Geert Lovink on Sun, 6 Feb 2011 15:35:43 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> A DIY Data Manifesto by Scott Gilbertson

(important element in the discussion about possible alternatives to  
facebook and twitter that presume that one runs one's own server... / 


A DIY Data Manifesto
By Scott Gilbertson

The word “server” is enough to send all but the hardiest nerds  
scurrying for cover.
The word usually conjures images of vast, complex data farms,  
databases and massive infrastructures. True, servers are all those  
things — but at a more basic level, they’re just like your desktop PC.

Running a server is no more difficult than starting Windows on your  
desktop. That’s the message Dave Winer, forefather of blogging and  
creator of RSS, is trying to get across with his EC2 for Poets  
project. The name comes from Amazon’s EC2 service and classes common  
in liberal arts colleges, like programming for poets or computer  
science for poets. The theme of such classes is that anyone — even a  
poet — can learn technology.

Winer wants to demystify the server. “Engineers sometimes mystify what  
they do, as a form of job security,” writes Winer, “I prefer to make  
light of it… it was easy for me, why shouldn’t it be easy for everyone?”

To show you just how easy it is to set up and run a server, Winer has  
put together an easy-to-follow tutorial so you too can set up a  
Windows-based server running in the cloud. Winer uses Amazon’s EC2  
service. For a few dollars a month, Winer’s tutorial can have just  
about anyone up and running with their own server.

In that sense Winer’s EC2 for Poets if already a success, but  
education and empowerment aren’t Winer’s only goals. “I think it’s  
important to bust the mystique of servers,” says Winer, “it’s  
essential if we’re going to break free of the ‘corporate blogging  

The corporate blogging silos Winer is thinking of are services like  
Twitter, Facebook and WordPress. All three have been instrumental in  
the growth of the web, they make it easy for anyone publish. But they  
also suffer denial of service attacks, government shutdowns and  
growing pains, centralized services like Twitter and Facebook are  
vulnerable. Services wrapped up in a single company are also  
vulnerable to market whims, Geocities is gone, FriendFeed languishes  
at Facebook and Yahoo is planning to sell Delicious. A centralized web  
is brittle web, one that can make our data, our communications tools  
disappear tomorrow.

But the web will likely never be completely free of centralized  
services and Winer recognizes that. Most people will still choose  
convenience over freedom. Twitter’s user interface is simple, easy to  
use and works on half a dozen devices.

Winer doesn’t believe everyone will want to be part of the distributed  
web, just the dedicated. But he does believe there are more people who  
would choose a DIY path if they realized it wasn’t that difficult.

Winer isn’t the only one who believes the future of the web will be  
distributed systems that aren’t controlled by any single corporation  
or  technology platform. Microformats founder Tantek Çelik is also  
working on a distributed publishing system that seeks to retain all  
the cool features of the social web, but remove the centralized  

But to be free of corporate blogging silos and centralized services  
the web will need an army of distributed servers run by hobbyists,  
not  just tech-savvy web admins, but ordinary people who love the web  
and want to experiment.

So while you can get your EC2 server up and running today — and even  
play around with Winer’s River2 news aggregator — the real goal is  
further down the road. Winer’s vision is a distributed web where  
everything is loosely coupled. “For example,” Winer writes, “the roads  
I drive on with my car are loosely-coupled from the car. I might drive  
a SmartCar, a Toyota or a BMW. No matter what car I choose I am free  
to drive on the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Sixth Avenue or the Bay Bridge.”

Winer wants to start by creating a loosely coupled, distributed  
microblogging service like Twitter. “I’m pretty sure we know how to  
create a micro-blogging community with open formats and protocols and  
no central point of failure,” he writes on his blog.

For Winer that means decoupling the act of writing from the act of  
publishing. The idea isn’t to create an open alternative to Twitter,  
it’s to remove the need to use Twitter for writing on Twitter. Instead  
you write with the tools of your choice and publish to your own server.

If everyone publishes first to their own server there’s no single  
point of failure. There’s no fail whale, and no company owns your  
data. Once the content is on your server you can then push it on to  
wherever you’d like — Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress of whatever the site  
du jour is ten years from now.

The glue that holds this vision together is RSS. Winer sees RSS as the  
ideal broadcast mechanism for the distributed web and in fact he’s  
already using it — Winer has an RSS feed of links that are then pushed  
on to Twitter. No matter what tool he uses to publish a link, it’s  
gathered up into a single RSS feed and pushed on to Twitter.

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