Last week, David Pierce for The Verge suggested that the future of the social internet is Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere, a mainstay of the IndieWeb community, and an idea that exhausts me utterly just to think on.
The idea is that you, the poster, should post on a website that you own. Not an app that can go away and take all your posts with it, not a platform with ever-shifting rules and algorithms. Your website. But people who want to read or watch or listen to or look at your posts can do that almost anywhere because your content is syndicated to all those platforms.
Dave Winer is into the idea but has some reasonable objections or at least cautions when it comes to how an expansion of POSSE implementation might happen in practice.
The idea of posting on your blog and cross-posting to lots of place is the right idea, no argument there, the problem is that the places you can actually cross-post to are few and far-between. The two places mentioned in the article that can peer with most other blogging software are micro.blog and WordPress. Everything else as far as I know, if you want to peer with them in a POSSE-like way, requires you to remove features from your writing, and you have to decide if it’s worth it.
For my part, I think POSSE has it exactly backwards: making what you write widely accessible should not be almost entirely upon the author, and an author should not have to have two, three, or a dozen accounts across different services in order for readers to follow their work.
POSSE is a waste of time and attention that could be better spent on writing or tinkering with site design and functionality.
Ultimately, the future would be better served through feeds and microformats making anyone’s website subscribable through any site or service. It’s something I thought about when conceiving my asocial networking site Currently: let anyone “subscribe via URL” if the owner of a now-like page didn’t themselves also have a Currently account.
Writers should only have to worry about the writing, and reader software of whatever sort or kind should allow people to subscribe to whatever they want. If a writer wants to maintain a presence on a specific platform, they should. But they shouldn’t have to do this in order to make it easy for the people on that site or service to follow their work.
The onus of effort here should be on reader software, not writer software, and certainly not on the writers themselves. The future shouldn’t be one of “cross-posting” but of universal subscribability.
- Jason Becker has a response to this, which he also sent me over email (which is good, because apparently he was among the accidental removals the last time I did some cleanup to my RSS subscriptions), and I just wanted to clarify some things.
There’s nothing I find wrong, per se, about Jason’s response, but it does sort of just skip over my central argument: I don’t think it should be incumbent upon the writer to have to maintain accounts in a bunch of different places just so that readers in those places can access their stuff.
The true end goal should be that readers can get whatever they want wherever they want, regardless of what writers do and do not set up on various platforms.
At best, POSSE to me is just a kludgy stopgap on the road to a truly interoperable future—one I admit is entirely prospective and not in any way guaranteed, although with people souring on the last decade of what social media has meant, this would seem to be precisely and exactly the right time to apply pressure.
Personally, POSSE simply is something for which I just don’t have the mental bandwidth, and even the existing tools for things like ActivityPub features on blogs don’t seem to be anywhere near ready for prime time.
In the future we should want, I should be able to keep my own cognitive and technical load low, while sites, services, and platforms use their greater resources to make it easy for readers to get what they want.
What should exist, what should be built is something like the following. On whatever site, service, or platform you use for social reading, you should be able to go to your follow settings, click something like “Follow Site By URL”, enter the URL of a site, and the platform checks the site for any endpoints or feeds that it understands.
If it finds any it subscribes and that site appears in your feed just as any local user would.
Platforms should be built to be able to intake whatever the major endpoints and feeds might be: say ActivityPub, AT Protocol, and RSS. As long as the site at the URL the reader entered is using one of them, it should just work.
On the writer end, blogging tools and the like should have one-click methods and means to activate serving any or all prominent endpoints or feed formats. I mean, in ideal world we would really, truly commit to specific standards and stop reinventing wheels, but I don’t have any particular hopes there.
It really should be this drop-dead simple, but people are going to have to do some work to insist that this is the future sites, services, and platforms build.