Are We Breaking The Internet?

As more people and more devices get connected to the internet, the lure of centralizing control—which makes it easier for companies to manage them—is bumping its head against the initial design of the internet: to drive reliability and scalability. With every new largely centralized system that comes online, the internet becomes more brittle, as centralization creates an increased number of single points of failure.


Silo Buster - A markup generator for URL display optimizations in social content silos

A screenshot of the Silo Buster page and form, with fields for many aspects of what to display on social networks when sharing your site.

The generator supports Twitter cards, Pinterest rich pins, Google's structured data and Facebook's Open Graph.

Add this markup to your web pages to make links to your site look great in social apps and websites! Also, making outbound content look attractive helps people escape these content silos and venture back out onto the wild wild web!


Annotation is now a web standard

Many have tried over the years to bring us web annotations. The lack of standards has been one of the key things holding these efforts back– a need we highlighted in the first of our 12 original principles back in 2013 and have been working towards ever since.

Yesterday, on February 23, things took a giant leap forward when the W3C, the standards body for the Web, standardized annotation.

Twenty four years after Marc Andreessen first built collaborative annotation into Mosaic and tested it on a few “guinea pigs” before turning it off, annotations have finally become first-class citizens of the web.

From the W3C Web Annotation co-chairs, Rob Sanderson and Tim Cole:

“Many websites already allow comments, but current […] systems rely on unique, usually proprietary technologies chosen and provided by publishers. Notes cannot be shared easily across the Web and comments about a Web page can only be saved and viewed via a single website. Readers cannot select their own tools, choose their own service providers or bring their own communities.”


Permalink to this heading.So what exactly does this mean for you?

Comment widgets may soon become a thing of the past.

The W3C standards (called Recommendations) are a key milestone towards a future in which all pages could support rich layers of conversation without requiring any action by their publishers—because that capability can be built into the browser itself and be available as a native feature, just like web search. The shared vision is that conversations will be able happen anywhere on the Web, or even on documents in native apps, and inline instead of below-the fold, in a federated, standards-based way.

A diagram by the W3C for the Web Annotation Architecture. See original:

Tags: - a timeline and publishing platform for the open web

A screenshot of the home page, with a swirling jumble of icons

From the Kickstarter:

Do you remember how the web used to work? How the web was supposed to work?

In the earlier days of the web, we always published to our own web site. If you weren’t happy with your web host, or they went out of business, you could move your files and your domain name, and nothing would break.

Today, most writing instead goes into a small number of centralized social networking sites, where you can’t move your content, advertisements and fake news are everywhere, and if one of these sites fails, your content disappears from the internet. Too many sites have gone away and taken our posts and photos with them.

I want to encourage more independent writing. To do that, we need better tools that embrace microblogs and the advantages of the open web. We need to learn from the success and user experience of social networking, but applied to the full scope of the web.


Alex Feyerke: Step Off This Hurtling Machine | 2014

I thought this was an excellent talk on the hard questions we should be asking ourselves as developers. Why do most people use closed, proprietary systems and devices, if the open web is so wonderful? Even as developers, we still use them ourselves, and depend on them. How can we be more empathetic to what the average user needs and wants? How can we lock open the web, so the future isn't entirely dependent on huge corporations and services, which is where we seem to be heading?


We Must Assume Malice

On December 15th, 2016, someone attempted to assault Kurt Eichenwald, Newsweek journalist, through Twitter. They sent him a GIF known to trigger photosensitive seizures because Eichenwald has photosensitive epilepsy, and had reported highly unfavorable information about Donald Trump.

Let’s make this clear. This is assault. A seizure is dangerous. Every single person with epilepsy lives with the specter of SUDEP — Sudden Unexpected Death in EPilepsy. Attempting to cause a seizure in someone is dangerous and could be lethal.

(Small aside — a test for epilepsy involves trying to trigger a seizure with strobe lights, and this is done under medical supervision while hooked up to diagnostic machines. I’ve been through it. I did not have a seizure. You should never subject someone to such a test without informed consent and medical supervision on hand.)

The problem is not that Eichenwald failed to use a setting available to him. There are two culpable parties here — Twitter and Eichenwald’s assaulter.

Twitter is culpable in a moral sense, not legal. Twitter allows auto-played GIFs by default. A strobing GIF is easy to identify with an algorithm. The website could have made it impossible to assault Eichenwald this way. But Twitter never considered that its service could be used maliciously. It never assumed malice.

There was a widely held concept on the early internet that should have been carried forward to today. Bandwidth was limited, and computer users felt they had a right to control exactly what was put on their machine, so early internet applications allowed users to decide what images to download, and what GIFs to play. In that early internet experience, assaulting Eichenwald would have been impossible.