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IndieWeb Summit 2019

Last weekend I was in Portland again for the IndieWeb Summit. This is one of my favorite events each year. I always get inspired seeing what people are doing on their personal sites. Some of the tools they’re building feel like magic when you see them in action. It’s also great to see friends I have met over the years and meet new people. We always have a lot of fun.

New for this year, Tantek wanted to have some music playing between doors opening and the start of the event. He asked if I could set up a playlist. I half-joked, “Sure, but…I’m old.” He didn’t miss a beat and answered “Yes, but so is the independent web.” Even if I’m not up on the latest cool music, I think I put together a pretty good list.

Kitt Hodsden gave a great keynote about how life is a series of contractions and expansions. We can better understand these cycles in our own lives when we own our data. “We expand when we delight in the patterns we see about ourselves, for ourselves.”

mJordan’s keynote gave a glimpse into the challenges of being a woman in tech. She ended up changing her domain name and online identity to a more male-sounding name and suddenly started getting more job interviews. It was an important reminder to work to overcome biases and be intentional about making our spaces more equal.

After lunch, we planned out the afternoon’s sessions BarCamp-style. The organizers encourage anyone who has not facilitated a session at an IndieWeb event to propose sessions first. I appreciate that because it keeps fresh voices and topics in the mix. It is empowering and works against any notion of elitism of “regulars.” We ended up with eighteen sessions across four time slots.

I attended a session where we discussed ways to make Actually (Politically) Progressive Web Apps. I had never been to a session like that before and really enjoyed it. It reminded me that there are always interesting ways we can leverage our technology to promote activism and effect change. It seemed particularly timely.

Then I attended a session with a long, tech-y name. Basically it was about a protocol to share private posts across personal sites. This is a key feature of sites like Facebook and the IndieWeb does not yet have a great replacement for it. This protocol seems promising, though, and I am excited to see progress in this area.

The last session I attended was about possible IndieWeb futures. This was an interactive session where we broke up into groups to explore a possible future and use it to reflect on the present. Our group was given the outlook of “Discipline” which we interpreted to mean authoritarian. We brainstormed some key signals of change and some possible implications. Finally we ended up with a one-line summary of our future: surveillance capitalism runs rampant as big tech becomes pseudo governments. We also came up with a couple headlines from our future: “Facebook police capture public enemy number 1, notorious IndieWeb hacker; huge trove of illegal cash confiscated” and “IndieWeb made illegal, Facebook cites unprofitability.” Despite the depressing headlines, the process itself was fun. Other groups had more positive futures, so it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

The second day is all about creating something on your site—no matter how small—and demoing it at the end of the day. Malcolm and I were inspired by the AutoAuth session for our projects. I already had a prototype of private posts and we both had some of the key components on our sites, so we decided to work on it together. He set up a page that acted as a simulated reader. When that requested my private page, it received an “unauthorized” response, as expected. Then, behind the scenes, his reader automatically requested access to my private page. My site did some verification and authenticated that the request is on Malcolm’s behalf, then granted access. The next time his reader requested my private page with the access token, it saw the private content. We were both surprised how far we got with this project in a day. He also wrote about it with some more technical details.

There were a lot of cool demos at the end of the day and you can watch them! The keynotes and most of the sessions were also recorded; find them linked from the schedule.

Next year is the 10th annual IndieWeb Summit. You should come. Save the dates: June 27–28, 2020 in Portland, Oregon!

GIF of attendees

IndieWeb Summit group GIF — 2019-06-29 by Aaron Parecki

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