Thursday I visited the first day of the two day Netherlands WordCamp that, after a 6 year hiatus, took place again. Some observations:

  • The venue was fun, in the middle of Burgers Zoo in Arnhem. From the room where I presented you looked out over the enclosure where the giraffes and rhino’s were. The entrance to the venue was through the tropical jungle greenhouse, with unseen birds and other animals making lots of noises somewhere above in the foliage.
  • The atmosphere was excellent, very laid back as well as open and curious to engage in conversation
  • It was my first time at WordCamp and somewhere above a third of the participants were as well, meaning there was a good mix of new people and old hands. A mix that helps set the atmosphere and tone of an event.
  • Sustainability was a big theme. Multiple speakers explored how WP web developers can reduce the footprint of the sites they create. Heard several things (reduce the number of URLs WP exposes, find ways of limiting hits generated by crawlers and bots, reduce the size of various elements in your WP site etc.) that I can follow up on. Also made me think again about running a RSS-only, otherwise completely headless website. Though given another takeaway further down the list, that isn’t a good idea.
  • The organising team had also focused on sustainability, and I was happy they went the same route as is the custom at IndieWeb events: all catering was vegetarian. I also learned that all food that wasn’t used was donated, pre-arranged with the local foodbank.
  • It was fun to meet several people in person that I’ve known online for a long time, such as Roel Groeneveld and Gerard van Enk, and co-organisers Marcel and Remkus. Others I had met before, like Bert Boerland. Plus I met some new people.
  • I think my presentation was well received.
  • I was a bit the odd one out, as I am a non-professional blogger who is a WordPress user, not a developer. It was a WordCamp, by the WP community and ecosystem, so the audience was largely commercially oriented. Web agencies, SEO, UX design etc. I am also someone who has a longer history with WordPress than some others, having seen it start as a blogging tool.
  • The WordPress community is large and densely connected, I’m an outsider to it, although I know quite a few people who are part of it. So this wasn’t ‘my’ crowd, but the energy from people meeting in person again after several years was palpable.
  • When the opening speaker asked ‘who here still reads RSS’ and only 5 or so raised their hands, in line with his expectations, was surprising to say the least. People either ditched RSS when Google Reader went away in 2013, or if they were younger never started with RSS. How do people read at volume if not through feeds? Actually going to websites and newsletters is the answer apparently.
  • Only a few people had ever heard of IndieWeb, although there definitely were some.
  • One of the volunteers I chatted with never heard of BarCamp. Nor realised that the Camp in WordCamp speaks of its lineage. This is akin to how in 2021 the supposedly first Dutch BarCamp was going to take place.
  • Those last three things underline what E and I have been chatting about in the past months regularly. How it is needed to keep talking about, writing about and transfer to others these things, repeatedly that we think are ‘just normal’ and essential. For things to be used, and be useful, you can never assume that telling the world about it is ever done. Which brings me back to why I was at WordCamp in the first place, talking about IndieWeb.

My first encounter with WordPress, at BlogTalk 2006 in Vienna. Photo Matt Mullenweg, used with permission.

I presented during the 2022 Netherlands WordCamp edition in Arnhem on turning all WordPress sites into fully IndieWeb enabled sites. Meaning turning well over a third of the web into the open social web. Outside all the silos.

The slides are available in my self-hosted Slideshare replacement for embed and download, and shown below.

I have been blogging a long time, and can tinker a bit with code (like a home cook). I want my site to be the center of how I read and write the web. Its purpose is to create conversations with others, who write in their own spaces on the web. The IndieWeb community supports that with a number of technical building blocks that allow me a set of pretty cool things. But all that IndieWeb offers has a high threshold for entry.

The key parts of IndieWeb to me, the parts that make interaction between websites possible, that allow any site to be an active part of many conversations, are much simpler though:

  • Microformats2 so that computers know how to interpret our blogposts,
  • some class declarations, so computers know why we link to some other web page,
  • and WebMention, the protocol that lets a web page know another page is linking to them.

Making interaction possible between site authors, across sites, just by writing as they already do, is both the simplest to arrange and the most impactful. It’s not something that site authors should have to deal with though, it should be in your website’s engine. WordPress in my case, and an enormous amount of other websites.
Ensuring that WordPress Themes, and Gutenberg blocks would support and could handle Microformats2 and classes correctly therefore will have a huge impact.

Over 40% of the open web would then with a single stroke be the open social web. No need for data hungry silo’s, no place for algorithmic timelines designed to keep you hooked.

WordPress wants to be the Operating System for the Web. That OS is missing social features, and it’s not a big leap to add them with existing web protocols. No website owner would have to be a coder, be it home cooking style or professional, to use those social features and create conversations. It would just be there.

If you build WP Themes, if you create Gutenberg blocks, you’re invited to help make this happen.

(also posted to Indienews)

Een maand geleden diende ik een voorstel in voor het Nederlandse WordCamp, om over IndieWeb te spreken, vanuit mijn perspectief als blogger. In de hoop dat het leidt tot meer thema’s en code die IndieWeb mogelijkheden actief omarmen. Deze week hoorde ik dat het voorstel is geaccepteerd. Nadenken over een verhaallijn dus.

Netherlands WordCamp vindt op 15 en 16 september plaats in Arnhem. Binnenkort wordt het programma bekend gemaakt.

Bonus link: mijn eerste kennismaking met WordPress in 2006, toen Matt Mullenweg op BlogTalk Reloaded in Wenen er over kwam presenteren. Later (veel later) die avond deze foto op Matt’s blog…vlnr Thomas (organisator BlogTalk), ik, Anne, Monica, Elmine, Matt met camera, en Paolo.

End of July the once-every-4-years hacker mass event, this edition titled May Contain Hackers, will take place. As usual it takes place in the midst of the summer holidays, meaning as a parent of a school age kid I won’t be able to make it personally. However I’m very pleased that my company and our team, together with friends from our immediate professional network (not coincidentally veterans of E’s 2018 birthday unconference), are working together to host one of the Villages at MCH2022!

Our Village is called ‘ethisch party’ in Dutch, ethical party in English. In Dutch ethical rhymes with 80s in English. Therefore it’s listed as the Village 80s Party, ‘putting the 80s back into the ethics’. Data ethics is the general context for the village’s program.

You’re welcome to join and get involved!

Public Spaces is an effort to reshape the internet experience towards a much larger emphasis on, well, public spaces. Currently most online public debate is taking place in silos provided by monopolistic corporations, where public values will always be trumped by value extraction regardless of externalised costs to communities, ethics, and society. Today the Public Spaces 2022 conference took place. I watched the 2021 edition online, but this time decided to be in the room. This to have time to interact with other participants and see who sees itself as part of this effort. Public Spaces is supported by 50 or so organisations, one of which I’m a board member of. Despite that nominal involvement I am still somewhat unclear about what the purpose of Public Spaces as a movement, not as an intention, is. This first day of the 2-day conference didn’t make that clearer to me, but the actual sessions and conversations were definitely worthwile to me.

Some first observations that I jotted down on the way home, below the photo taken just before the start of the conference.

a) In the audience and on stage there were some known faces, but mostly people unknown to me. Good thing, as it demonstrates how many new entrants into these discussions there are. At the same time there was also a notable absence of faces, e.g. from the organisations part of the Public Spaces effort. Maybe it’s because they rather show up tomorrow when the deputy minister is also present. As an awareness raising exercise, despite this still being a rather niche and like minded audience, this conference is certainly valuable.

b) That value was I think mostly expressed by the attention given to explaining some of the newly agreed European laws, the Digital Markets Act, Digitals Services Act and Data Governance Act. For most of the audience this looks like the first actual encounter with what those laws say, and one panel moderator upon hearing its contents showed themselves surprised this was already decided regulation and not stuck somewhere in a long and slow pipeline of debate and lobbying.

c) It was very good to hear people on stage actually speaking enthusiastically about the things these new laws deliver, despite being cautious about the pace of implementation and when we’ll see the actual impact of these rules. Lotje Beek of Bits of Freedom was enthusiastic about the Digital Services Act and I applaud the work BoF has done in the past years on this. (Disclosure: I’m on the board of an NGO that joins forces with BoF and Waag, organiser of this conference, in the so-called Digital Four, which lobbies the Dutch government on digital affairs.)
Similarly Kim van Sparrentak, MEP for the Greens, talked with energy about the Digital Markets Act. This was very important I think, and helps impress on the audience to engage with these new laws and the tools they provide.

d) The opening talk by Miriam Rasch I enjoyed a lot. Her earlier book Friction E felt seemingly lacked some deeper understanding of the technologies involved to build the conclusions and arguments on, so I was interested in hearing her talk in person. The focus today was more on her second book Autonomy. I‘ll buy bought it and will read it, also to clarify whether some of the things I think I heard are my misunderstanding or parts of the ideas expressed in the book. Rasch positions autonomy as the key thing to guard and strengthen. She doesn’t mean autonomy in the sense of being fully disconnected from everyone else in your decisions, but in a more interdependent way. To make your own choices, within the network of relationships around you. Also as an emotionally rooted thing, which I thought is a useful insight. She does position it as something exclusively individual. At the same time it seems she equates autonomy with agency, and I think agency does not merely reside on the individual level but also in groups of relationships in a given context (I call it networked agency). It seemed a very westernised individualistic viewpoint, that I think sets you up for less autonomy because it pits you individually against the much bigger systems and structures that erode your autonomy, dumping you in a very assymetric power struggle. A second thing that stood out to me is how she expresses the me-against-the-system issue as one of autonomy versus automation. It’s a nice alliteration, but I don’t accept that juxtaposition. It’s definitely the case that automation is frequently used to dehumanise lots of decisions, and thus eroding the autonomy of those being decided about. But to me it’s not inherent in automation. When you have the logic of (corporate) bureaucracies doing the automation, you’ll end up with automation that mimics that logic. If I do the automation it will mimic my logic. I use automation a lot for my own purposes (personal software), and it increases my agency, it’s a direct expression of my autonomy (or that of the groups I’m part of). There’s more to be said, in a separate post, a.o. about the 3 or 4 thinking exercises she took us through to explore autonomy as a concept for ourselves. After all it wouldn’t make us more autonomous if she would prescribe us her definition of autonomy, precisely because she underscores that it’s not a purely rational concept but an emotional one as well.

e) Prof. Tamar Sharon of Radboud University spoke about the influence tech companies have in other domains than tech itself because of their technology being expanded into or used in those domains such as health, education, spatial planning, media. She calls it sphere transgressions. This may bring value, but may also be problematic. She showed a very cool tool that visualises how various tech companies are influential in domains you don’t immediately associate them with. A good thinking aid I think also in the upcoming discussion about sectoral European data spaces and being alert to the pitfall of it turning into a tech dominated discussion, rather than a societal benefit and impact discussion.

f) Kudos to the conference organisers. Every panel composition was nicely balanced, it shows good care in curating the program and having tapped into a high quality network. I know from experience that it takes deliberate effort to make it so. Also the catering was fully vegetarian and vegan, no words wasted on it, just by default. That’s the way to go.

Nancy writes about the importance of endings, a rich source for reflection and of insights. And suggests it as something we should be more literate in, more deliberate in as a practice.

Yes, endings, acknowledging them, shaping them, is important.
When the BlogWalk series already had practically ended, with the last session being 18 months or so in the past, it was only when I posted about formally ending it, that it was truly done. It allowed those who participated to share stories about what it had meant to them, to say thanks, and it was a release for the organisers as well.

In our short e-book about unconferencing your birthday party (in itself a gift we sent to the participants of the most recent event it described, a year afterwards) we made a point to write about a proper ending. We had been at many events where the end was just when people left, but also at those where the end was a celebration of what we did together. We wrote "So often we were at a conference where the organizers didn’t know how to create a proper end to it. Either they’re too shy to take credit for what they’ve pulled off or they assume that most people left already and the end of the program is the last speaker to be on stage. Closure is important. It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be a closing keynote, but it should serve as a focal point for everyone to end the day and give them an opportunity to thank you and each other as a group, not just as individuals. We gathered everyone after the last session and made some closing remarks, the most important of which was ‘thank you!’. […] Obviously this was the time to open up a few bottles as well."

In an Open Space style setting as a moderator I find releasing the space at the end for me usually involves strong emotions, coming down to earth from creating and surfing the group’s collective energy and shared attention, from weaving the tapestry of the experience together. When E and I helped P create such a space in 2019 I wrote afterwards "When Peter thanked Elmine and they embraced, that was the moment I felt myself release the space I had opened up on Day 1 when I helped the group" settle into the event and "set the schedule. Where the soap bubble we blew collapsed again, no longer able to hold the surface tension. I felt a wave of emotions wash through me, which I recognise from our own events as well. The realisation of the beauty of the collective experience you created, the connections made, the vulnerability allowed, the fun had, the playfulness. We wound down from that rush chatting over drinks in the moon lit back yard."

Endings such as those Nancy describes and the examples I mention, need their own space. It’s not a side effect of stopping doing something, but an act in itself that deserves consideration. As Nancy suggests, a practice.