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 indiewebcamp.com.

Here's the Facebook event, if you prefer.


The sounds of Sightglass


An inspiring weekend at the #reclaimyourdomain hackathon. #edtech

Reading time: 2 minutes

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 indiewebcamp.com.

Here's the Facebook event, if you prefer.


Saying yes: dispatches from #yxyy

Reading time: 2 minutes

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.


My #indieweb life: how my site gives me an awesome social media archive of everything I've ever written

Reading time: 3 minutes

Here's how I post from my Known site.

When I log in, Known gives me the option to post lots of different kinds of things: status updates, photos, streaming media, and so on. Because it's what's called a "responsive interface", it adapts to whichever device you're looking at it on: it works just as well on a phone as on a desktop browser. These buttons work great on a touch-based interface, and I post on my phone at least as often as I post from my computer.

This morning, I decided to write a status update:

I decided to post it to my friends on the traditional social media sites too. Above, I've selected Twitter - after I took the picture, I decided to post to Facebook as well.

Known posts the status update to my own site:

But because I selected Twitter, it posts it there too:

And because I selected Facebook, another copy ends up there:

My friends can interact with me over on those sites:

And those replies - whether they're from Facebook, Twitter, or my friends' own websites (running Known or something else) - will show up on my site too, thanks to great indieweb technologies like brid.gy:

This way, I have all of my interactions around that content in one place.

If I want to reply to my friends on the silos, I can do that too. I can just do that from my site using the bank of buttons you've already seen, but if I'm using Firefox, I can use a direct "reply" button integrated with my browser:

Or there's a "bookmarklet" - a button that I drag to my browser's bookmarks toolbar - that makes it easier, which works with every browser.

Either way, those replies will show up on the site my friends replied from, as well as on my own site.

Because I post everything from my own site, I have an archive of everything I've ever written to social media. That means I can look to see everything I've written about "Wimbledon", for example:

And I can filter my search to particular kinds of content:

Because this archive is hosted on my own site, people are likely to find it when they search for me. That means I have more control over how I'm represented on the web. One of the ways I can customize my appearance online is through themes:

But if I'm a developer (and I am!) I can build my own themes and plugins to integrate Known into my existing site, create new kinds of content or radically change the look and feel. It's a pretty great toolbox.

My archive of everything I've posted and all my replies lets me analyze my data in all kinds of ways, that let me post better and participate more directly with my community. I'll be talking more about that another time.

In the meantime, you should sign up to our beta list.


Vignette from an American car auction


Homebrew Website Club: July 2, 2014

Discuss progress; meet up; make new friends.

Location: 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 indiewebcamp.com. The Portland event is cancelled this week.

Here's the Facebook event, if you prefer.


Rushing the street: building our #indieweb business

Reading time: 3 minutes

We have a William Gibson quote above our desk here at Known HQ:

"The street finds its own uses for things."

It's from Burning Chrome, and serves as a reminder that users will find uses for technologies that its creators were not necessarily expecting. We don't just want to remain open to those new uses; we want to encourage them as much as we can.

We're back from IndieWebCamp in Portland - one of my favorite technology events in one of my favorite cities in the world. Technologists and like-minded creators get together in order to help create web platforms that promote ownership, allow people to communicate with each other freely online, and give people full control of the things they create and share.

I'd started building Known before I aligned myself with the indie web community, but it fits so well: Known allows anyone to publish to their own website as easily as Twitter or Facebook, lets them talk to other people all over the Internet (on existing social networks, on other Known sites, and on blogs and journals), and gives them control over their content.

In a world where the platforms we use every day are spying on us, or even performing psychological tests on us without our knowledge, and when platforms shut down all the time, more people are certainly crying out for more ownership and control. We'll be there for them. Our mission is to empower people to publish to their own space on the Internet.

As part of a discussion on indie web businesses, Amber Case said she thought the market for these products is going to emerge organically. I agree, and it's always better for people to tell you what they find you useful for. Twitter is a great example of a service that has developed that way.

Of course, I also have a business need to sell our product, and prove that it will be useful for enough people to support our growth. We've been having some great conversations with people who need Known: people whose reputations and incomes are tied to their identity online, and the things they make and share on the web. But as any scientist will tell you, anecdotes aren't enough.

Over the next two weeks, we'll begin inviting people to use our Known service. Now is a great time to add yourself to our beta list. It's free - we want your feedback and develop our product hand-in-hand with the people who are using it. We think that's the best way to help the street find its own uses for what we're making, and in the process, create something that changes the way people represent themselves on the web.


Hello world from #indiewebcamp


A little #indieweb audio while I wait for my flight.


Simple, quick, stupid: set the bar low so you can get out of the user's way

Reading time: 2 minutes

Signing up for a service

30 seconds. And that 30 seconds includes initial customization: confirming your name and so on.

Installing something on a server

10 minutes. Ideally 5. Once again, that includes the initial customization: setting your site name in a Known instance, for example, uploading your profile photo, and choosing the theme. Tweaking the theme can take longer, of course.

Writing a plugin for an open source app

One hour to testing that you're on the right path, two hours to having an initial prototype fully working. This might be generous: it's possible that the bar for the "1 .. 2 .. 3 .. is this on ..?" testing phase is more like 10-15 minutes, and the prototype phase is an hour.

Implementing a web standard or format

One afternoon. RSS succeeded (at least for a while) because you can sit down after lunch to take a look at it blind, and have something working to show someone by mid-afternoon. I'm convinced this is true of HTML, too.

The indieweb technologies all also have this property: pick them up after lunch, do something with them by 3pm, and have something cool working by the time you go home.

Everything happens in a sitting

This also works with proprietary APIs. Twilio was wildly successful because using it was unbelievably straightforward - and it drove a lot of business for them. APIs are interfaces by definition, of course, and so are plugin hooks and format specs. These all have to be as simple and clear as possible.

Making things simple isn't dumbing them down; it's making them more useful. Nobody wants to spend time learning your technology or figuring out your service; they want to spend it on their own goals. The bar has to be that you can get to grips with something very quickly, so people can move onto what they were actually trying to do.


Gathering content in a space you control: doubling down on #indieweb & journalism

Reading time: 4 minutes

Journalism and the indieweb were made for each other.

Because of the way we've been describing Known - particularly focusing on our ability to syndicate content to third-party social networks and important social interactions using brid.gy - we've received a lot of feedback that this is how we should describe ourselves as a business:

Known is a social media marketing application that allows marketing departments to justify ROI using aggregated data from audiences across multiple platforms

For all kinds of reasons, this isn't what we want to do. There are solid business reasons - social media marketing is a crowded market, for one - but there are deeper reasons, too. It's not why we got into this. It's not, on a fundamental level, what we're trying to do.

After all, this is how you could describe the product:

Known lets you own your own social website without having to give up talking to your friends on the web.

I believe in the indieweb as a movement that will empower people to own their own representations on the web. I know that will have broad implications over time, and that the success of these ideas and technologies will make a profound impact on the way the web works. I also think that running a commercial business based on indie web principles is a great thing.

I also think that certain groups of people are ahead of the curve when it comes to privacy and ownership - and journalists are very much among them.

There is a long-term trend towards greater ownership and privacy. Partially this is due to post-Snowden sentiment, but it's also driven by factors like generational differences, a growing commercial dissatisfaction with Facebook, and security breaches at companies like Target. Providing a service that is as easy to use as Facebook, while being respectful to its users, mindful of privacy, and yours, is a good idea. There will be a tipping point where people will be looking for something new, and we will be there for them, alongside other software in the indieweb ecosystem.

But there's also a growing need for this right now. Edward Snowden's whistleblowing was, of course, an important moment in journalism. We participated in a workshop run by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism on newsgathering in a post-Snowden world this week, and were inspired by the renewed focus on protecting sources and swiftly building stories, while being simultaneously dismayed by the lack of effective software to support them. Journalists value ownership, privacy, control and ease of communication - which, of course, are indieweb fundamentals.

We're investigating how Known, and the indieweb, can be effectively harnessed for journalism. This includes heavy research into the workflows people are using today. My experience with latakoo (which is used by professional newsrooms around the world) has told me that every organization is different - but then, my experience with Elgg tells me that it's possible to build a light-touch tool that allows people to customize it for their own needs. In fact, that's what Known already is, whether you take the open source code and build on top of it, or use the hosted service we'll launch this summer.

Journalism is fundamental to democracy. We need to know what's happening in the world around us to make effective democratic decisions. We're also living in a world where journalism is being pinched by changing models and rapidly evolving audiences. If we can help, we would love to.

If you're a journalist, or if you work in a media or news organization, we would love to talk to you. You can email me at ben@withknown.com.