Reflecting on @fredwilson's swing back to personal sites, which is what @withknown is all about

3 min read

Fred Wilson is seeing a swing back towards personal blogging:

There is something about the personal blog,, where you control everything and get to do whatever the hell pleases you. There is something about linking to one of those blogs and then saying something. It’s like having a conversation in public with each other. This is how blogging was in the early days. And this is how blogging is today, if you want it to be.

Which is exactly what I'm doing now, from my Known site.

What's different today is that you have access to networks like Twitter and Facebook, which allow you to more easily spread your message to your network of contacts (and to their networks of contacts). Social media has also given us new forms of content to play with, like the check-in. Known, of course, allows you to post to your own domain using a variety of media and reach audiences all over the web.

Meanwhile, Harold Jarche, a learning consultant who helps create workplace change for large corporations like Domino's, notes that workplaces are missing time for reflection. The same is true of schools, conferences, and other spaces where learning happens.

There's a lot of value in having a place to publish and share extended reflections, which we miss in shorter-form, rapid-fire platforms like Twitter (as much as I love them), and which also aren't served by mass publishing platforms like Medium. A personal space is just that: personal.

As Fred noted, Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor at Gawker, just relaunched her own personal blog:

But now I’m at the opposite end of the continuum; I’m usually working on one or two long-form writing projects, but not very much writing gets done in public otherwise. And there are things about blogging that I miss. I like consistently writing for an audience and getting feedback. It helps me work out my arguments and thoughts about various issues and clarifies muddy thinking.

These are some of the reasons why education is interested in personal publishing at the moment (here are some notes from our pilot at the University of Mary Washington). But it goes much wider. The web is the most effective way there has ever been to connect people with different contexts and skills. Right now, a very small number of platforms control the form (and therefore, at least to an extent, the content) of those conversations. I think the web is richer if we all own our own sites - and Known is a simple, flexible platform to let people do that.

To learn more, click here to add yourself to the beta list, or get in touch.


Publish on your own site, syndicate elsewhere - very cool to see @davewiner joining in

2 min read

It's been fun to see Dave Winer's experiments in content syndication with Little Facebook Editor, a proof of concept that allows you to write a post in a minimalist text box (which I love), cross-post to Facebook, and update the Facebook version when updates are made.

We've had content syndication in Known since the beginning. So far we have plugins for Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Foursquare and SoundCloud in-house, and our open source community has also contributed one for WordPress. I love that Dave's software keeps the post up-to-date as well as cross-posting it. This is something we'll be adding for the platforms that support it (i.e., everything but Twitter).

I completely agree with Dave when he says:

I want Facebook to become a first class publishing surface, accessible from tools that run outside the Facebook environment. With this, the tools can overcome one major objection, that they don't connect with the powerful engagement features of Facebook, and the huge user base. And, even more important, it will make it possible for new tools to gain traction, because users will not have to choose between an attractive idea and all their readers and friends. They can have both.

We believe that this should be true for all of our social networking tools. Our sites should hold the primary copy of our content - it's ours, after all. But these networks wield massive reach and power, and we should be able to leverage that to find new audiences and meet new people. We're not trying to replace Facebook; we're trying to use it to its full potential.

I'm really looking forward to more updates on the Little Facebook Editor. To stay up to date with Known developments, click here to add yourself to our beta list.


Homebrew Website Club: August 27 2014

Discuss progress; meet up; make new friends.

Location: Mozilla SF, 1st floor, 2 Harrison st. (at Embarcadero), San Francisco, CA



Are you building your own website? Indie reader? Personal publishing web app? Or some other digital magic-cloud proxy? If so, come on by and join a gathering of people with like-minded interests. Bring your friends that want to start a personal web site. Exchange information, swap ideas, talk shop, help work on a project ...

See the Homebrew Website Club Newsletter Volume 1 Issue 1 for a description of the first meeting.

Originally posted on

Here's the Facebook event, if you prefer.


PHP's cURL implementation makes Squid return a 417 error: how to fix it

2 min read

This is a more technical post than usual, but this has been driving me nuts, and I wanted to document it in case others run into the same issue.

PHP's cURL implementation sends an Expect: 100-continue header when you use it to send a POST call over a certain size.

Squid, ever the diligent proxy, looks for well-formed requests, and will throw an HTTP 417 error if it gets that header but the call is malformed. Edit: it also can't handle the header at all in incoming requests if you're using anything earlier than Squid 3.2.

cURL malforms the call (or extra behavior is required and documented, but I haven't seen anything yet).

The result is that running an API behind Squid that is used by PHP cURL clients may cause unforeseen 417 errors.

How to fix it

A widely accepted fix is to tell cURL to send a blank "Expect:" error. That does solve the issue from one side, but it's half the problem. What happens if you can't control the incoming cURL libraries?

It turns out that Squid has a setting called ignore_expect_100 which is off by default. Add "ignore_expect_100" to your squid.conf file, restart Squid, and you should be good to go.


Why I'm okay with Twitter going beyond the social graph

2 min read

I've been glued to the Ferguson coverage for the last week. Like many people, I've been wondering how this could be happening in a supposedly democratic, developed nation - and I've been getting all of my news via Twitter. No matter what they try and do, the traditional news media has just been late on this story, in the way that traditional publishers began to seem out of date when blogging picked up steam a decade ago.

I've been watching up-to-the-second updates of a situation that should concern everyone who lives in the US. Meanwhile, conspicuously, the story is virtually nowhere to be found on Facebook.

We're increasingly consuming information in filter bubbles. Much has been said about this over the last few years, but it's harmful: if an idea, or an event, hasn't permeated a social circle, it's less likely to than it ever was. Back in the old days, we'd all crowd around a TV for the evening news, or read a newspaper in the morning. Everyone got the same information. Now we subscribe to individuals and curate our own information streams.

Mostly this is a good thing: it's dangerous for everyone to be getting all their information from a single source. But as circles congeal online, they effectively become the same thing: a unified voice of people who more or less agree with each other. Not only is that democratically dangerous, but for networks like Twitter, there's the possibility of it atrophying the network and impeding growth. Past a certain point, introverted social spheres can't grow any further; it makes sense to add a little something to break the surface tension.

But in the democratic sense, a little more serendipity is also a good thing. I want to discover stories I might not have otherwise seen; ideas I might not otherwise have heard.

If Twitter was just a piece of software running as a service, this would be unthinkable: it's not obeying your subscription preferences! But that's not what it is. With this change, Twitter is cementing itself as a media company, just like the broadcasters of old. In its own way, it's curating an information source for you - one that can continue to scale beyond your friends and networks.


The ROI of building open source software

2 min read

Eran Hammer discusses justifying the return on investment for open source development at Walmart Labs:

If this all sounds very cold and calculated, it’s because it is. Looking for clear ROI isn’t anti-community but pro-sustainability. It’s easy to get your boss to sponsor a community event or a conference, to print shirt and stickers for your open source project, or throw a release party for a new framework. What’s hard is to get the same level of investment a year, two years, or three years later.

If you're creating something that the community relies upon, it's important to also make it sustainable. Open source is a license and a way of thinking about distribution; it is not the opposite of thinking about software in business terms. If you're creating software in the context of a business, you need to tie it to business goals, including the license.

At Known, like Elgg before it, we know that open source distribution acted as a multiplier for the small teams of developers writing the code in-house. We talk about it as a strategy. The effect is the same - anyone can pick up our core code for free - but it's been done for a reason. Eran's metrics seem about right to me:

For example, every five startups using hapi translated to the value of one full time developer, while every ten large companies translated to one full time senior developer.

For us, a "startup" could be a university, a non-profit or a government department. The nice thing about open source is that while all good software is built in collaboration with its users, here the users can literally write some of the code. The result is a startup less constrained by limited resources, and a user-base that gets to use a more useful application. Everybody wins.

Interested in open source businesses? You should check out Known and add yourself to the beta list.


Homebrew Website Club: August 13 2014

Discuss progress; meet up; make new friends.

Location: Java Conference Room, Mozilla SF, 2st floor, 2 Harrison st. (at Embarcadero), San Francisco, CA



Are you building your own website? Indie reader? Personal publishing web app? Or some other digital magic-cloud proxy? If so, come on by and join a gathering of people with like-minded interests. Bring your friends that want to start a personal web site. Exchange information, swap ideas, talk shop, help work on a project ...

See the Homebrew Website Club Newsletter Volume 1 Issue 1 for a description of the first meeting.

Originally posted on

Here's the Facebook event, if you prefer.


Known and education: a love story

3 min read

I started my career in education, writing e-learning tools for the University of Edinburgh. It was there that I met my Elgg co-founder, Dave Tosh (because they placed us together in an ex-broom closet with a window that didn't shut; a kind of gallows bonding experience). Elgg was designed as a community platform for education, that took the informal learning that was happening on the nascent social web in 2003 and applied it to the formal education space. It did well, and it's still in wide use in institutions today. Through Elgg, I've written and spoken widely about social learning environments.

The educational technology community has developed the dual concepts of the Personal Learning Environment and the eportfolio. The first is a tool that puts students at the center of their learning; the second is a way for them to represent themselves and their learning, to themselves, to their peers at their institution, and to the outside world once they graduate. In an educational setting, I think Known is very clearly both a PLE and an eportfolio:

  • Known profiles allow you to post to a space that represents you, using a variety of media, from any device
  • Known's syndication feature lets you post to your own profile, while syndicating to external sites and applications - like your campus's Learning Management System.

Educators agree. The Reclaim Your Domain project is a particular evolution of eportfolio thinking, where members of a campus's community own the domains that represent them (just like indieweb!), and we've developed a good relationship with this community. And we're discovering that more and more institutions around the world are coming to us, because they see how Known can help them to empower their students.

Universities have discovered that providing a social space that allows for personal reflection allows for deeper learning than a Learning Management System can provide. Known provides a layer for this that can either work with a campus's LMS or as a stand-alone product. It's easier for teachers to administer, and because it uses the latest modern web technologies, it works with the mobile devices that students are using to access the Internet more than 50% of the time.

Known works well as an educational product. Our experience building awesome social tools for education over the last decade allows us to more quickly understand the challenges involved, and to provide something that fits in with the culture of education. We're also aware that there are startups whose aim is to own a part of the education stack, and our grounding in indieweb and open source means that we reject that entirely. We have an open project that we have designed to empower; the intention is to provide more control, not remove it.

I couldn't be more excited to work deeply with educators to help them make electronic learning a more personal experience - and we want to hear from you. Software is a collaborative experience, and we couldn't think of better collaborators than the people who are helping to make the world a more informed and educated place.


Drawing a line from @elgg to @withknown: an adventure in #edtech and #indieweb

6 min read

1. Elgg: a social networking engine for education.

Elgg communitiesIn November, 2004, we released the first version of Elgg to the world. We originally called it a learning landscape: an educational software platform that took its cues from the emerging social web rather than rigid classroom structures. In many ways, it was as much a reaction to Blackboard and WebCT as it was to Livejournal and MySpace.

I'd been building web communities since 1995, so when I arrived at the University of Edinburgh to work on elearning software, I was appalled at what I'd found. Every single person who used the dominant learning management systems, from the administrators down to the students, hated them. Students only used them because they were forced to; as it turned out, administrators only used them because they were forced to.

And yet, people were learning from each other on the web all the time. Through platforms like Livejournal and Delicious, people with different skills and contexts were colliding and creating a new kind of culture. The web had made it possible for anyone to publish as long as they bought some web space and learned HTML. Suddenly, anyone could publish, as long as they could connect to the Internet at all.

Elgg took the social web, applied it to education, and wrapped the whole thing in an open source license. It took off like wildfire.

Embedded podcastFrom the beginning, it was important to us that users got to control their own space. They could choose their own theme, and hack it, if they wanted to. Most importantly, they could choose exactly who could see each and every post: long before Mark Zuckerberg declared that the age of privacy was dead, our research indicated that students felt more comfortable with web publishing if they could keep tight reigns over who could see their work.

We knew Elgg was bigger than education when non-profits in Columbia got in touch to let us know they were using the platform. Soon afterwards, schools in Bangladesh were featured by the BBC for using it. Over time, as more non-education users emerged - more non-profits like Oxfam and Greenpeace, alongside Swatch, BMW, hedge funds, and the rugby star Will Carling - it evolved into a social networking engine that anyone could pick up and use. We started with a very specific use case - reflective learning in higher education - and widened into something much bigger. To date, Elgg users have included Harvard University, NASA, Hill & Knowlton, the federal governments of several nations, and the World Bank.

I made the choice to move on to new pastures a few years ago. Today, Elgg is managed by a non-profit foundation. The current team is doing an amazing job, and, under their stewardship, the platform has transformed again, into a programming toolkit for people who want to build social applications.

2. Known: the easiest way to own your own space on the Internet.

Meanwhile, individuals are in need of spaces that they truly control more than ever before. In the old days, we thought this was important to help them feel more comfortable with posting their personal reflections to a public space (not everything has to be about maintaining your "personal brand", after all). While that's still true, sites like Facebook are pointing to a more imperative need: a place to publish where you won't be experimented on without your permission, where you won't be spied upon, where you can move your content at any time, and where your content and conversations aren't owned by one of a very small number of corporate silos.

Known is a platform for a new kind of social web. You can think of each Known site as being a single social profile, either for an individual or a group. Each one can interact with each other in a decentralized way (using indie web technology), or they can interact with all the other sites they use - including Elgg, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and all the rest of them. Educational institutions are already asking us if we can integrate with learning management systems like Canvas - and the answer is, yes.

We have privacy, too. Known site owners can choose who can see their content, and they can choose the look and feel of their sites, including what kinds of content they want to publish.

We know that over 50% of Internet use happens on a mobile device, and any new platform has to take that into account. We've made Known fully responsive, so it works on any mobile device with a web browser, including your iPhone, Android phone, Windows Phone device, iPad, tablet, and so on. Even your BlackBerry works with Known. Because mobile usage leads to new kinds of content, Known supports location check-ins and posting photos while you're moving around. And, of course, individuals and organizations can roll their own content types using custom plugins.

On any device, ownership of your site and content, combined with an understanding of your community, gives you a new kind of clarity about your online self. You know exactly who can see each item you post. You know who's responding to you on which networks, and you understand which kinds of content your audiences are interested in. Known is both a safe space to reflect, and a singular site that represents you on the web. And more than anything else, it's respectful software that puts you at the center of your online world.

Known is open source. As a company, we're providing software and customization services to make it easier for organizations to administer, as well as support subscriptions for everyone who uses Known. Finally, we're also working on providing managed infrastructure for anyone who wants to run Known, either individually or for their organization, without the hassle of server administration.

I've been privileged to spend over a decade working on open platforms that empower people and organizations to control their own spaces on the Internet. The pendulum is swinging back to a world where users are asking for that control, and I'm looking forward to making Known the definitive way to own your content online.

If you've read this far, you should definitely check us out: at, on Twitter, and on AngelList.


The problem with OKCupid is not a problem with the social web.

2 min read

Guest-posting on Jason Kottke's blog, Tim Carmody argues that the problems with Facebook and OKCupid's involuntary human testing are problems with the social web at large:

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.

It's a great piece, and I agree, with a major caveat: this isn't how the web - or even the social web - works at all.

What Tim is referring to is a silo-centric version of the commercial web that we've come to accept as the new normal. The accepted thinking right now is that of course services and applications are running psychological tests on us without our permission. Of course they're using opaque algorithms to monetize our ability to communicate with our friends and family. Of course they're mining our private communications in order to display advertising.

There's no of course about it. We founded Known because we know that these policies harm independent content creators. We're not alone: projects like Indie Box and Sandstorm, not to mention the entire indie web community, are springing up to provide more empowering, respectful software and services. Before long, taking advantage of your users will be a market disadvantage, and businesses that have built themselves up by disenfranchising the people who use their products will find themselves in a tough spot. Even today, though, the social web doesn't have to mean being taken advantage of, and we're proud to be building a more respectful alternative.


Homebrew Website Club: July 30, 2014

Discuss progress; meet up; make new friends.

Location: Mozilla SF, 1st floor, 2 Harrison st. (at Embarcadero), San Francisco, CA



Are you building your own website? Indie reader? Personal publishing web app? Or some other digital magic-cloud proxy? If so, come on by and join a gathering of people with like-minded interests. Bring your friends that want to start a personal web site. Exchange information, swap ideas, talk shop, help work on a project ...

See the Homebrew Website Club Newsletter Volume 1 Issue 1 for a description of the first meeting.

Originally posted on

Here's the Facebook event, if you prefer.


The sounds of Sightglass


An inspiring weekend at the #reclaimyourdomain hackathon. #edtech

2 min read

I'm having a good time at the Reclaim Your Domain meetup in Los Angeles this weekend, organized by Jim Groom of University of Mary Washington's Domain of One's Own initiative.

From the initiative's homepage:

A Domain of One's Own provides domain names and Web space to members of the UMW community, encouraging individuals to explore the creation and development of their digital identities.

Reclaim Hosting, which was created by Jim Groom and Tim Owens, supports Known (as well as Elgg). It was set up to provide educators and institutions with an easy way to offer their students domains and web hosting that they own and control.

We're excited to be in the mix, both in terms of the services at UMW and elsewhere, but also in the wider conversation. Schools and universities are in a perfect position to talk about data ownership, so it's inspiring to see them doing just that. While Jim Groom and the other members of the Reclaim Your Domain community are ahead of the curve, I expect many others to follow. Their work provides an obvious benefit to both students and faculty at the institutions that adopt it, in a way that previous eportfolio initiatives didn't necessarily achieve. (Elgg emerged from work Dave Tosh and I were doing on electronic portfolios in education.)

Empowering individuals at institutions to own their online identities makes us very happy. And we're excited to learn from the students and faculty that make their homes on the web using Known.

While Known is an open source application (released under the Apache 2.0 License), institutions that choose to use the software won't be going it alone. They can get full support from us, if they like, as well as software to make it easier to manage Known sites on an organizational basis, and bespoke solutions for their specific use cases. We're keenly aware that one size doesn't fit all, and one institution's (or one school or course's) needs don't necessarily apply generally. Known is a flexible platform that supports a great deal of individual customization.

It's not just for education, of course: anyone can use a Known site, and we're excited to be working in journalism, technology and other verticals. However, edtech is a great example of a community motivated to empower its members to own their data, and we're delighted to help.


Homebrew Website Club: July 16, 2014

Discuss progress; meet up; make new friends.

Location: Matter, 421 Bryant St, San Francisco, CA, 94107



Are you building your own website? Indie reader? Personal publishing web app? Or some other digital magic-cloud proxy? If so, come on by and join a gathering of people with like-minded interests. Bring your friends that want to start a personal web site. Exchange information, swap ideas, talk shop, help work on a project ...

See the Homebrew Website Club Newsletter Volume 1 Issue 1 for a description of the first meeting.

Originally posted on

Here's the Facebook event, if you prefer.


Saying yes: dispatches from #yxyy

2 min read

I'm at Yes and Yes Yes (YxYY) this weekend: a nerd gathering in the desert. A large proportion of the people I look up to and count as friends in the industry are here - but it's not a conference. It's not even an unconference. It's not a networking event. It's an invitation to put a bunch of awesome people in the same place, encourage them all to say "yes" to things, and see what happens.

So far today I've been to Ben Metcalfe and Krystal Lauk's wedding; I've had an Indie Web Camp in a swimming pool; had epic, serious conversations with our Matter compadre Colin Mutchler while he floated on a giant watermelon; experimented with an Othermill and a Cricut; read an issue of Modern Farmer while sipping a Pimm's under a blue Southern California sky; and knocked around ideas for a hackathon set in a cinema on the Russian River.

And now I'm dressed in a waistcoat, ready to go to my very first prom.

Everything is decentralizing. While traditional conferences still have their place, I find it much more valuable to be in a space that every participant can own equally, where they can propose new activities at any time. Just as unconferences are an order of magnitude better than conferences in terms of the breadth of subjects and the quality of conversations (with an honorable exception to the transformative, festival-style XOXO), there's a lot to be said for bringing people to one spot and just seeing what happens, with no sessions, no speakers, and no agenda except to see what happens.

My challenge to myself: to treat every day like a YxYY, where every conversation is open, where anything can happen, and life-changing, serendipitous experiences can be around every new corner.