Tag Archives: permanence

View source on the decentralized web

Brewster Kahle has a post at the Internet Archive about getting back to the “view source” feature that made early web development so much more accessible than it is today. He thinks it can be achieved on top of a distributed web where all the HTML and JavaScript files are delivered to the browser:

The decentralized web works by having a p2p distribution of the files that make up the website, and then the website runs in your browser. By being completely portable, the website has all the pieces it needs: text, programs, and data. It can all be versioned, archived, and examined.

He mentions IPFS in particular, which I’ve written about before. The bottom line is that static HTML sites are more portable. They more naturally evolve not just from host to host as necessary, but also to a possible distributed future web. That’s why that — even though I still use and recommend WordPress — I have a static mirror of my site too.

Evan Williams on indie web sites

From a rough transcript of an interview with Evan Williams:

“The idea won’t be to start a website. That will be dead. The individual website won’t matter. The Internet is not going to be about billions of people going to millions of websites. It will be about getting it from centralized websites.”

I’m concerned about this. Evan is reading into the current rise of centralized services and thinking it’s more than a short-term trend. But I believe strongly that the open web will bounce back.

Putting all of our writing in one place like Medium goes against our hope of permanence, because there’s no guarantee Medium will be around in 20 years, and so all of that content will disappear from the internet if it fails. At least with independent sites and custom domain names we have a chance. We have control, so it’s in our hands to succeed or fail, not left to the whims of Silicon Valley startups.

Web history and IPFS

Dave Winer on the continued disappearance of old web sites:

“I’ve tried to sound the alarms. Every day we lose more of the history of the web. Every day is an opportunity to act to make sure we don’t lose more of it. And we should be putting systems into place to be more sure we don’t lose future history.”

Earlier this week, Steven Frank pointed to a new format and protocol called IPFS, which Neocities is embracing. Copies of your content would live in multiple nodes across the web instead of in a single, centralized location. From their blog post:

“Distributing the web would make it less malleable by a small handful of powerful organizations, and that improves both our freedom and our independence. It also reduces the risk of the ‘one giant shutdown’ that takes a massive amount of data with it.”

I took some time to read through what it can do, and I’d like to support it for the publishing platform that’s in my new microblogging project. I don’t know if it’s technically feasible yet, but I love that someone is trying to solve this. We just have to start somewhere.

The legacy of software as art

This post from Andy Brice, via Simon Wolf on ADN, makes a nice complement to my recent post on software as an art form:

“My grandfather worked most of his life as a stonemason. Much of that time was spent restoring the ruin of a Bishop’s palace in Sherborne. His work is still visible long after his death. The work of the stonemasons who built the palace is still visible after more than 8 centuries. How long after you stop programming is any of your work going to last?”

Not long, of course, and I’m not sure this is solvable. The best we can do is make sure our software runs on systems as long as possible, and to preserve the rest in screenshots and videos.

There are echoes of this theme in my post on permanence last year too, but for writing:

“Nothing lasts on the internet. I could write on my weblog for years and the next day get hit by a bus. The domain expires, the posts are lost, and it doesn’t matter if I had 10 readers or 10,000; it’s as if it never happened.”

As much as I dwell on preservation, my actual code and apps and the work I do in the software world might not be that significant. Instead, software can be the tool to make and preserve the important stuff: the writing, art, and discussions online that will matter later. Although I’d love to preserve the software as well, there is so much work to do just to keep the blogs and tweets. I’m content with making that easier.

Dave Winer also gives a nod to what software as art means, in an otherwise unrelated post on the press for Little Outliner, again framing it as what we’re building for other people to use:

“I think software is like other creative arts — music, architecture, cooking, even design of everyday things like bikes and clothes. It takes a relentless focus on the act of using, and what kind of effect you want to create.”

Joe Fiorini takes it even further:

“Perhaps our legacy is not in the software we build but the lives we touch, even in small ways, through the problems our programs solve.”

Like Andy Brice’s use of the word ephemeral above, Joe’s statement is difficult to measure. There’s no one thing we can point to years later. We just have to create something worthwhile and trust that it’s making someone’s life better, and that maybe that one customer will leave a mark on the world that survives long after our apps no longer run.

When it disappears

Dave Winer reiterates that we must plan now to preserve our online writing:

“There were far fewer bloggers. Maybe thousands. Today there are millions. None of them are thinking about what happens when Tumblr or Blogger or WordPress or Facebook disappear. But come on — we almost know for certain that one of them will. Given enough time they will all disappear.”

These companies are only as strong and permanent as their leaders, and leadership doesn’t last. If you think it can’t happen soon, look at the new Digg. Although they want to export the previous content, currently nothing from Digg’s 7-year history is accessible. Not by accident, not by catastrophic failure, but because no one at the new company cared to keep it around.