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The Creative Independent: On exploring how to be online in radical ways [interview with Tara Vancil, co-creator of Beaker Browser]
"Web developer Tara Vancil discusses the peer-to-peer web, the current state of self-publishing, and the future of the internet."


"[Q] I love that Beaker has a built-in editor. There’s this all-in-one feel to it where you can browse and publish websites from the browser. I was curious what self-publishing means for you and why it’s important?

[A] Well, there’s this myth floating around on the web that the very first web browser, it was called WorldWideWeb, made by Tim Berners-Lee actually had an editor built into it. Now, I’ve never been able to 100% confirm this with him, or anybody, but there’s kind of just the shared history that goes around on the web, so I’m willing to believe it. When I found that out, it was really interesting because we had been building the early prototype of Beaker and it was quite different from what it is now. It did have a button that let you create a website from the browser, so self-publishing was a part of Beaker very early on. But we didn’t fully understand how important facilitating self-publishing would be. It was fairly recently that we decided to put in an editor. We thought it would be too much work to maintain, we thought people wouldn’t care, we thought they’d prefer to use their own editors. And then one day, we just realized like, “You know what? No, a browser really should help people participate in the web.”

So self-publishing, for me, is not necessarily about owning your content. It’s not all about enabling creativity. There are other tools that enable creativity. I think it’s about creating opportunities for the widest swath of people to participate on the web. I think right now, there are so many barriers that can pop up at any given moment when you decide, “I want to make an app, I want to make a game, I want to publish my portfolio, or I want to create an interactive art piece.” With Beaker, self-publishing is about reducing as many of those barriers as possible, so that literally everybody can have some hope of meaningfully participating on the web. Because why not? That’s what the web is. It’s this really strange thing.

I like to call the web humanity’s shared language. We’ve all come together, by some miracle, as a society to define a set of rules and technical standards about how we will communicate, how our computers will communicate with each other, and people all over the world use this. I mean, that’s pretty miraculous that we’ve managed to do that. So why shouldn’t everybody be able to build stuff on it, and share things on it? It seems really sad that right now that’s not the case, and I think it’s also boring.

[Q] There seems to be a general feeling that HTTP doesn’t provide a productive space any longer. Recently there’s been a lot of interest in going offline or just slowing down. I wanted to get your thoughts on the offline first movement and if you align yourself with it?

[A] Offline first is a funny concept to me because it’s rooted in both very corporate ideology and very anti-corporate ideology. So there’s one meaning for offline first, I think it was coined by Google, and this was a way for building applications such that low-power devices in places that have really bad connectivity could cache an application’s or website’s assets so that it can still function well. I think this is an honorable effort to build applications with the expectation that we don’t live in an equitable world, but we have to remember that a corporation like Google is motivated to do that because they want to sell more devices, and they want to further the reach of Gmail and their other tools.

And then there’s the other side of the movement, where offline first means something very different to another group of people. If you’ve heard of Secure Scuttlebutt, it’s a peer-to-peer online friends space. It’s a place for people to post content and share things with their friends without having to connect through something like Twitter or Facebook. And a lot of the folks that participated there in the early days were really interested in finding ways to live a little more independently, to maybe not depend entirely on the electrical grid, or to be able to live on a boat, or to maintain their own garden. I think that reflects an interest in slowing down, and a reaction to the speed of consumption that the web of today demands of us.

So at the end of the day, I think offline first—by both definitions—is rooted in the observation that we don’t live in an equitable world, and modern applications do not serve everybody. They don’t serve every kind of lifestyle. I’m definitely interested in living in a home with electricity and modern amenities but I’m also really interested in doing that responsibly, and I care a lot about my own sanity and other people being able to maintain their sanity in this hyper-connected world. I think a lot of us are perhaps exploring how we do that for the long-term. So I like being online and I want to continue being online, but I think looking to these communities that are exploring how to be online in radical ways, is really important.

[Q] Beaker is a good example of that. In my own exploration of the peer-to-peer web, I’ve needed to either be sent a link directly from somebody, or be in connection with the HTTP web to find websites on the p2p web. I’m curious what the longer-term goals are? Is it sort of like in tandem with the current web, or is the goal to replace HTTP with peer-to-peer protocols?

[A] Yeah, there’s an interesting effect on the peer-to-peer web where you kind of have to bootstrap your experience somehow. You either have to have a chat open with a friend so that you can send links between each other, or you need to have a curated list of websites and projects that you want to visit. And interestingly, I think that’s a problem that the HTTP web suffers from as well. It’s an aggregation problem. If you think back to the early days of the HTTP web, someone—or some company—had to go out there and crawl the web, and collect the links that they found, and then publish them somewhere. That’s just a fact of how networks work. It’s hard to aggregate content independently.

So I think what that means is that if the peer-to-peer web is going to become a part of the web as we know it, then so are search engines and aggregators. And maybe those search engines will use HTTP just because it’s easier for that purpose. Maybe not. I’m not sure that we need to replace HTTP entirely to fix what’s wrong with the web. I think we need to replace HTTP in cases where it encourages centralization of governance over our communities, and it discourages innovation and the ownership of our online experiences. That’s why I think it’s so important that people are able to publish their own websites, for example, because a website can be anything. It can be the place where you post your micro-blogs, like your tweets. It can be a place where you post blog posts, which is pretty obvious. It could be a place where you post photos or art projects, and I feel that the HTTP web makes it so difficult to do that right now. As a result, we’re cornered into the situation where we have to publish on Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram. And that’s fine, those are pretty cool platforms, but they also constrain us, and I think we’re starting to understand the limits and the consequences of that.

[Q] It might be a positive thing that you can’t search the peer-to-peer web currently, in that it has to be such a personal connection where my friend will send me a link to a website. HTTP is a constant process of following links to other links. On the p2p web it’s more about accessing a page and then reading it to the end, and then maybe going offline after that.

[A] Yeah, there’s a certain finiteness to it, which is blissful at times. I’m not sure it’ll stay that way forever. There’s a lesson to be learned about how it feels to use the peer-to-peer web. I’ve found websites where I couldn’t believe I found them. It felt like I’d just stumbled upon a treasure. Like, “Wow, this person is out there and they’ve made this thing. I want to read everything they’ve posted,” and then that’s the end of it. It’s a really satisfying experience.

[Q] It also feels like you have to forget what you thought the web was when you’re approaching the p2p web. I find it pretty difficult to describe what the peer-to-peer web is, and I think maybe that’s not just me. It’s broad, it’s many different things, it’s multi-layered.

What does your ideal web look like?

[A] I want a web that I can build on. I love building on the web so much. To me, websites are my canvas. I grew up in a family that I think looked down on anything that smelled of creativity. I grew up hunting, watching football, and playing sports. There’s no creative exploration in that. I became exposed to the creative process fairly late in my life, and the canvas for me is websites. I love the feeling that I get when I sit down with a blank slate, and I know how to use the tools, I know how to wield HTML and CSS and bend it to my will. I want a web that is conducive to that, and I don’t want to just build standalone websites. I would love to build things that are meaningful to people, that have users, and then I want those users to be able to take what I’ve made and be able to shape it into something new.

On the web today, I feel like I can build something amazing, and I can go out and find people who want to use what I’ve built. But it’s a very rigid process. To build something, I first of all probably have to find investment because launching a service on the web, launching an app that’s actually going to get wide usage, is really, really expensive. So I think I want a web that makes that process cheaper, and distributes the cost of bandwidth and storage across its users. And then beyond that, I want a web that doesn’t try to lock down the experience of … [more]
beakerbrowser  taravancil  2018  publishing  self-publishing  online  internet  time  longevity  ephemeral  ephemerality  collaboration  technology  design  decentralization  radicalism  web  webdev  webdesign  seeding  p2p  peertopeer  http  dat  decentralizedweb  independence  hashbase 
10 days ago by robertogreco
Announcing Hyperswarm
Hyperswarm is a stack of networking modules for finding peers and creating reliable connections. Users join the swarm for a “topic” and query periodically for other peers who are in the topic. When ready to connect, Hyperswarm helps create a socket between them using either UTP or TCP.

Hyperswarm uses a Kademlia DHT to track peers and arrange connections. The DHT itself includes mechanisms to holepunch NATs. For LAN-based discovery, we currently use multicast DNS.
decentralized  Dat  BeakerBrowser  DHT 
23 days ago by euler
dat:// site tho • Hannu Hartikainen
I came across the Dat Project yesterday. In short it’s BitTorrent-based web with version history—yes, I admit my description sounds like one of those uber-for-larvae startups. But I quickly tried dat out and it seems very useful for filesharing and has potential for content publishing.
dat  p2p 
24 days ago by bouvin

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