IndieWeb Thoughts: POSSE

Tuesday September 21, 2021

I find the current state of the web dispiriting — attention and advertising driven, corporate, siloed, and sterile. The technology, too, has been influenced by this — towering gobs of senseless javascript everywhere, no one truly understanding how modern webapps work.

Given that, I try to pay a lot of attention to alternatives and new ways of thinking about and structuring the web. The indieweb is perhaps the most famous set of people and technologies and ideas here, which is why I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of their ideology misses the markIt’s important to note that the “indieweb” is a lot of different things, and I’m only talking about one of the parts of it in this post, albeit a pretty fundamental part. There does seem to be some good stuff coming out of the indieweb community, as well as stuff I’m less excited by. .

The clearest instance of this is POSSE — the idea that people should Post on their Own Site, and Syndicate Elsewhere. An example of that would be blogging on your own site, and posting that content to Facebook with a link to the “canonical” copy on your blog. The reasons to do this are primarily about control: by publishing on your own website, you’re not beholden to the content policies of social media giants, and you have more flexibility in formats.

While lack of control is certainly a large problem with the modern internet, it’s not the only problem. Particularly, I think the there’s a fundamental tradeoff here — the POSSE model of posting on a personal site pushes people towards a more individualist view of the web, rather than fostering small, situated communities. The POSSE model pushes people towards having a single identity — that’s part of the selling point — all of your content in one place! But I don’t have one identity — I have different personas on my blog, my notebook, my thoughts, metafilter, special.fish, twitter (and an alt), and in almost every other place I exist on the internet.

Every different internet community has a unique set of social expectations, and that diversity is exactly what I love about the web. I want there to be more different communities on different platforms with different vibes and rules and expectations. Trying to compress my identity into a single site is the antithesis of that.

I think that a primary reason the indieweb community is like this is because it was built by people who don’t have to code-switch much. If you’re a straight white man (as many people building websites and internet infrastructure are), you probably don’t feel much pressure to change the way you present yourself in different personal and professional situations, and thus don’t feel a big need to design systems where people can maintain multiple personasObviously this is a simplification, but it’s telling, for example, how many Twitter employees don’t think about people having alts at all, versus how many of my queer/trans/otherwise marginalized friends have alts that are really fundamental to their experience of Twitter. .

A big focus of the indieweb is centralizing identity in a place that’s under individual control (currently: domain names), but that’s the complete opposite of what I want: I want it to be easier to fracture my identity, and create a different persona for every community I’m a part of. It would be nice if those identities were things that were more under my control than, say, my Twitter account is, but that’s secondary to building more niche and situated communities by making it easier to take on unique identities for different communities.