily experiences online. Often this sharing will be inappropriate and perhaps even malicious. For the most part people will just share stuff because they can. We are getting to a point where you can’t go anywhere without seeing smartphones or other devices being used to take photos, record video and publish that content to sites you have no control over.

When it comes to the #JugCam meme (which is an organized version of what guys have probably been doing at sports events for some time now), we have to start making decisions about how we behave in such a connected world. I know how this next bit sounds but I think it has to be said and really does have some merit as an argument: women who wear bikini tops at public sports events like cricket matches must be aware that their photos could be taken and uploaded for broader consumption. I’m not saying its ok for that to happen, it is a little creepy, but it happens. Arguing that people (ok, men) shouldn’t be allowed to do this in public spaces without express permission is a little disingenuous. If a woman is opposed to being photographed in a bikini top and having her photo published online then she should reconsider wearing a bikini top at these events. Women should also be free to express outrage at their photo being published and demand that it be removed but whether that actually happens will likely come down to a decision based on the rights to freedom of expression, dignity and privacy being weighed up. I suspect the legal position will be something along the following lines: women in public wearing bikini tops have no real legitimate expectation of privacy when they are in public and can’t complain if their photo is taken and published online, particularly where they are aware that this could (and does) occur.

@magependragon: Giggling at #JugCam outcry ...

As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, this debate is a minefield. It includes elements of historical gender-based discrimination and objectification. It touches on how men, generally, tend to treat women as means to satisfy their own desires without consideration for women’s feelings and sensibilities. It also touches on notional privacy issues and the idea that “its a dress, not a yes” (although there is no suggestion that taking photos of women in bikini tops and tweeting the photos is directly and necessarily linked to sexual assault). Another argument is that women should bear in mind that wearing a bikini at a public and televised cricket match can draw attention from smartphone toting guys who have an impulse control problem.

I think our privacy norms are changing and we are becoming accustomed to being a little more public. I also think the vocal feminists on Twitter are going a little too far with their protest. They’re entitled to oppose what they view as offensive but its practically fashionable to assume we don’t live in a world where people don’t always behave with utmost respect and where women (justifiably) dress as they please but in a fictional world where doing so doesn’t attract any unwelcome attention, whatever that may be (it still amazes me how men are expected to just know what is appropriate behaviour and what isn’t without being given much guidance and I’m not talking about obviously offensive comments, touching and assaults – those guidelines are pretty well established).

The Web and all its bits and pieces have changed how we live our lives and relate to each other. We have to start making more decisions about our publicity levels and act accordingly. Perhaps women who object to being photographed in bikini tops at cricket matches shouldn’t wear bikini tops at those matches. Perhaps people should be discouraged from taking the photos of bikini clad women in the first place so women feel more comfortable wearing less at these matches for whatever reason. Or perhaps we should reassess our norms when it comes to our privacy expectations and publich sharing on the Web.