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Entering a New Phase of the Web, with Citation Needed’s Molly White
(Transcript made with
[00:00:02.240] Welcome to Dotsocial, the first podcast to explore the
world of decentralized social media. Each episode, host Mike McHieu
talks to a leader in this movement, someone who sees the Fediverse's
tremendous potential and understands that this could be the internet's
next wave. Today, Mike is talking to Molly White, a researcher, writer,
and software engineer who cares deeply about free and open access to
high-quality information. Molly's believe this for so long, she's been
involved with Wikipedia since she was a teenager. Molly's now a leading
crypto critic, but get to know her and you'll see she's anything but
cynical. In this interview, Molly shares her thoughts on how the social
web is transforming our lives, why everyone should be a blogger, and how
the concept of digital ownership is changing before our eyes. We hope
you enjoy this conversation.
[00:00:55.060] Molly White, welcome to Dots Social. I'm so excited to
talk to you.
[00:00:59.520] Thank you for having me.
[00:01:00.830] I know that a lot of people know you as a very prominent
crypto critic. You're very effective. You have no problem speaking truth
to power. Your Bill Ackerman post, by the way, was so good. You
oftentimes seem more knowledgeable about crypto than the people that
you're critiquing. You come at this from a place of deep knowledge about
crypto and what it's supposed to be anyway. But what's most interesting
to me is it seems to me like you're coming at this from a place of
optimism about the future of the web. I almost think of you as a happy
warrior. You're a web warrior looking to make the web better. Crypto
isn't it. But I get the sense that you have some ideas about where the
web should go. All of your long-time involvement with Wikipedia. Thank
you for everything you've done on Wikipedia. The work you've done as an
engineer. It seems like you are optimistic about the future of the web,
even though you are also a major crypto and Web3 skeptic. Is that a fair
[00:02:20.700] It is. I think it's maybe something that I've tried to
say myself, but it hasn't been heard. I heard as much as I would like, I
suppose, because I think a lot of people think of me as maybe a
pessimist or a cynic or a ludite. I am those things to some extent. But
a lot of my work actually really does stem from profound optimism about
the web, my lifelong love for the web, and my desire to see the web move
into a positive direction. When I first started paying attention to
crypto, it wasn't It wasn't because of Bitcoin, it wasn't because of all
of the talk of the financial side of things. What really caught my
attention was when people started talking about Web3 and talking about
blockchain as the solution to everything that ails us on the web and in
society even. It wasn't, Oh, that sounds dumb. It was more, Oh, you're
going to fix the web. That sounds great. Tell me more. Then when I
started to learn more, that was when my skepticism began to develop
because I realized that a lot of what people were saying was not
realistic or didn't seem possible to me, and it seemed more motivated
towards the financial side of things.
[00:03:47.880] But you're quite right that a lot of my work, despite
being so focused on crypto, really stems from my interest in the web
much more broadly. That's only a niche that I fell into some somewhat by
[00:04:01.720] Yeah, it is interesting to see that you've been writing
about this a little bit more often now, and I'm excited to see this
develop. What are you most optimistic for? What are some of the What are
the things that's driving your optimism right now about the future of
the web?
[00:04:20.600] I think that there have been a lot of developments in the
last handful of years that seem pretty negative in the web around a lot
of the things that we've been seeing on social media, where social media
just feels bad. Everyone just doesn't like social media anymore. It used
to be this really new and exciting thing, and now everyone's like, Oh, I
hate it. I think the same thing is true with AI-generated content, where
people are starting to see more and more of that, and it doesn't feel
good when you got to look something up and you end up on that junk page
full of AI-generated content. Those things actually give me some
optimism that we're entering a phase where people really need something
new. They want something different from what we've been dealing with for
a long time. The actual changes that have happened recently with AI and
with social media are not necessarily that new. I mean, there's been
junk content on the web ever since the web existed, pretty much. I'm
just thinking of the SEO keyword spam that people used to do that was
absolutely nonsense and useless, but that's always been there.
[00:05:36.380] Social media has always had issues with the quality of
the posts that people are making, the incentives behind it, and things
like that. But now I think people are just very, very aware of it and
looking for alternatives and actively seeking out and using and
developing alternatives. The developments that we've seen in just the
past year or two in the social media alternatives has been pretty
enormous. I mean, there's been much more adoption of federated platforms
like Mastodon. We're seeing alternatives like Blue Sky. It seems like
there's a social networks, which is frustrating in its own sense because
you have to use a hundred different social networks. But it means
there's alternatives. It's not just everyone's on Twitter and Facebook,
and that's it. I think that's great. I think that the same thing is
going to be true when it comes to AI-generated content, where people are
going to start looking for that really human, authentic material, and
that's going to create avenues for people to successfully produce that
type of material, which is really exciting.
[00:06:46.640] Right. I mean, if you really have something genuinely
good to say, something interesting, something insightful, it's not the
stuff that you're going to see in an AI generated article. You're going
to see it from people who really know what they're talking about, and
those people will be more in demand. It might be harder to find through
all the noise. But that's the thing that I think where social can help,
right? If there are ways to curate great content creators and great
content through social kinds of models, you could have a much more
interesting human web than what we've had in the past. How important, in
your view, is social as it relates to the web? Sometimes Sometimes we
talk about the Fediverse, sometimes it's the social web. Sometimes we
talk about a social graph being part of the web. How do you think about
[00:07:44.430] I think But social is inextricable from the web. I mean,
the whole basis of the web is hyperlinking and the ability to really
weave together a bunch of disparate pieces of material, just HTML pages
and things like that. And that is inherently social. That's not
something you can really do without thinking of the people behind the
pages that you're linking to and the types of relationships that you
have. I think the idea that there is a social web and then a not social
web is a farce. There isn't really an antisocial web or just a
completely siloed web page. I mean, you can You could publish a page to
the web that has no links, but that isn't really a meaningful- That
would be weird. Yeah, it isn't really a meaningful part of the web
today. I think social is a fundamental part of the web It's just a
question of what dynamics are in play there. What do these different
platforms enable? Can you comment and message? Is it that type of social
interaction, or is it more of a reader-publisher relationship? Those
types of questions. But everything is social, I think.
[00:09:03.530] Yeah, I think that is a great point. People were never
really a part of the web in its early formation. It was documents
linking to other documents. Obviously, people made those documents, but
there wasn't the notion of, there's this person and there's another node
on the web, and they're connecting to these other documents. In a lot of
ways, it feels like the opportunity to put that in place would be a game
changer for the web to actually formalize that. That's how I see
Activity Pub and AT Proto and some of these other approaches where
there's a person who's actually publishing a set of posts and other
people are subscribing to those posts, and that forms a social graph,
which then further informs what content people can discover.
[00:09:57.640] Yeah, I think there's some truth to that. I think I think
there has always been that there is an identity behind everything on the
web, and it's just a question of how real that identity is. Is it an
anonymous username? Is it an IP address? Versus is it Joe Schmo who
lives at this address? But you're right that I think that the ways that
we think about it, the ways that we interact with that have really
morphed over time. Now, I think social has become a predominant feature
of the web, where there are people who... That's their only interaction
with the web. That's the primary thing that they do with it, and they
use it to talk to people and connect with people. I think you're right
that that really has changed over time.
[00:10:43.200] Early on, the idea was people could create their own
website and they could blog. And some people wanted to do that. Some
people do do that. But interestingly, when you have an account on
Twitter, you have an account on Facebook, you basically have a web page
of sorts. You're publishing posting. It just so happens that you're not
really posting on the web. You're posting in this more walled garden
world. And now we can make that actually be more like you're actually
posting on the web.
[00:11:12.260] Yeah, that's something I've tried to argue for a long
time is I have this strongly held belief that everyone is a blogger. I
feel like the word blogger has become an insult over time where it's
like, Oh, you're just a blogger. You're not a real writer. Twitter. It's
like, now people want to be substackers. I'm like, But you're just a
blogger. That's what blogging is. I think that's great. I think everyone
should be a blogger. If that means that you're writing to your own web
page or you're publishing a sub stack or you're just tweeting, any
writing on the web, I think, is essentially blogging, and I think that's
great. I think blogging is a really healthy activity for people, and
it's something I think everyone should have a blog. This is my little
blogging blogging soapbox. But that's also one thing I've been really
excited about is it feels like blogging is having a comeback to some
extent, especially with platforms like Substack that really became
popular. It's like everyone has a sub stack now. That means everyone's a
blogger now. I think there's a lot of value in that, to be able to read
people's musings and thoughts without having to go through the filter of
an editor or publisher.
[00:12:25.200] Obviously, there are trade offs, but it's wonderful to be
able to just read things right from the source. And I've been avidly
following blogs for 15, 20 years now. And so to see more and more of
those suddenly springing up feels wonderful.
[00:12:42.840] Yeah. And another thing I think is really interesting is
you posted your blog roll recently. So I get a chance to see the things
that you're reading, not just writing, which is also really cool. And
that's another... It's something that people do on Twitter. They'll post
an article that they read. But what I love is that there is this ability
to, if you're not a writer, still you might find something that you read
and you were like, wow, this is really... I learned a lot from this and
you can post it, and now other people can benefit from that. And that
helps sort through the AI gunk. If I look at your blog roll, there's no
artificial generated stuff on there. It's all good quality content.
[00:13:29.100] Yeah, I really like that, too, the blog roll. But also
I've maintained a reading list on my website for years now, where
basically everything I read, I just add it to the reading list. For one,
it's great for me because I have an absolutely horrendous memory, and
I'll find myself... This is where it came from, is I would find myself
thinking, I read something two months ago, and it was about this topic,
and I can't for the life of me think of what it was. I find myself
searching searching through my browser history to try to find it, and I
never did. Now I use it as my own memo pad to be able to go back and
find the things that I was reading about. But it's also a really
wonderful way to share what I'm reading with people, and that helps them
understand what I'm thinking about. Then we have shared conversations
about things maybe we've both read. I can write down my thoughts on
something I've read without having to go to the trouble of doing a whole
newsletter post about it or something. I can just dash it off and I'll
put it down.
[00:14:30.900] I think there's a lot of value in that type of social
bookmarking, almost like public browser history type of tool.
[00:14:40.540] Yeah, it's really great. Your site, molywhite. Net/feed.
That feed, I've noticed, you post there, and then those posts end up on
Twitter, on Mastodon, Blue Sky. I'm not there's anything else. This is
using something I'm not sure a lot of people are familiar with, PASI.
Can you talk a bit about that?
[00:15:09.910] Pasi is an acronym for Post on Own Site, Syndicate
elsewhere. There are slight variations to it sometimes, but that's the
general gist of it. The idea is that instead of writing your material on
Twitter and just having it live in this walled garden that is Twitter,
you first write that content in a place that you control, a website that
you fully operate yourself and have total control over, and then you
syndicate that post to anywhere else you might normally want to have
your content. And so for me, it's Twitter, Maskset on Blue Sky, but you
could hook something up with just about any other software you wanted
to. And it's a model I've adopted recently after admiring it for a
really long time. I just didn't have the time to do it. But it's
something that's come in really useful, as I mentioned earlier, with the
whole proliferation of social networks. I actively use at least three
social networks, some more that I use with personal friends and things
like that. It became overwhelming to write something on one network and
then manually cross-post it to the other ones or decide if I wanted to
or not.
[00:16:30.180] Now I can just write it on my site, click a button, and
it goes out to wherever I like to post my ideas. I still have the main
copy of it on my website so that if Twitter goes up in a ball of flames
like it seems likely to do, I don't lose the things that I wrote when I
was publishing there. It's something that I've really enjoyed building
out. It also allows me to build out the features that I wish those sites
had, which has been really enjoyable as well.
[00:16:59.670] So you built this yourself or are using a set of
libraries to do this? How did you implement it?
[00:17:06.480] It's mostly stuff that I built myself. I'm using a
JavaScript library for the Rich text editor and stuff like that, but
it's pretty much handmade with all the bugs to go along with it.
[00:17:19.360] That's pretty cool. Are you using a Twitter API to
generate the post when you post it to Twitter?
[00:17:25.700] Yeah, there's a Twitter API, Mastodon API, and I think
there's a Blue sky client now that I'm using two.
[00:17:35.290] The conversations that then happen, presumably, you're
not seeing those conversations in one central place on your site. You go
to the social networks to see all the replies and engage with people
[00:17:48.180] Yeah, that's something that I've been thinking about. For
now, I'm keeping it just on the social networks because it feels a
little weird to copy people's comments back to my site without their
consent. But I do have support for web mentions in there so that if
someone blogs about a post that I wrote about, then it notifies me and I
can link to it or not. I'm working on how I want to integrate a little
bit more of that interactivity into the site. But for now, I just link
out to the Twitter posts and all the other posts. Then if people want to
see any threads that came out from there, they can just go see it over
on those sites.
[00:18:25.860] Then can people subscribe to your posts via RSS?
[00:18:30.980] They can, yes. I have four different RSS feeds on my
website, so people can mix and match what they want to see. But yeah,
it's all in an RSS feed.
[00:18:41.450] How do you think about Activity Pub? As you've been
experimenting with this, what's your take on Activity Pub?
[00:18:49.200] I thought a lot about Activity Pub when I was writing
this because part of me was thinking, Oh, I should just build in
Activity Pub, and then it will just itself become a part of the
federated web. Instead of cross-posing to Masdon, for example, I could
just have the blog be a part of the Fediverse. I started down that road,
but it's a pretty heavy lift to incorporate Activity Pub into a website.
There's a lot to the protocol, and it's loosely specified, I would say,
in terms of how you actually go about implementing it. I ended up moving
away from that for now with the idea that maybe in the future I could do
that. But I like the way that it happens right now because the types of
things I post on that site are well suited to just cross-posting to
Mastodon. That feels like I am a part of the Fediverse in the way that I
want to be without also having to implement the whole Activity Pub
server, handle all of the back-end side of that that I wouldn't
necessarily want to do.
[00:19:59.860] Yeah. It's interesting to think about the intersection of
RSS and Activity Pub, AT Protocol, these other models where you can
start to build this connection between people who are discovering your
content, commenting on it, discussing it. Now that you've got to
experience doing some of this stuff, is there a wishlist that's
materializing in your head of how this can start to help form a better
[00:20:36.450] Well, I think that usability is a really tough part of
the future of the social networks that we might eventually end up using.
It's really challenging to implement Activity Pub even as a fairly
experienced software developer. The AT Proto is also very nascent, and a
lot of the things that you have to do there are difficult to test and
somewhat poorly specified. I think that the more that we can make it
possible for people to just create a website and incorporate it into the
Fediverse or into whichever social media model we end up wanting to use,
the better. I think the same thing is true about blogging and creating
your own website and things like that. I will often say, Oh, you should
just create your own website. Then when someone asks me how I go about
doing that, it's like, Oh, you have to buy the domain, and then you have
to decide how you're going to serve it, and maybe you have to pay
because it's not free to just host. The more that we can make it really
as easy to create your own website and your own social presence outside
of the walls of Facebook and Twitter, I think the better, because it's
really easy to just sign up for or sign up for Facebook.
[00:22:01.530] Then you can post and you don't even have to think about
it, you don't have to pay for it. It's all just there in front of you.
That's getting to be the case with Blue Sky and Mastodon and some of
these other social networks, but there's It's a little more challenging
to use, I think, than the Twitters and the Facebooks of the world. The
more that we can make it equivalent in terms of a user experience, I
think the better it will be for adoption where people don't have to to
go figure out what a server is. When you sign up for Mastodon, it says,
What server do you want to use? People are like, Server? What do you
mean server? Then with Blue Sky, it's like, Oh, how do I get that cool
username? Suddenly you're talking about DIDs and, Oh, you have to create
a DNS record, and people are like, What? I think making things really
user friendly is going to be really critical.
[00:22:56.850] What is really interesting to me is that your site is in
a lot of ways, I think of it as a bit representative of the future,
where let's imagine you could just say, Okay, I'm Mike McQuew, and I had
a website, and you could type my name in to a browser, and you could go
to that. That was my identity on the web. Mollywhite. Net really is like
this. It's your identity with your different facets of you as a as a
writer, as a publisher, along with your other networks that you're
participating in all in one place. And that's really amazing. Today, it
can be very confusing when you search for somebody and you see, well,
here's their Facebook profile and their Instagram profile and their
LinkedIn profile. It's like, okay. And then there's people with similar
names. Who's who? And how do you pull all this together? What I love
about what you've done with molywhite. Net is it's like one clear place
to see everything about you. And it would be great if there was a big
follow button there and I could push follow and the right thing
happened. I'm just going to get posts now from everything, however you
[00:24:13.360] Yeah. I really like that model, too, where I have one
primary record on the web. This is the source of truth about Molly White
on the internet. If you see another Molly White, it's probably not me
because it's not listed here on this website. I have a really common
name. There are a lot of other Molly Whites on the internet. There are
people who try to impersonate me and run crypto scams. It's really easy
to just be like, Look at this one website, and if it's not there, you're
talking to someone else. I think that's really nice. To bring this a
little bit back to crypto, I think it's something that a lot of crypto
advocates have talked about where they're like, your wallet address is
your primary identity, and that's how everything will work on the web. I
see the appeal behind that, but I don't think crypto wallets are maybe
the mechanism for it. For me, the solution is, Oh, I just have a domain,
and that domain will always point to me wherever I am. It doesn't matter
what's behind it. I can point the domain somewhere else if I want to,
but it will always be me.
[00:25:17.810] There's this sense of ownership around the content that
you've been posting. You wrote about this a little bit in, what does
ownership even mean on the web? Tell us a little bit about how you think
about ownership of your content on the web and how to think about it a
little bit more broadly.
[00:25:37.220] I'm really interested in this idea of digital ownership.
One thing I wrote about recently was the fact that when people talk
about ownership, especially in a digital context, people imagine 10
different things. Ten different people will have 10 different ideas on
what it means to own something online. For some people, it's all about
copyright. For some people, it's about if they can sell the content that
they've created. For some people, it's about the ability to rescind that
content if they ever wanted to. There's all these different ideas and
values that go into the word ownership. It's challenging to talk about
it in the abstract when people are thinking about different things. But
for me, I think ownership is really, especially when it comes to the
content that I write online, it's about being to share the content that
I create under my own terms. That could be, and often is for me, sharing
it with a free license that allows people to reprint it if they want,
because I care a lot about open access and free licenses and the
commons. It's really important to me to be able to do that, but also
with some restrictions where you have to maybe attribute me.
[00:26:57.940] You have to link back to the original or whatever it
might be. People will choose all different things. Then there's all
these different facets of ownership that I think are even continuing to
develop, where I had this realization a couple of years ago when I
started working on crypto stuff that I've been freely licensing my
content so that people can reuse it. That suddenly means that someone
could make an NFT out of a blog post that I wrote. I don't know if I
really like that. Now there's the question of, okay, so now that I've...
Because I've really licensed my material, people can train an AI model
on it. It's like, oh, boy, I don't know how I feel about that either.
We're starting to get into this time and place where ownership is
becoming more and more nebulous as people can do more and more things
with content that's online. But I think for me, some of the most
important parts of it are being able to dictate the terms under which
people can use the content. And that includes opening them up so that
they're very unrestricted, which is what I tend to default towards.
[00:28:11.810] And then also the ability to take my content elsewhere if
I wanted to. That's something that's really important to me is that I
don't love publishing something under a restriction that it will have to
be there and only there forever. I do it once in a while. If I write a
freelance for a newspaper, usually there's some clause that I can't just
go and then republish that same thing in my newsletter, for example,
because that undermines their business. But for the most part, I like to
be able to keep control of the stuff that I write so that I can... If
someday I want to up and leave wherever I am, I can do that. In the
piece that I wrote recently, I talk about that as digital sovereignty,
the ability to just go somewhere else. I think that's really key.
[00:29:02.490] Yeah, and you did that recently with Substack, right?
Right. You left Substack, and then did you go to Ghost, or did you
create your own platform?
[00:29:11.410] It's a self-hosted version of Ghost that I have since
tweaked rather extremely. I liked what I was doing with Substack for a
long time. I found their platform to be very useful. Then things
changed, and I decided that I didn't want to be publishing there anymore
for a host of reasons. And so I was able to gather up everything I had
published there and invite everyone who followed me there to go
somewhere else. And that's what we did. And I think that's wonderful.
For all the criticism I have of Substack, I think the fact that they
allow people to do that is absolutely critical. I think every platform
should, to the greatest extent possible, allow for that, even though I
understand that there are a lot of forces economic forces and business
strategies that really encourage people to create these walled gardens
that you can't leave. I think it's so much better for the end user if
there is that portability.
[00:30:14.020] Yeah. The portability of the relationship, right? The
fact that someone subscribed to your newsletter on Substack, and they're
still a subscriber when you've left Substack. So not only are you able
to bring the content and everything you created, but those relationships
transfer as well. It's one of the big challenges, for example, with the
web in general. If you look at publishers, when I talk to publishers,
the big challenge they have is they don't have that direct relationship
with their audience the way they want to. It used to be a member of
National Geographic, subscribe to their magazine, get it every month,
and I have a membership there. Now, increasingly, it's drive by
anonymous users. They have to do all sorts of compliance with GDPR and
disclaimers about cookies and things before you can even read an article
from National Geographic now. It's actually really, really hard to build
a relationship directly with someone on the web today. That's one of the
things I'm most excited about with this new set of technologies,
including Activity Pub, is that you can actually enable enable people
who are creators of content to have a relationship with someone that
transcends the platform, transcends the business model, and allows
people to maintain that.
[00:31:43.390] Yeah, I think that's right. I think the more that people
can have relationships that are based on these protocol levels, the
better. Because when I was on Substack, it's not like someone was
subscribing to Substack, and then via Substack, they got access to the
things that I was writing. When they entered their email address, I got
their email address and I got the permission, me, Molly White, to send
my writing to them. And so when I left Substack, it was easy because it
wasn't me having to convince Substack to give me the stuff that they
didn't want to give me because then I would leave. The more that people
can do that, whether it's the email level or using federated protocols
so that you can just move somewhere else, I think that's the best
possible scenario because it allows for that relationship that's between
you and me. It's not between you and the platform and then the platform
and me. And it makes things so much better. It's just around the
anonymity thing, too, is I think there is actually a lot of value to
allow people to define the relationship that they want to have with you,
because sometimes people don't want to have that one-on-one
[00:32:59.800] I think it's actually a value of the web, not a detriment
that people are able to have that drive-by relationship where they can
read something without signing in or without consenting to having all
sorts of cookies added to their browser session. That's something I've
also tried to cultivate, where if you want to read my writing, you can
always just visit the website or subscribe on RSS, and I won't drop any
cookies on page. I won't demand your email before you can read what I
have to say. You don't have to pay anything. You can just do it that
way. But if you want to support my work financially or if you want to
receive my writing in your inbox, you can always decide to do that, too.
I love that, that people can take what they want and define the
relationship that they want.
[00:33:52.620] When you think about how the web eventually, as it
develops further from a business model point of view, How are people
able to be subsidized as creators? How does the web evolve from an
economic point of view? Do you have thoughts about that?
[00:34:15.120] I do. I think it's one of those things that it's
challenging to just say that, Oh, this will be the business model of the
web going forward, because there are so many different types of
businesses on the web and so many different types of relationships. But
I do think that the web that we have today has become pretty much overly
dominated by the venture capital model and the funding incentives that
that introduces, which are, I think, often quite orthogonal to the
desires of the user and the things that users might actually want. I
would love to see some movement away from that model. But I think that
there is a lot of... I think one of the great things about the web is
that there is a lot of space for a diverse group of models, and I think
that's honestly the ideal. You can have the types of... I have the
patron, I guess, approach where people decide they want to support my
work or not. I think that works really well for me, but for some people
it doesn't. They decide to go with advertising or they decide to go work
for a company that pays them through their own model.
[00:35:36.150] I also think that there should be more public funding of
the web and different types of things that happen on the web, like news,
for example, I think really needs more public funding. I would love to
see more treatment of the web as basic infrastructure and a basic right
also that people should be afforded because I think we've moved long
past the days where having Internet access was an option but not a
necessity. I think that we really need to shift to the times and
acknowledge that people need access to the web. They need access to
services on the web that should be funded through public funding and not
necessarily profit-driven business models, nonprofits, and different
things like that. Co-ops. I love the idea of co-ops on the web. I think
there is, like I said, a lot of space for different models, but
definitely room for improvement.
[00:36:44.980] I sometimes wish for a activity pub version of Patreon. I
support a bunch of creators on Patreon. It's great. I love being able to
support them, and I get access to additional content that they post, but
you have to go to Patreon to go see it. It's not showing up in Massodon.
It's not showing up in the place where I normally consume my content.
And so in some ways, I think the Patreon model is a really great on and
pair that up with an ability to build these open relationships with
users who are able to stay in touch with that creator through through
whatever it is, however they're consuming their content feeds.
[00:37:35.250] Yeah, no, I think that's absolutely right. I think that
there are ways to do that, but I think that today it's very much you
have to be a software engineer to do it, or you have to have at least
some degree of programming experience to then hook that up yourself. And
most people just don't have that, or they don't have the time and desire
to maintain a very sensitive piece of financial software. And so it
would be great, I think, like you said, to see something come out where
that's more plug and play and you can just set it up without needing to
go write some code or maintain something. And I think I really do like
this model of the Patreon model or the Substack model or the idea of
just supporting an individual or maybe a small group of people who do
something that you like. I like that that has taken off, but I am also
very cautious about describing that as the future of media or the future
of how people are paid to create, write online or anything like that,
just because I do think that there are downsides to it also, where a lot
of that content is paywalled, for example.
[00:38:50.670] And so if you can't afford it, then you don't get access
to it. Or it can, in aggregate, become much more expensive to support 10
writers on Substack than subscribe to a newspaper that has 10 people
writing for it. There's those trade offs that you really have to
consider and that I think sometimes are missed when people talk about,
Oh, this is the new model that everyone's going to be using.
[00:39:17.350] I totally agree. Wikipedia has been funded largely
through donations by individuals, right? Up to this point?
[00:39:29.220] Yeah, it's It's a mix of individual donations and also
larger grants, but yes.
[00:39:33.580] Larger grants. Obviously, that model has worked very well
for Wikipedia over the years. Have you seen the level of donations
continue to be healthy, or are you concerned about the longevity of
[00:39:51.600] I'm not terribly concerned about the longevity of it. I
think that the actual cost to run the Wikipedia project is fairly low,
especially compared to some web enterprises of similar size. It's pretty
straightforward for the Wikimedia Foundation to continue operating even
with a substantially lower level of donations than we get today. I think
that people do donate. They recognize the value of Wikipedia and they
say, All right, that seems like something that's worth $5, $10, just
throwing in what they can afford. I I think that's wonderful that people
are willing to do that and to provide that financial support. But yeah,
I think it works really well for Wikipedia, and I love that that's the
model that they've gone with. I think Wikipedia would look very
different had they decided, Oh, maybe we will do ads or something like
[00:40:49.300] Yeah, I was listening to Esra Klein on the Search Engine
podcast recently, and he talked a lot about how people need to
understand more that it's important to, if you like the content you're
seeing, figure out a way to pay for it and buy it, because if you don't,
eventually it'll disappear. It was a really good, if you haven't heard
that, I recommend it. It was a really good discussion. He spent a bunch
of time at Vox in their early days and had a lot of really interesting
things to say about the future of content, quality content on the web. I
do think that making it easy for people to actually support the content
and to support the people who are making great content on the web is
fundamental to figuring out a way to get this to happen. And as you
said, also making it easy to form those connections. You shouldn't have
to be an engineer to figure out how to post your content in lots of
different places and the maximum number of people who are interested in
your stuff. It's That is really important. Do you see any projects on
the horizon that hold that promise?
[00:42:07.110] Yeah. I think there are a lot of indie web projects that
are trying to do things like this. I've seen people developing plugins
that will post your WordPress blog to the Fediverse or something like
that. It's pretty straightforward to just download the plugin and write
your WordPress blog, which is also meant for people who are not super
technical. I think that there is some acknowledgement among the people
who are developing software for these types of projects that it isn't
user friendly these days. I think that alone is progress. I saw a blog
post recently that was like, as soon as you're telling someone to type
in NPM install, you've gone too far. That is just not the level that
we're looking for here. I thought that was really accurate. It's like,
okay, we realized that this is asking a lot of people. But yeah, I mean,
I think Blue Sky is a really interesting example of trying to straddle
the line between federation and this very open protocol, but also make
it a little bit like Twitter, so that it's recognizable to people who've
used Twitter for 10 years. If you just want to sign up, you can use the
@beesky, you can just log in and it looks pretty similar, and you can
follow people.
[00:43:34.970] Then as time goes on, hopefully, they will continue along
the mission of federating and allowing for composal visible content
moderation and all the things that they've described in their roadmap
while keeping that level of user friendliness. I'm optimistic about Blue
Sky just in that sense, that they seem to really recognize some of the
pitfalls that, for example, Mastodon has been struggling with. I think
Mastodon and the activity pub community is also realizing as well that
User friendliness is not a nice to have. It's a must-have feature.
[00:44:20.880] It feels a lot like the early, early days of the web when
things were still pretty techy and not totally together. I do think that
there are a lot of projects underway to make the Fediverse and the
concept of the social web much more user friendly. But it also is clear
to me that people are still trying to figure it out. Like the pieces
haven't... It's not like everything's all connected in people's heads
yet in terms of how it should all look. It's very exciting. It's a very
formative time right now.
[00:44:57.930] I agree. Yeah, that's partly That's really why I get so
excited about this stuff is it feels like even though the web has been
around for decades now, we're still figuring it out. We're still trying
to decide what the best ways of doing things are. I think that's
exciting that there's still that opportunity for that type of innovation
to happen as needs change and as new technologies emerge and things like
that. But I also... One thing that I love about this time in place is
that compared to 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, it's becoming so much
easier and also so much cheaper for people to experiment and just try
things out. There are projects like Glitch, for example, where you can
just go create a website pretty easily. It's pretty quick and it's free
and you can just go play around with stuff. I'm remembering back to when
I first got interested in building websites. It's like, Oh, man, I guess
I need dream weaver, and maybe I need a physical piece of metal to plug
into the wall and that will host my website. And so now with cloud
services and different things like that, it's really cool that it's
becoming more and more accessible for people to just play around, try
things out, tinker.
[00:46:22.840] Yeah. And as you said at the beginning, now there's an
incentive to try new ideas out because because a lot of where we've
landed on the web is so problematic. And I think November, a year ago,
it was very clear to a lot of people on Twitter that this was not a good
situation. They didn't want to continue to support what was happening on
Twitter, and they looked for alternatives. And they're really, did you
talk to anyone prior to that? Like, Hey, here's a really interesting
idea, a completely new open version of Twitter. People would be like,
Why What would I need that? Now, at least there's a need. Now, at least
people are like, Oh, an alternative to Twitter? Cool. They still don't
necessarily know what open means or why that's beneficial to them. I
think that's one of the things that is so fantastic about your writing
is that you're helping to educate people why this stuff matters. That's
so important because I think the more we understand these first
principles and inhabit those, the better the future of the web will be.
[00:47:30.190] I certainly hope so. That's definitely one of my goals.
So I'm glad to hear you. You think it's been effective?
[00:47:35.790] Well, Molly, thank you for your excellent writing, for
the work you've done on Wikipedia, for helping to educate us on the
state of crypto, and most importantly, your vision for how we can build
a better web. It's been absolutely awesome to follow along with you, and
I'm really looking forward to seeing how things develop here in the near
[00:48:03.120] Yeah. Well, thank you for having me. It's been great
talking about it. Well, thanks so much for listening. You can find
everything Molly's posting via her website at mollywhite. Net/feed. You
can follow Mike on Mastodon at Mike@flipboard. Social and at
Mike@flipboard. Com. Big thank you to our editors, Rosanne Caban and
Anne Le. To learn more about what Flipboard is doing in the Fediverse,
sign up via the link in this show's notes. Until next time, we'll see
you in the Fediverse.
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