Last night, during the protests for #BlackLivesMatter, there was an urgent need to spread information to participants and others trying to help.
In an effort to get that information out, people reached for tools that they could use quickly and effectively.
One of these tools is Carrd, an online website builder that makes single-page websites or very simple multi-page sites. It is run by a solo founder-developer.
Carrd is great. If you want to put a single-page or other simple website online, it gets the job done fast and well. It’s freemium, which means you can put something online without reaching for your credit card.
When I look at the pages that were built using Carrd for the protests, like blacklivesmatters.carrd.co and blmprotest.carrd.co, I immediately think that this is what the open web is for: the ability for anybody to create and publish content that is accessible via a URL.
And yet, without the support of a service like Carrd, it’s oh so hard.
The Potential Problem
Protesters got lucky this time. Carrd creator AJ runs his service well (Billie Eilish put a link to a Carrd in her Instagram bio, and his servers are still standing) and doesn’t seem to have any desire to stop protesters from using his service.
Imagine an alternative scenario: someone builds a slick service that becomes popular at a time of crisis, except instead of the creator being on the right side of history, they are flatly in the wrong?
How much power would that person have over a movement? They could delete the accounts and pages, they could redirect the visitors to pages showing completely opposite views, they could even steal the login credentials of those users and see if maybe they reuse passwords on different services.
Who knows what an unscrupulous and upset service owner might do. The situation in the US for the last few years shows that saying “that will never happen” is not good enough. Some day, it will happen.
The Closed Writable Web
The web is an open technology. The communication protocols are owned by no-one, “free” to use by all. There are no licensing agreements to sign before making an HTTP request, no royalties to pay for that
This openness is freedom and independence. Any web browser can load any webpage and any accessible url, regardless of who wrote, and who approves or disapproves of it.
When it comes to consuming content online, we’re in a pretty good spot. In the US, 90% of the population can visit any site, from the largest internet properties to the smallest of independent web publishers.
But when it comes to creating content, participating in the read-write web, there is one big problem: the protocols are open, but the technology is hard to use.
HTML was supposed to be easy enough to write for anybody to do it. But that is 1990s thinking. There is no way someone is going to learn HTML and CSS enough to create a decent looking page by today’s standards unless they’re looking to learn the craft for hobby or professional advancement.
Then there is the hosting. You can fumble your way through the maze of AWS, or their behemoth brethren, or you can reach for something lighter like Netlify. However for any of these you choose, you have to learn how they work and adapt your stuff to their requirements.
You could also stick to an open source stack, and install a Linux server on a virtual machine and secure it, but now you’ve truly lost the non-tech folks.
The writable web is open for tech geeks, closed and proprietary for everyone else.
As I was writing this I realized there were some partial exceptions:
- WordPress is open source and is a de-facto standard for online publishing. You can host your own or go with a service provider. It’s also rather heavy and not friendly to very occasional users.
- Mastodon and other fediverse projects democratize online publishing, but there is a difference between “joining the fediverse” and just publishing something at a URL.
- The Dat protocol is a work-in-progress, but they are espousing the read/write capabilities in their Beaker browser from the very beginning, a good sign.
None of these address the need to just be able to publish something simple online with a truly small investment in time and effort by a non-technical user.
A New Standard?
There could be a set of standards that address the need for writing and publishing websites, or at least static sites. There is a Read/Write Web Community Group in the W3C, but it’s basically dead at this point.
If this were revived, the focus should be on ease-of-use. The idea would be to bring static site publishing closer to how content consumption works: make it so 90% of a developed country can do it, and do it without lock-in or proprietary elements.
I suspect webpage builders would become phone and desktop apps, and hosts would serve static content. The standard would be the glue between the two: the protocol that lets the builder push new HTML and CSS and other assets to the host.
There would need to be a standard for DNS management since owning your domain is a key element of independence. Entering A and AAAA records and CNAMES and TXT records is not fun.
Something to think about. In the meantime, visit blacklivesmatters.carrd.co.
This was post 22 of the #100DaysToOffload challenge.